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Ruto seals deals in US as his party learns survival tips in Beijing trip

 President William Ruto makes a toast during a state dinner at the White House, Washington, on May 23, 2024. [PCS, Standard]

As President William Ruto was clinching bilateral deals in the US with his entourage sampling a sumptuous State dinner at the White House, his UDA party was also hunting for goodies in China.

At the White House, the AP reported that Thursday’s dinner honouring the Kenyan President, offered around 500 guests stunning DC views, a knockout menu, a dose of celebrity and even a little family drama.

In China, UDA Secretary General Cleophas Malala and his delegation were given a grand reception by the Communist Party of China (CPC) leaders and Kenya embassy officials led by the ambassador.

“On official invitation by The Communist Party of China (CPC), United Democratic Alliance (UDA), Kenya's ruling party led by Secretary General Cleophas Malala has arrived in Beijing, China, for a 10-day working engagement,” the embassy wrote on its X account.

The UDA delegation led by Malala and accompanied by Ambassador Willy Bett, was received by Deputy Head of Mission Amb Lynette Mwende with embassy staff also in attendance at the Beijing Capital International Airport.

It is interesting that as President Ruto was clinching deals with companies like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, ACORN Holdings, Everstrong Capital and the US government, his party was walking in the corridors of a Far East country, an opposite in cultural and political orientation to the US-China, a growing superpower in the East.

The UDA delegation like their boss in the US, was also eying lucrative deals from China because the party’s executive director Nicodemus Bore said they were seeking Sh1 billion in financial support to construct their party headquarters.

Prof Peter Kagwanja, the Director Africa Policy Institute says it is okay for President Ruto and his party to engage both the US and China as long as the agenda being pursued is of national interest.

“It does not matter if you do business with America, China or India. The end game is how Kenya will benefit from that engagement,” he says.

He thinks President Ruto’s UDA party may have decided to learn from CPC on how to organize itself because parties in Kenya have the highest mortality rate. The don gave examples of large parties like Narc 2002, PNU in 2007 and Jubilee in 2013, all-powerful former ruling parties that are now pale shadows of their former self or literally dead.

Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University, however, thinks it will be difficult for parties in a multi-party democracy to operate like CPC which has no opposition and works from an environment that does not condone corruption and dissent.

Naituli says party discipline seen in the Chinese party is something to emulate but also cautions that nothing else is worthy of being copied from the over 75-year-old party founded by Mao Zedong.

He wonders why UDA chose not to benchmark with the Democratic and the Republican parties in the US or the 112-year-old African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa.

“It is difficult to understand the logic that while the President was in the US striking all kinds of deals, in a country that has two big parties with best practices, his party was benchmarking and signing political agreements with a Chinese communist party,” says Naituli.

Prof Kagwanja thinks the president has chosen to politically walk left and march right militarily because Americans are never interested in anything concrete apart from winning the Cold War against China and Russia.

The US is also playing catch up on the African continent especially now that Russia has replaced US and France in the Sahel region and other parts of Africa, while China has invested heavily in the continent through its road and bridge network.

“Africa is interested in infrastructure and concrete policies that will bring about industrialisation. Giving a country 16 aeroplanes or one road is not going to help much,” says Kagwanja.

He also questioned the priorities of the US in its dealings with Africa, citing the amounts of money being thrown into opaque programmes like fighting corruption or professionalizing the police force.

He was referring to the Sh560 million pledge the US signed with Kenya to fight corruption and about a billion shillings to modernise and professionalise the National Police Service.

“Are we getting that money as an incentive for going to Haiti? It is good to give the police money but we must be very critical about the motive,” adds Kagwanja.

He is, however, worried that some of the agreements the US wants to tie Kenya may create unnecessary conflict for the country, including being thrown into war formations like NATO. He was referring to President Joe Biden’s pledge to make Kenya the first Sub-Saharan designated non–NATO ally.

Kagwanja says some promises made by the US in the past never materialised like when former US President Donald Trump signed an agreement with President Uhuru Kenyatta on the construction of the Mombasa expressway.

The much-hyped project was never actualised despite commitments that followed from US investors who visited Kenya for further discussions with government officials.

The same project has been listed among the deals Ruto clinched during his tour, but it comes barely five months before the highly anticipated US presidential elections in November.

Kagwanja argues that the US should be taking its commitments seriously, because they have used Kenya as its security base for 30 years now and furthermore it is Kenyan taxpayers who will pay for the project, just like they are meeting the cost of the Nairobi expressway.

It is also argued that most of the bilateral agreements signed will not directly benefit the common man because benefits from the mega projects will be realised after several years.

“If you put Microsoft in Kengen, how does that help the hustler? What does it mean for them if the country gets 16 old choppers that are falling from the sky like birds getting shot down?

It is worth noting that before UDA came to power, the Jubilee Party, then under the chairmanship of Raphael Tuju had with the support of President Uhuru Kenyatta also built a very strong relationship with CPC.

While receiving senior CPC officials, Tuju claimed that the party had effectively fought against corruption and it could be a big lesson for other African political parties. “It becomes very difficult to eradicate corruption in a country when that discipline is not there, within the context of a party,” he said then.

Jubilee party officials then visited China in 2019 and upon returning home, Tuju revealed that the party had planned to offer political courses in four local universities.

Nothing much materialized from the Jubilee-CPC relationship after the party lost power to UDA but its successor appears to have picked up from where the former left by pushing for a more robust partnership.

In December last year, it was reported that Malala had announced that the party was planning to build a leadership school to train politicians and budding leaders, an idea similar to what Tuju had earlier floated about university courses.

Malala spoke during a visit by CPC officials, where he also claimed construction designs for the alleged school, which was to be located at UDA headquarters had been completed. “We have bought the land where the institution will be built and construction is expected to start in 2024,” said Malala.

The party leader did not explain where funding for the project would come from but Prof Naituli now understands why the party may be requesting CPC to fund such lofty projects. “Money is a big motivating factor otherwise they could not be so eager to deal with the Chinese,” says Naituli.

Despite describing some of the goodies President Ruto got from his visit as hot air and American public relations, Kagwanja agrees that he did well by trying to get as much as he could have done in deals amounting to almost a trillion shillings.

But the US appears to be playing catch up because Chinese state corporations have for over two decades now engaged in the construction of major infrastructure projects not only in Kenya but on the African continent.

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