“The Chinese government and people are eagerly expecting the arrival of President Kenyatta,” wrote Liu Guangyuan, China’s ambassador to Kenya, in a recent opinion piece published on Kenya’s Capital FM Web site.
“As long as we work hand in hand, China-Kenya friendship will become more magnificent than Mount Kenya, and the prospect of China-Kenya mutually beneficial cooperation will become broader than Maasai Mara,” added Liu, referring to Kenya’s tallest mountain and one of its best-known game parks, respectively.
Given what has unfolded over the past few months in Kenya, it’s not surprising that Kenyatta, 51, has chosen to visit China, as well as Russia, before Washington. He stopped in Moscow late last week before heading to China.
Both China and Russia have been silent over allegations that Kenyatta and his vice president, William Ruto, committed crimes against humanity at the time of Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections.
Kenyatta and Ruto are accused of orchestrating and funding mobs to kill and pillage. Both men face charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague; Ruto is scheduled to face trial next month, Kenyatta in November. Both have said they are innocent.
During the run-up to this year’s elections, Johnnie Carson, then the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, cautioned that Kenyans’ choice for president would have consequences because the victor “must work with the international community.” That prompted Kenyatta and his advisers to declare they would look to China if the United States and its allies were unwilling to work with his government.
President Obama’s decision this summer to bypass his ancestral homeland of Kenya during his first extended visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office provoked anger and frustration among many Kenyans. Many Kenyans felt Washington was punishing them for electing Kenyatta and Ruto. Senior White House advisers said Obama was reluctant to visit Kenya and meet with Kenyatta because of the ICC charges, though Washington remains willing to work with him.
China has no such concerns. In fact, Liu is seeking to elevate China’s diplomatic relationship with Kenya to a strategic partnership, which only a few African nations enjoy, according to local news reports. In his op-ed, Liu touted how Chinese investment in Kenya had reached $474 million, representing Kenya’s largest source of foreign direct investment, and how bilateral trade had reached $2.84 billion last year.