Going East: What China diplomatic forays mean for us

Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

After a three-year delay, it now appears the Nairobi-Mau Summit road project that was supposed to be dialled through French government funding might finally take off, according to insider sources.  

The project could soon be handled by different partners if recent talks between President William Ruto and the new powerful Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi - also a member of the Political Bureau of the China Communist Party Central Committee - is anything to go by.  

These were among the proposals discussed by Chinese delegations when they visited Nairobi in July and August.  

On July 23, 2023, a Chinese delegation led by Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Deng Li held a meeting with Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen in Nairobi where several new and pending projects were discussed.    

It is understood that during the engagements, Kenya asked China to consider bidding for the Sh184 billion Nairobi-Mau Summit road project, earlier awarded to a French consortium. The 233km tolled road is set to be Kenya’s biggest road project ever.  

The development comes following inconclusive talks between the French consortium and Kenya on the project’s pricing, among other key issues.  

The perception in diplomatic circles has been that the Kenya Kwanza Administration was warming up to the West, especially in regard to big infrastructure projects, seemingly at the expense of the Chinese.  

China has been the biggest financier and builder of mega infrastructure projects in Kenya in the past 20 years.   

There were concerns over a sharp decline of investment after only Sh1.74 billion from China was budgeted for in 2023-24 in Kenya’s Budget - the lowest since 2008 and a material reduction from the Sh29.5 billion that Kenya received from China in 2021/22 and Sh71.2 billion in 2017.   

The Chinese have traditionally been dominant in the mega infrastructure space, including the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Lamu Port, Nairobi Expressway, Kipevu Oil Terminal, Thika Superhighway and all the major bypass roads in Nairobi.   

The latest development is therefore a major boost to stronger relations and sends a strong signal that Kenya is open and ready to do business with China.  

Now it appears that some of the pending projects, including the extension of the SGR from Naivasha to Malaba through Kisumu, may be on the table.    

It also appears that Kenya could be starting to put a bigger consideration on project pricing when determining who to partner with on infrastructure projects.