Opinion poll shows Kenyans prefer US for growth partner compared to China

With US Secretary of State John Kerry in Nairobi to prepare for President Barrack Obama's tour in July, an opinion poll shows Kenyans have identified the US as the most valuable development partner outside East Africa.

Some 35 per cent of those polled in the Ipsos survey named the US as the most important for Kenya to have good relations with to achieve the country's development goals, ahead of China (23 per cent) and United Kingdom (7 per cent).

However, political affiliations have split public perceptions, with the ruling Jubilee coalition's supporters somewhat more positive about the Chinese than the Americans: (33 per cent to 29 per cent).

But majority of Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) supporters (47 per cent) root for the Americans, with few (13 per cent) backing the Chinese.

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Kenyans nonetheless do not see China as a friend despite its involvement in development projects in the country.

From 2003 when the now retired President Mwai Kibaki took the helm of power, Kenya cast its eyes to the far East for assistance to boost its infrastructure development, but a poll released by Ipsos indicates that Kenyans trust the country less than other development partners.

President Uhuru Kenyatta followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, with the Chinese pouring out billions of shillings on to Kenyan soil to develop railways and roads among others. The polls reveal that Kenyans view China as the biggest threat to Kenya's economic and political development.

 Negative ratings

Compared to Western countries, especially the US, 28 per cent of those who were interviewed were of the opinion that China was not a friend of the country. Only 21 per cent raised concerns over the US. "China and the US receive almost equal negative ratings, with the former holding a slight disadvantage. 28 per cent versus 21 per cent," the poll reads.

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China is currently one of Kenya's leading development partners, especially in infrastructure development. However, trade imports from China to Kenya account for about Sh270 billion, its exports amount to Sh4.2 billion, tipping the scales heavily in favour of China.

The poll was split in terms of political affiliation, with those aligned with the Jubilee government preferring China over the US.

The feeling among the Uhuru-Ruto government supporters according to Ipsos might be driven by the perceived US position in the International Criminal Cases against the two. Only 22 per cent of those interviewed thought China was a threat compared to 35 per cent of those affiliated to the Opposition.

China attracted Jubilee supporters as its most senior diplomats in Kenya have expressed opposition to the ICC. The scales of preference tilted when it came to the US, with Jubilee supporters thinking that the country was a threat compared to China. 28 per cent of the supporters compared to 16 from CORD were of the view that US was a foe to Kenya's development.

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