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Chinese Radio Begins Transmission in Kenya

State-run China Radio International Friday launched its FM station in the Kenyan capital. The move is seen as a way for the Asian country to have a greater influence in Africa.

The station is transmitting 19 hours of programming in English, Kiswahili (the language widely spoken in East Africa) and standard Chinese.

China Radio International director Wang Gengnian said in a statement the station will broadcast the latest news from China and around the world and "the latest on friendly exchanges between China and Kenya."

Kodi Barth is a journalism lecturer at the United States International University in Nairobi and writes a column about the media in one of Kenya's daily newspapers. He tells VOA that he believes the new radio station is connected with China's increasing economic activities and interests in Kenya and the rest of East Africa.

Barth says Kenyans may initially tune into the station out of curiosity, but will have trouble competing with Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and other foreign heavyweights.

"Historically Kenyans seem to identify with the BBC," he said. "I think they occupy a market that's hard to beat, maybe because of Kenya's history with Britain. The Voice of America also, Kenyans tend to turn to VOA when they're looking for what they regard as independent analysis of their country. Now I don't see that happening with the Chinese radio, maybe because Kenyans haven't perceived the Chinese as interested in democratic space or independent views."

China has been steadily increasing its influence and economic activity in Africa over the past years. The Trade Law Center for Southern Africa estimates trade volume between China and African countries in 2005 at over $37 billion (U.S.), a record high and a sharp increase over the previous year's less than $30 billion (U.S.). Much of this was due to increased exports of oil to China, particularly from Sudan.

The Trade Law center adds that in the period, China imported more goods and services from African countries than it exported to them and that Chinese investment in Africa is also expanding rapidly. Official statistics show that in the first 10 months of 2005, Chinese companies invested a total of $175 million in African countries. Investments went into a wide range of areas, including trade, resource development, transport, agriculture and processing of farm products.

Kenya and China signed a number of agreements during Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's trip to China in August last year.