Ruto set for historic China visit with Sh150bn begging bowl

President William Ruto held a high -level meeting with China’s director of the office of central committee for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi at State House Nairobi. [PCS]

President William Ruto and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are expected to meet soon, the Government has confirmed.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said the visit will see President Ruto head out to Beijing in search of a $1 billion (Sh150 billion) mega deal.

During the meeting Kenya will also seek a deal to restructure Kenya’s debt owed to China, the Deputy President said in an interview with Inooro FM radio station on Friday.

“He will go to China because most of our road projects have stalled because of the mounting Chinese debt,” he said without divulging numbers. “We are unable to pay our contractors yet some of the roads are incomplete.”

“The President will be seeking a deal to restructure our Chinese debt and get favourable terms.”

The deal will also see the cash-strapped Kenya Kwanza administration focus on securing new lucrative infrastructure deals, Mr Gachagua added.

The trip comes at a time when Beijing is keen to dislodge Kenya’s allies again in bagging crucial deals.

They include the construction of a new Sh160 billion toll highway from Nairobi to Mau Summit, which has since stalled, and the extension of the Chinese-built Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to Malaba, near the Uganda border.

Such deals would benefit Chinese firms such as China Road and Bridge Corporation which built a section of the SGR but also the Nairobi Expressway on a public-private partnership basis.

The Mau Summit highway had been expected to begin months ago after Kenya signed a commercial agreement with French consortium Vinci.

It stalled after the new administration took power.

Ruto’s maiden visit to Beijing will be keenly watched by diplomatic observers. The expected visit to Beijing would also mark the President’s U-turn on his earlier rhetoric against Chinese loans.

China is Kenya’s largest bilateral lender and has financed infrastructure projects from railways to highways.

But during the presidential campaign, Chinese lending became a major political issue, with Ruto amplifying the rhetoric by blaming those loans for Kenya’s debt and economic crisis troubles.

The hybrid look East-West policy would, however, fit in with a pattern similar to the former regime of President Uhuru Kenyatta which also tapped Beijing to fund the construction of new infrastructure projects.

Kenya, a critical US ally in the East Africa region, has for decades been under pressure from Washington to resist the push for stronger military and economic ties with China, which has been seeking greater influence in the region.

China has lent Kenya and other African countries hundreds of billions of dollars as part of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which envisaged Chinese institutions financing the bulk of infrastructure in mainly developing nations.

At the height of the seemingly strained relations with Beijing, the Kenya Kwanza government last November released loan documents related to the SGR that Uhuru’s regime fought in the courts to keep secret.

The publication of the agreements for $3 billion of loans honoured Ruto’s campaign promise to bring more transparency to dealings between Nairobi and Beijing, which some in Kenya blame for bogging the country down in debt.

China’s BRI has been praised by supporters for providing vital financing to infrastructure-starved countries. Critics, including the United States, say the initiative is overloading poor nations like Kenya with debt.

This is the second time the Government has confirmed the trip.

Transport Minister Kipchumba Murkomen had mentioned the expected Presidential trip recently.

Mr Murkomen made the revelation after his recent weeklong visit to Beijing, where he affirmed Kenya’s bilateral relations with China at a time the West has increased its dalliance with the Ruto regime.

During his recent Beijing visit, Murkomen singled out expansion in Kenya-China relations on infrastructure as a priority for the Kenya Kwanza administration.

“Through our partnership, we hope to complete our ongoing road projects, extend the railway to Malaba, dual our main highways, expand our port and airports’ infrastructure, equip our technical and vocational institutions, build water dams, implement our smart and intelligent traffic systems among others,” said Mr Murkomen.

“Our meetings precede President William Ruto’s visit soon to China to meet with his counterpart President Xi Jinping.”

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