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Here’s How China Is Changing Africa’s Future



JOHANNESBURG ― The contrast couldn’t be starker. As U.S. President Donald Trump’s government continues to champion isolationism and undermine decades-old international relationships, China is rolling out its Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, a project to build a new “Silk Road” that could change the meaning of globalization itself.
Africa is at the margins of both of these developments, but its future will be determined by them.

As someone who grew up in Africa, the project stirs a tangle of emotions. While it will directly affect East and North Africa, there is the chance that it could spur desperately needed development all along Africa’s eastern seaboard, where countries are still trying to recover from the proxy conflicts of the Cold War.

For me, it comes down to African agency: Are African governments doing enough to achieve gains that can be shared? Or are their citizens being left to pick up the tab? The issue isn’t just about an increasing amount of Chinese power in Africa, but about what local leaders will allow outside forces like China to do with that influence as well. The breakdown of trust between African leaders and the African population is being put to the test ― and even exacerbated ― by ventures like Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Breaking Down The Belt And Road Initiative

The Belt and Road Initiative breaks down into two parts, one over land and another over sea. The former, known as the Silk Road Economic Belt, is made up of interlinked rail lines, communications networks, and oil and gas pipelines running from Chongqing in China to Duisburg in Germany that connect the economic powerhouses of the Pearl and Yangtze Rivers with Rotterdam and Hamburg.

The second section ― the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road ― is a series of linked shipping lanes from Quanzhou in China’s Fujian province to Piraeus in Greece. It is enabled by a selection of massive port expansions from Colombo in Sri Lanka to Mombasa in Kenya. From there, it passes through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, and then overland to northern Europe. The maritime part of the scheme officially ends in Greece.

Beijing hasn’t committed itself to a timetable, and the criteria for what counts as a Belt and Road project are sometimes vague. However, if the scheme is fully realized, it will involve 65 countries and impact about 60 percent of the world’s population. It will also be expensive. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that it will cost roughly $1 trillion, with about $250 billion worth of BRI-related projects already underway or commissioned.

Meanwhile, Beijing is hyping BRI extensively, with everything from aid to space travel being described as falling within the Belt and Road frame. BRI is thus way more than a development initiative. Rather, it presents a new China-centric narrative of globalization ― a story that can fit many disparate elements into a wider geopolitical logic centered on the Middle Kingdom.

Africa is particularly susceptible to this new story of globalization. After all, few places suffered more under the old, Western-centered version of globalization than Africa. China, in contrast, is a relatively unknown entity to many Africans and thus offers an appeal that the West doesn’t with its considerably more weighty historical baggage.

For Africa, BRI isn’t only a better connection to the Chinese market, but also to European and Middle Eastern markets closer by.

This, together with the promise of Chinese-funded infrastructure, has raised African interest in the initiative, even as some Africans have misgivings about the rise of Chinese influence.

The launch this year of a new Chinese-funded rail network, which will link the interior of Kenya to the Belt and Road port of Mombasa in the country’s coast, revealed this ambivalence. As leaders praised it as a massive achievement that will supercharge Kenya’s future development, popular opinion was more divided, with complaints that the project is too expensive and will lead to undue Chinese influence in the country.

China’s Impact On The Continent

According to the Chinese government’s official plans, BRI has two African hubs: Kenya and Egypt. But Chinese-funded rail and communication networks are also linking other East African countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda to the BRI route.

The most notable of these is Djibouti, the home of China’s first overseas military base, key to combating piracy along the African leg of the BRI sea route. The military base is only a few miles from America’s Camp Lemonnier base, opening up Djibouti to potential conflict. Yet, its government is already talking about turning the tiny country into a Dubai-style transit and logistics hub.

This is a prime example of the fact that while East Africa, where much of China’s direct influence is, makes up the southernmost corner of BRI and only represents a small fraction of the whole scheme, the initiative has massive implications for the continent as a whole. This is because BRI doesn’t only touch Kenya’s eastern seaboard, it links with internal infrastructure networks also financed by China as well.

The most significant of these is Kenya’s newly inaugurated Standard Gauge Railway.

This Chinese-financed and built network links Mombasa and Nairobi, and future extensions will connect to an existent Chinese-built line between Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa and Djibouti, as well as to other countries in the region.

Eventually this internal network could link countries as distant as Rwanda, Uganda and Djibouti to Kenya’s harbors, and therefore to both China and Europe, via the BRI route. The combination of port and anti-piracy expansion will arguably smooth long-distance trade with China, while facilitating African trade via closer BRI hubs, like the Greek port of Piraeus.

China’s inclusion of Africa in the BRI means the continent is suddenly confronted with a whole new set of opportunities and quandaries. On the positive side, some East African governments see the influx of Chinese investment in infrastructure and manufacturing as a way to bridge infrastructure gaps and to position their countries as new logistics and manufacturing hubs that could serve not only Africa, but also the Middle East and Europe.

There is a nagging fear that Africa will once again become a cog in someone else’s machine ― that the African future will be endlessly deferred.
Take Mozambique, for example, a country devastated by civil wars fueled by outside interests. Mozambique recently discovered offshore natural gas. While not officially a BRI country, it is positioned to benefit from BRI-related port and shipping expansion, in order to sell natural gas to China. The benefits to Mozambique here seem to be a net positive. However, even with all this hope, there is a nagging fear that Africa will once again become a cog in someone else’s machine ― that the African future will be endlessly deferred.

The complexity of these emotions is closely linked to individual Africans’ responses to China’s growing influence on the continent. Conversations with different Africans about the initiative run from some condemning the cheap Chinese imports undercutting local companies, to others talking about launching new careers on their new Chinese smartphones. As some complain about working conditions at Chinese companies, others are learning Mandarin in the hope of studying in China. BRI will intensify these contradictions: it is bringing more Chinese goods, more Chinese money and more Chinese people, all while Africa is still trying to make up its mind how to feel.

And on top of that, East African economists worry that BRI-related infrastructure is going to create a massive new debt burden and undermine domestic development priorities.

As the debates about whether BRI will increase the poaching of African animals to satisfy the demand of Chinese consumers, and whether Chinese companies are hiring enough local workers, rage on the continent, some critics doubt whether BRI is achievable at all. But in a way, its imaginative sweep still stands in contrast to the West’s current isolationism.

A New Phase Of Globalization And A Potential Proxy War

Throughout the last two centuries, the story of globalization has been a Western story. Globalization, as we came to know it after the Second World War, remains linked to Western colonialism, and our stories about globalization remain West-centric. Think, for example, of our hope that authoritarian countries like Myanmar will adopt Western-style democracy, or our fears that non-Western countries’ desire for a Western car-based, meat-eating lifestyle will fry the planet. These stories are largely oversimplified, but they are powerful because they often feel true. They give us a template to understand a dizzyingly complex world. Throughout the 20th century, the hegemony of the West also shaped these narratives.

Now there is a new story about globalization, one that links pre-Western globalization ― the Silk Road ― to a vision of future globalization where the West is at best an outcrop, far from the center. For the first time, the West is sidelined from a narrative it used to think of as its birthright. This raises many questions about how the West will react to its changing status, and what specific global role China will play.

In Africa, it raises questions about whether the continent can leverage enough support from various rising powers to avoid becoming a proxy in a battle between big powers. While Djibouti with its many foreign military bases is a key spark for this fear, the competing agendas of Chinese and Western funders, corporations and nongovernmental organizations on the continent means that African governments are already playing a careful game of balancing various foreign powers.

Beijing is marketing BRI in Africa as a ”win-win development.” However, many Africans have their doubts, worrying that it could bring new forms of domination. While these fears differ from country to country, they are frequently less about the possibility of outright neocolonialism and more reflect a chasm between African populations and African governments. The question isn’t simply what will China do to Africa, but rather, what will African governments allow powerful external and internal actors (of which China is only one, albeit a powerful, example) to do to African people?

In conversations with ordinary Africans, one frequently finds an assumption that their own governments are in China’s pocket. That elites will profit from deals with Chinese companies, while local populations will be stuck with the financial and environmental bill, gaining little benefit from their resources. It certainly won’t be the first time this happened to African populations.

That said, at least China wants to do business. For all the fretting in the West about “losing” Africa to China, Western governments seem unaware of the depth of Africa’s exhaustion with the West.

There is a pervasive sense in Africa that the West is incapable of breaking out of its paternalistic view of Africa as only a series of problems to solve. There is fatigue with the West’s bias towards aid rather than eliminating internal subsidies that would open markets to African agriculture, its phobia of boatloads of African migrants, its fixations with disease and military drones. There is also a sense that the problem of Western racism is intractable.

Despite the many misgivings Africans feel about China, they are also making a hard-nosed calculation that the continent can profit from a close relationship with China in a way it can’t with the West.

I recently conducted an impromptu poll of a group of South African students ― all young black women. I asked them where they would they go if I offered them an all-expenses-paid vacation. I expected many to answer New York or London, but in a group of 10 not one wanted to visit the United States or the United Kingdom. When I asked them why, one said she doesn’t want to spend her holiday being hassled by police.

This isn’t to say that China is much better with regard to racism. In fact, it might be the power of U.S. media that influenced this response. These students are passionate consumers of U.S. pop culture, and have a high awareness of current U.S. conversations around race. While they can see the U.S. in unflattering detail, China still feels more distant. When I pressed them, most opted for beach vacations in places like Brazil and Mauritius, and spiritual journeys to India.

The U.S.-China dichotomy in Africa isn’t as simple as it looks from the outside. It has a lot to do with perceptions of being unwanted, and these sometimes trump what you actually want. The West telegraphs what it thinks of Africans in a million small ways. I recently applied for a visa to travel to China.

The entire process took a brisk 45 minutes. I couldn’t help comparing it to applying for a visa to Canada a few years ago, which included being made to wait in the sun for two hours and then shoved against a wall and body-searched. And I’m speaking from a place of white privilege ― black Africans are treated so much worse. In this calculus, China at least paying lip service to win-win cooperation is enough to differentiate it from the perception of an Africa-phobic West.

Obviously, one can’t apply this anecdote to an entire geopolitical relationship. But African commentators have pointed out that little came of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative, and that the African Growth and Opportunity Act still mostly favors U.S. extractive industries.

And, of course, President Trump has yet to mention Africa in policy discussions at all. China at least has initiated a relationship. It at least offers the proposition of Africa being valued as a market, and increasingly, as a production hub. And it has proved willing to help build the infrastructure that would make that possible. So it is not a surprise that BRI rhetoric plays relatively well in Africa.

Despite the many misgivings Africans feel about China, they are also making a hard-nosed calculation that the continent can profit from a close relationship with China in a way it can’t with the West.

Whether China’s Belt and Road Initiative will ever be a reality, and what part Africa will play in it, remain open questions. But even so, it is already offering Africa a glimpse of an alternative future. This future is by no means certain, or even necessarily good. But compared to Africa’s toxic relationship with the West, it is at least different.

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Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga agree to unite Kenyans



DAILY NATION — President Kenyatta on Friday morning held a surprise meeting with his political arch-rival and National Super Alliance (Nasa) leader Raila Odinga at Harambee House in Nairobi.

It was the first time the two were meeting face-to-face since their fallout following the hotly contested August 8, 2017 General Election and October 26, 2017 repeat presidential poll that Mr Odinga boycotted.


The agenda of the meeting centred on how to unite and heal Kenya following a divisive General Election in 2017.

In a joint statement, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga promised to work together to halt the country’s descent into the abyss following a divisive 2017 General Election.

They expressed their desire to aside their differences and reconstruct a nation that is responsive to the urgent need for prosperity, fairness and dignity for all Kenyans.

“There are changes in our system of governance for us to succeed and we have been in the process of reform to deal with them for the last 20 years,” Mr Odinga, who read the joint statement, said.

“Despite all the reforms, we continue to have a deep and bitter disagreement. Ethnic antagonism and divisive political competition have become a way of life.”


The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader said the political differences that have divided more than four Kenyan generations “must now come to an end”.

The Odinga and Kenyatta families have been fighting over the leadership of Kenya since independence.

On his part, Mr Kenyatta said they had agreed to put the interests of Kenya and Kenyans first.

They agreed to roll out a programme to effect their shared objectives revolving around war on corruption, ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution and divisive elections.

To implement the programme, the two formed a taskforce, co-chaired by lawyer Paul Mwangi and Ambassador Martin Kimani.

The two leaders urged Kenyans to overcome negative ethnicity “by acting on the understanding that elections on their own are not solution to our national challenges.”

All Kenyans, they said, should faithfully adhere to the Constitution and rule of law, and halt antagonism and tribal profiling.

The two leaders did not take any questions from journalists.

Conspicuously missing at Harambee House, in the heart of the capital Nairobi, were Mr Odinga’s Nasa co-principals Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula.

It was not immediately clear why they did not attend but cracks started emerging in the alliance recently after the three failed to attend Mr Odinga’s mock presidential oath.

The address and meeting come on the day US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to land in Nairobi on his tour of Africa.


Some Nasa and Jubilee party leaders welcomed the meeting and its resolutions, saying it would help heal Kenya.

Deputy President William Ruto took to Twitter to thank his boss and former boss on their agreement.

“Congratulations Pres Uhuru & Raila for being statesmen. You have risen to the moment for kenya and against hate, negative ethnicity and division,” he tweeted.

“The unity, stability and transformation of Kenya supersedes all other partisan interests. Wangwana mubarikiwe mpaka mshangae (gentlemen, be blessed abundantly).”

Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti said it was encouraging to see Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga bury the hatchet.

“The country will now be in the right shape now that the leaders can sit together despite the long and difficult political period we have had,” he said on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Kisumu.

“On behalf of the people of Homa Bay, I congratulate my party leader for taking this bold decision.

“It is a decision that ordinary people cannot take. We are very encouraged and motivated by this because it will open our country to better things. This is a welcome gesture.”


Mr Odinga and his co-principals in Nasa have been pushing for talks with Mr Kenyatta on electoral justice and reforms.

President Kenyatta had rejected their calls, saying he is only ready for dialogue on development and how to take Kenya forward.

Mr Odinga, who had vowed not recognise Mr Kenyatta’s election win and presidency, had threatened to lead a resistance movement against the Jubilee administration.

The Nasa leader, in a protest move and an open show of defiance, took a mock oath of office as the people’s president on January 30.

He insists he won the August 8, 2017 presidential poll but the figures were manipulated in Mr Kenyatta’s favour.

The president and the electoral commission dismissed his claims.

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Kenyan police seek to recover cache of arms after Al-Shabaab attack



MANDERA — Kenyan police have stepped up search for the Somali extremists who attacked two camps in northeast Mandera county and stole a huge cache of arms after the two raids in which five police officers were killed.

A police report released on Sunday said the terrorists blamed for sporadic attacks along Somalia border also looted the armory during the attacks, escaping with 16 G3 rifles, 26 AK47 rifles, 5 FN rifles, one F3 rifle, one M60 machine gun, one commando mortar 60mm and one base plate mortar 60mm.

The police report which was released two days after the raid by the Al-Shabaab militants says unknown number of ammunitions were also looted in the incident that left 12 police officers injured.

The police said on Friday they have launched a major manhunt for Al-Shabaab group leader that attacked two police camps in Mandera County.

Police spokesman Charles Owino said Jamaa Nuh Abdille, who fled to Somalia with others after the Friday dawn attack in Fino, was behind the killing of five police officers.

“We have since identified the leader of the group that carried out the attack as Jamaa Nuh Abdille who fled with others after the attack to Somalia and we are hot on their trail,” Owino said.
According to police report, the terrorists also destroyed a communication mast in the area affecting communication in general. Preliminary findings show the terrorists used Improvised Explosive Devises and other forms of explosives in the attack.

Northeastern Regional Coordinator Mohamud Saleh said they are pursuing various leads into the attack in efforts to recover the stolen ammunition.

“We have mobilized to ensure the area is safe,” Saleh said on Sunday. On Wednesday, security agents repulsed Al-Shabaab terrorists who tried to attack two police stations in Wajir.

Three suspects were arrested after they were chased by security forces from Ijara camps in the failed incident.

Police on the ground said the group had fired into the camps before officers there fired back in an exchange that lasted almost 20 minutes.

The area has been experiencing a rise of terror related attacks in the past months in which almost a dozen communication masts. Xinhua

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Somali refugees in Kenya between rock and hard place



NAIROBI, Kenya- Around half-a-million refugees stranded in Kenya face an impossible choice: either go home to al-Shabaab-wrecked Somalia under a controversial UNHCR “voluntary repatriation” program or stay and face massive debts accumulated due to food shortages at camps.

The dire situation can be witnessed firsthand at the Dadaab Refugee Complex in North Eastern province where over 486,460 refugees have taken asylum, according to figures released in January by The UN Refugee Agency.

Somalis living at the complex, which hosts thousands of makeshift refugee shelters, told Anadolu Agency the only reason they came to Kenya was because they were forced to flee the civil war back home and the threat of al-Shabaab militants who have killed many in the Horn of Africa region.

Dadaab is located 474 kilometers (294 miles) from capital Nairobi. It is an arid place with no paved roads but just swathes and swathes of barren fuscous-golden brown sand. Usually there is no sign of life en route to the camp except for lizards skittering across the sand. But sometimes people appear out of nowhere who can be seen herding camels. They are locals of the area who are mostly nomadic pastoralists and are always on the move.

As soon as one reaches the refugee complex, the picture of neglect and misery hits in the face as harshly as the scorching heat under which the extremely poor people live there.

Anyone who approaches the K1 block at the camp gets overwhelmed with requests from refugees scrambling over a barbed wire fence, urging for food, water, money or anything that one could spare for them.

Men, women and children can be seen squeezing into any spot that provides them with shade, others stare aimlessly into the distance deep in thought.

Tales of horror are in abundance here. One man said he arrived at the camp after spending three weeks in hiding after his family was killed in Somalia. Many others shared similar graphic realities.

Debts after food cuts

Several people at the camp told Anadolu Agency that after 30 percent food cuts were announced by the World Food Programme (WFP) for refugees living in Dadaab, they were forced to take loans to buy food and ended up accumulating “huge” debts of hundreds of dollars.

Many said it was because of these debts that they were now considering the recently-announced United Nations “Voluntary” repatriation program, which claims “to ensure the exercise of a free and informed choice and to mobilize support for returnees.”

Yassir Zahi said there is nothing voluntary about going back home and added he simply wants to run away from debt like many other refugees like himself at the camp.

“When the food cuts came, we were forced to accumulate debt since October 2017 because even the food was not enough for one person.

“Nothing is voluntary about me going home; I borrowed to buy food on credit and I am not alone; many have done the same, I owe the guy $300.

“All this I did to buy flour for porridge and milk and rice to feed my family; I used to sell flour but I ended up consuming it all with my family; they [money-lenders] came to ask for their money which I didn’t have and they threatened me and my family, especially my 16-year[-old] daughter,” Zahi said.

Through the voluntary repatriation program, the UN has created an avenue for people to clear off their debts “by returning back to my war-torn country,” he added.

In a 2018 report, Not Time to Go Home, Amnesty International also outlined how refugees were being coerced to go back to war at home due to the severe humanitarian crisis.

People left behind

Aamiina Osman, a 75-year-old woman, was found chained to a tree at the camp, attacking anyone who tried to come near her with a handful of sand.

Her adopted grandson Rashid Latif said she used to be happy and jovial but the terrible conditions at the refugee camp had destroyed the old woman.

“Her real family deserted her and went back to Somalia leaving her to fend for herself; they said that because she is too old she would slow them down once they got to war-torn Somalia; being deserted by the six family members made her partially mentally ill,” Latif said.

“On that night [they left], they chained four old women here [to the tree] and their families left; luckily, we found them, otherwise, they would have died; some went back to their homes but I adopted her [Osman] as my grandmother as I am an orphan and I take care of her,” he added.

Lack of funds

UNHCR’s Yvonne Ndege denied that refugees were being coerced to go back home. “The refugees are actually not ‘sent’ — they make a considered and informed decision to return or go to Somalia.

“There is a careful and detailed process that refugees who say they want to return follow before we help them return. That’s accompanied by up to date information from over 30 local organizations on the ground in Somalia constantly updating refugees on the situation back home. There are also what we call ‘go and see’ missions led by refugee leaders who go and see what’s going on in Somalia and come back with info for refugees considering return.”

She also told Anadolu Agency funding had not been adequate to help those wanting to return home.

“75,297 Somalis have voluntarily repatriated to Somalia since 2014, up to Dec 31, 2017; 35,407 returned in 2017 alone.

“There is a funding gap for the whole of Kenya. UNHCR support for refugees is only 32 percent funded, leaving a gap of 68 percent as of the 31st of December, 2017. We need $231.3M but only have $73.1M,” Ndege said.

Marco Lembo from the UNHCR said those who return get a “full package” in Somalia, which consists of conditional and non-conditional cash grants, including one-time payment of up to $1,000 per household and monthly grant of $200. He added that six months of food rations, supported by the WFP, are also given.

Somalia remains dangerous

Somali-based al-Shabaab militants continue to control cities in Somalia amid reports of them terrorizing women, men and children along the Horn of Africa region, which in turn causes massive displacement of people.

Guns have not been silenced in Somalia despite 25 years of conflict in the country. Experts repeatedly warn that going back to Somalia means returning to war and death.

But nonetheless, the Kenyan government has halted any new registration of Somali refugees and recently even disbanded its Department of Refugee Affairs, creating an invisible wall to hundreds of thousands who desperately seek asylum. Kenya had also urged the UNHCR to expedite the voluntary return of refugees after shelving a decision to close the camp due to insecurity.

At Dadaab, most refugees who spoke to Anadolu Agency said al-Shabaab had played a major role in their decision to seek asylum in Kenya to begin with, but now things are so bad at their refugee complex they feel they have no option but to take the hard road back home despite the dangers.

Summing up the sentiments of thousands of refugees like himself, Zahi concluded: “Life here is a hellish nightmare, I tell you”.

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