AFRICANGLOBE – President Uhuru Kenyatta‘s state visit to Russia and then China is an exact mirror image of Xi Jinping’s first overseas trip, which was to Russia and then to Africa. Of course, the first engagement between China and Kenya, occurred in the c15th, when the Chinese Admiral Zheng He visited the Swahili coast.
Naturally, the Chinese have been keen on ventilating the story of Zheng He’s c15th visit because it is a Soft Power Gift Horse. You will recall the discovery of Chinese DNA on Pate Island and the story is that the DNA belonged to Chinese Ming sailors who were shipwrecked and then married the local women.
President Kenyatta in an opinion piece in the Nation writes ‘ The other pillar is a rising Asia that rekindles memories of the ancient world economic system. This system revolved around the Indian Ocean as its hub and then, as now, the East African coast was an integral part. Kenya is central in the waters that host major sea-routes connecting Africa, the Middle East and East Asia with the Americas and Europe.’
Professor Felipe Fernández-Armesto explains why ‘The precocity of the Indian Ocean as a zone of long-range navigation and cultural exchange is one of the glaring facts of history’, made possible by the ‘reversible escalator’ of the monsoon.’
I have no doubt that the Indian Ocean is set to regain its glory days. China’s dependence on imported crude oil is increasing and the US’ interestingly is decreasing. I am also certain the Eastern Seaboard of Africa from Mozambique through Somalia is the last Great Energy Prize in the c21st.
President Kenyatta probably posed the question to Vladimir Putin, whether Russia felt it had a role to play in this Energy Great Game in East Africa. Therefore, the control of the Indian Ocean becomes kind of decisive and with control China can be shut down quite quickly. A Sine qua non of President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia is US/NATO Power Projection over the Indian Ocean.
The PRC preempted every single congratulatory note, when President Kenyatta was elected and in matters pertaining to diplomacy in the c21st, that early congratulatory message was an important signifier and I am sure it was well received. What is interesting is that when one looks at Kenya’s trade partners, Kenya actually looks West more than East. President Kenyatta has evidently embarked on his own rebalancing but I feel we need to remain as multilateral as possible and like those Ancient Swahili communities who plied the Indian Ocean and traded with the world.
Kenya’s key advantage is that it is the geopolitical pivot for this region. We are the transit state and have a gatekeeper status to world markets for a number of landlocked countries. In order to retain this advantage, we need now to leapfrog the infrastructure gap. China has more than $3 trillion of reserves. China has the financial capacity to support that leapfrog.
And I would have thought the President might be keen to stymie the $11b Bagamoyo Port because that proposal erodes our EAC gatekeeper status, in one fell swoop. These are the most interesting of geopolitical times.
By: Aly Khan Satchu