President Uhuru Kenyatta leaves for the Belt and Road Initiative meeting in Beijing, China tomorrow. Accompanying the Head of State, among other dignitaries and technocrats, will be Opposition leader Raila Odinga.
This is a positive result of the March 2018 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, the main purpose of which was to bring down heightened political temperatures. This trip would have been impossible without it.
Still, there are those who frown upon the composition of the delegation, because they are conditioned to viewing everything from the political competition perspective. Unfortunately, from that perspective, they end up missing on the positive side of things.
Perhaps forced to justify the inclusion of Raila in a Government delegation, those in the Opposition have resorted to splitting hairs, claiming the former Prime Minister is on the trip as the Infrastructure representative for the African Union.
But even if that were the case, at the end of it all, the overriding factor in the trip is the seeking of an additional Sh300 billion loan for the construction of the second phase of the Standard Gauge Railway from Nairobi to Kisumu. The prospects of another loan appear to have dampened the spirits of Kenyans, most of whom believe the debt burden is untenable. Economists have repeatedly warned that Chinese loans for the SGR are not good for the country and argue that the SGR is not a viable project; meaning that on its own, it cannot repay the loans; hence Kenyans must dig deeper into their pockets to service them. This, as the burden of taxation on the Kenyan worker increases, is not reassuring.
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Yet besides the loan that the Government seeks, it behooves the President to get more than just the funds from the Chinese government. The balance of trade is skewed in favour of China so much that Chinese nationals are taking over the streets from ordinary Kenyans trying to eke out a living.
In 2017, for instance, Kenya exported goods worth a paltry $96.88 million while Chinese imports averaged $3.79 billion. Strict Chinese standards and tariffs on African goods hamper exports.