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Kenyan President Seeks Ally on Trip to China

  • Gabe Joselow

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, left, and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, left, and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on a state visit to Beijing aimed at fostering economic ties between the two countries. But the Kenyan president may also be looking for a powerful friend to help him shake the case against him at the International Criminal Court.

Accompanied by a delegation of Kenyan businessmen, the stated purpose of Kenyatta’s trip is to build on economic partnerships with China and to seek greater market access for Kenyan exports.

On his arrival Sunday, Kenyatta spoke of the transformative power of Chinese investment in Kenya.

“As Kenyans very well know, we as a country have benefited greatly from Chinese investment, especially in our infrastructure. The roads that we are developing, the transmission lines that we have been developing, these have been as a result of our close partnership with this country” he said.

In an opinion piece published before the visit, Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Liu Guangyuan said China is Kenya’s largest contributor of foreign direct investment, while bilateral trade topped $8.4 billion last year.

Seeking help on ICC case

But analysts say Kenyatta’ less-publicized motive on this, his second trip outside of Africa, is to rally international support to have his case dropped from the International Criminal Court. Kenyatta and his deputy are facing crimes against humanity charges for allegedly orchestrating the violence that followed the presidential election in 2007.

Because of those charges, some Western nations had threatened to cut off ties with Kenyatta before his election.

University of Nairobi political science chair Adams Oloo said the president is trying to woo powerful allies.

“It was quite important in his first visit that is bilateral that he be received by countries that are not only powers within the globe, but also those who would be keen to impress him, irrespective of the charges against him” he said.

Kenyatta flew to China from Russia, where he met with Russian officials and cheered on Kenyan athletes competing at an international track and field meet in Moscow.

China and Russia hold permanent positions on the U.N. Security Council, and are renowned for their willingness to wield their veto power to oppose politically controversial measures. Kenyan officials and the African Union have been lobbying the Council to have the ICC case referred back to Kenya.

Oloo said the visit also sends a clear message that Kenya is not reliant on the support of critical Western nations.

“In a post Cold War era, in which it is not a bipolar system, I think President Uhuru Kenyatta was sending a message that even if it comes, a situation where the west ignores us, we can always look to the east” Oloo said.

Addressing another touchy subject, the two sides are also expected to discuss efforts to combat poaching in Kenya.

China has promised to cooperate in the fight against the illegal hunting of elephants and rhinos as Kenya’s animal populations have come under increased threat, due to rising demand for ivory and rhino horn from Asian consumers. Kenyatta is due to wrap up his China trip on Friday.