China at the conquest of Africa: in Kenya a new whistleblower is back


Special for Africa ExPress
Michael Backbone
Nairobi, February 23rd 2015

When looking at large infrastructure projects taking place in Kenya, a certain sense of silent indifference comes from the General Public and the civil society. No one really challenges anything because visibly the feeling is that nothing will change, regardless of the efforts put into the challenge.

Examples of this attitude can be easily earmarked as some national deals are and have been sealed with pump and rhetoric, in particular when it comes to projects involving China.

In those infrastructural projects of great magnitude shaping the future of the Country, some groups of people often in leadership positions take unfair and undue advantage of their position in order to illegally benefit of the pretended “largesses” that some Chinese groups put forth in order to win markets and projects.

If conditions were since inception spelt out transparently and the tangible advantages for the Kenyan people brought to evidence first and foremost, the general opinion would possibly be more forthcoming when it comes to such megaprojects.

For example:

Why the Single Gauge Railway has gone through more than a year of scrutiny and controversy if it was evident to anyone this is a needed project for the future of Kenya as trade and communications hub to East Africa? This still remains to be understood. And the project went to China Inc., when visibly all local plants were adequately watered.

Why the Safety and Security network, heralded in May 13th of 2014 has not seen a single stone laid in its execution remains quite unheard of.  And this has been financed by China through the firm Huawei fronted by the most presentable face of Kenya’s economy, Safaricom.

We do not lack lurid cases that could be helped in its resolution: the recent MP homicide right under a surveillance camera 100 meters away from one of the most notoriously protected buildings in town (Nyayo House,) could not offer forensic evidence of the events, is even more so shocking. Is this not part of the Safety network? Are we sure that the Chinese vendor can walk the security talk? Have all plants been watered?

Why the digital migration, heralded in early 2012 for execution on December 31st 2013 is yet still to happen is another mystery. Ask Star Times and the most recent ownership controversy/ignorance. Is the gardener doing its job here?

This sense of exhaustion pervading the Kenyan minds (“nothing will ever change”) has been all of a sudden challenged rather unexpectedly by a  voice raised by Daily Nation’s Managing Editor Jaindi Kisero in an article appeared on February 18th, page 12.

His article was taking inspiration from the rather disappointing saga concerning the Digital Migration and how the matter was quite dubiously handled by both the Kenyan Communications Regulating  Authority and the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications.

Kisero’s article made me think we could be witnessing the birth of a new John Githongo, a whistleblower whose voice was quickly put to silence in 2005 (by his resignation) by the strong powers taking undue advantage from the dirty dealings Githongo uncovered and that were put under friendly carpets in those times (In excess of 1Bn$. Source: The BBC

His last statements in the article draw quite a grim picture of the natural partners of Kenya, China, from the Digital Migration controversy to several other projects that have in a least to say opaque way, transited Eastbound to China:

“Make no mistake. I don’t suffer Sinophobia. But where is national interest in allowing the Chinese to control broadcasting in Africa? Mark you, many countries in the West, including the United States, still have laws which impose foreign ownership restrictions in the broadcasting industry. In this country, do we ever consider strategic interests when dealing with foreigners?

A few years ago, the Americans barred the Chinese ICT conglomerate, Huawei, from bidding for government contracts. I liked the way a senior American security official, Mr Michael Chertoff defended the action against Huawei. He said: “If you allow a foreign company to build for you the network  on which all data flows, the company will be in a perfect position to populate it with backdoors and vulnerabilities that only the foreign company knows about. And, each time the foreign company upgrades it, that will be an opportunity to install new spyware”.

For once, let’s think about national interest.” Endnote

In 2006 Premier Hu Jintao of China came to visit the country and since then things rapidly took a different turn.

Until that time, financing (call it investment money), was dramatically missing for kickstarting strategic infrastructure projects for the country to evolve towards modernity and progress, triggered by a program document called Vision 2030 presented at around similar time by the former President Kibaki.

The thorough and meticulous work prepared by State House’s team of experts resulted in a program document heralded as the roadmap for Kenya to bridge the development divide. It still represents the cornerstone for gaining a recognized developed nation status in the world. I may say this document rightly so aims at legitimating Kenya’s position in the world map.

When China came to Kenyan shores, it picked from Vision 2030 the projects that could favour China’s goal towards securing the resources it needed and still needs towards their own goal of becoming a ruling power of this world.

Some strategic sectors of Kenya were selected amongst others, road infrastructure, ports and energy, to some great extent telecommunications and related sectors, like media broadcasting or National Safety and Security as anchor projects to win at all costs in return of Kenya’s resources.

We have to thank the new Kenyan whistleblower for giving a new wake up call to the civil society of this country.

China or any other country willing to be friendly to Kenya should not deplete national strategic assets and interests by luring local corrupt politicians towards hefty personal paybacks to the disadvantage of the civil society and ordinary citizens.

Current projects will certainly be completed, but there will always be the same friendly voice reminding Kenyans they owe their newly acquired bit of wealth thanks to others, and time for payback will be billed back with interests to the Kenyan generations to come. 

Michael Backbone



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