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Kenyan students elated after Chinese President responded to letter


When Jamlick Mwangi Kariuki, 26, and a group of Kenyans wrote a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, they did so to satisfy their egos and fulfil their hearts' desires.

Having studied in China and gained hands-on experience in Kenya with China's support, the group felt that writing an appreciation letter to the Chinese President would suffice.

To their pleasant surprise, Kariuki and his team received a reply from President Xi, appreciating their gesture of gratitude.

In an interview with China Daily, Kariuki described the response as a “very long and personalised letter” in which Xi expressed his happiness with their letter and was impressed with the strong bond between Kenyans and Chinese.

Kariuki said the letter to President Xi was not necessarily meant to evoke a response but found it inspiring that the leader took the time to consider and care about the international student community.

Kariuki said they also sent President Xi a Nairobi-Mombasa SGR railway ticket as a gift.

“The president told us he had received the ticket. I hope he will use it to travel from Nairobi to Mombasa one day,” said the engineer.

Kariuki, from Webuye in Western Kenya, was among the second group of 100 Kenyans sponsored to study engineering in China for four years. After graduating, they returned to contribute to Kenya’s railway construction and maintenance.

Built with state-of-the-art technology and to Chinese standards, the 480-kilometre Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative, was the first railway built in Kenya since independence in 1963.

“After completion of the railway line, it was discovered that we lacked the capacity and expertise to operate and maintain it,” said Kariuki, who returned to Kenya after earning a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Beijing Jiaotong University.

With the skills gained in China, Kariuki and his Kenyan co-workers were able to maintain the Mombasa-Nairobi railway as well as the much older meter-gauge railway lines to provide safe and reliable service.

Now locals account for about 80 percent of all railway employees, holding jobs that include operations and maintenance work.

The job in Nairobi also brought Kariuki a decent salary. He decided to return to Beijing Jiaotong University last year for a master’s degree to fulfill his dream of becoming a railway expert.

Kariuki said it is due to the gratitude for the opportunities they received that Kenyan schoolmates and alumni at Beijing Jiaotong University came up with the idea of personally thanking President Xi.

He said, “The Belt and Road Initiative is the President’s initiative to ensure that we are connecting the world and promoting universal development.”

So they wrote a letter to Xi expressing their gratitude for coming to China to learn about railway operations and management, hoping to serve as a bridge of friendship between the two countries.

Washington Aburiri, studying for a Master’s degree in Logistics at Beijing Jiaotong University, said he has seen how a close friend has benefited from the easier transport the railway has produced.

“Now my friend is doing a good business of importing goods from Guangzhou to Nairobi and then transporting them to Mombasa using the railway,” says Aburiri.

Vicky Wangechi Wangari, 25, who hails from Nyahururu and is in her final year of graduate study at the university, said the message they wrote to President Xi in the letter was “10,000 thank yous.”

The programme Kariuki and Wangari are involved in represents China-Africa collaboration in cultivating talent, which has gained momentum in recent years.

Last year, President Xi announced at the China-Africa Leaders’ Dialogue in Johannesburg, South Africa, that China will train 10,000 technical personnel in both Chinese language and vocational skills for Africa as part of the Plan for China-Africa Co-operation on Talent Development.

The plan highlights that the key to the development and rejuvenation of China and Africa lies in turning the huge population into abundant human resources to drive modernisation.

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