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Is Kenya the New Chinatown?

“Signing a contract with China is like, ascribing to the boiling frog effect; a fable describing a frog being boiled alive slowly. If you drop a frog suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if you put that same frog in a vessel of water and start heating the water gradually, it will adjust its body temperature accordingly until it reaches a stage beyond its capacity and dies foolishly” Someone noted.

It always starts with good-intentions. Remember the story of the European colonialist alias Missionaries who were just here to preach the good gospel?  It did not end with most Kenyans in paradise, did it? Most of us in our younger years saw the “Made in China” brand before we even realized China was a country. It was common to see this in virtually most of the products we used. Well, at least, that’s how it started. And I am thinking, shouldn’t we question the kindness of the Chinese government? The cheap loans they provide for Africa? Because for me they seem like a soft-spoken warrior carrying a big stick. Everything China is doing seems to rest under a big geostrategic umbrella. It’s more than the infrastructure and good relations they preach.

Case in point, in Zambia everywhere you look bears Chinese signs and characters. With a debt of close to $10 billion, Chinese loans account for between a quarter and a third of that total. Often, the risk does not lie on borrowing, but on the inability of a country to repay the loans they have borrowed beyond their means. And acknowledging the fact that loans with China are not made public, it might not be possible to find out what our governments promise as collateral for the loans. It could be anything, most probably state assets. In October 2018, Zambia’s state owned media station published an article in mandarin, can you believe that? And it doesn’t help that mandarin uses a distinct alphabetical characters.

The recent story about Chinese opening up mitumba shops shouldn’t surprise us. We owe them, a lot! The least we can do is co-exist with our co-citizens.  And we can’t blame China for anything, after all, where ignorance rules, there is opportunity and avenue to overrule. It makes a lot of sense for Kenyans to be wary of the increasing Chinese infestation in the country, especially in local businesses. For people who can’t run businesses or even be employed abroad, leave alone in their own country, it is utterly unfair for Kenyans to be subjected to this version of neo-colonialism. However, the Chinese presence in the country is an unavoidable inevitability as they continue enjoying entry into the country via the invisible superhighway from China to the heart of Kenya. And as the old French proverb goes, Comme on faict son lict, on le treuve, we’ve made our bed and now we must lie in it.

And I am doing exactly that. I am getting ready for an irreversible Chinese culture. I am getting ready to ‘eat everything with four legs, except tables and everything that flies except airplanes’. I can’t wait to write an article for the Daily Nation in mandarin in order to reach more Kenyans. And now it’s the year 2040, and the Governor of the Protectorate and Colony of Chinese Kenya has agreed to release rebel leaders of the marginalized hostiles, as a show of goodwill to the locals. Déjà vu!

By Dishon Babito

Economist and Blogger


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