China hopes to better the once ‘dark-continent’

By Mark Kapchanga Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/15 21:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Kenya's transport sector will undergo a major resuscitation starting June, injecting a sigh of relief to thousands of businesses which have been struggling with the country's ailing infrastructure. The upcoming launch of a new standard gauge railway (SGR) for passengers and cargo will open up Kenya for more trade with its East African counterparts, namely Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia as well as Eritrea.

Starting SGR from Mombasa, the region's largest port, gives East Africa a unique opportunity to widen its scope by trading with other overseas countries. It's no secret that the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway is the largest ever infrastructure project undertaken in Kenya since the country attained independence in 1963. Undertaken by the China Road and Bridge Corporation, a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company, the modern, high-speed rail transport covering 609 kilometers will shorten the passenger travel time between the two cities from more than 10 hours to four hours.

Besides speeding up the travelling time and sparing the roads from continual damage due to heavy loads, so far more than 30,000 jobs have been created by the project, translating to at least 50 new jobs for each kilometer of track built.

The long-term impact of this new railway project, which refreshes the nostalgic and enduring memories of those lines built by the European colonialists, will be fully felt when it is later stretched beyond Nairobi to Malaba on the border with Uganda before being extended to Kampala, Uganda's capital city and thereafter to Kigali in Rwanda. Another line is expected to branch off to Juba in South Sudan.

The economic gains from the SGR project during and after construction cannot be downplayed. Kenya and its East African counterparts stand to gain immensely from this historic railway line. So will China.

Yet arguments continue being splashed in the media stating that China's aim is to enrich itself by extracting Africa's resources. Ironically, most of the platforms carrying such stories are Western-leaning papers; the outlets which once described Africa as a "dark continent." A continent that to them is not only plagued by ignorance, but also diseases, famine, primitivism and poverty.

As China expands its reach into African countries by penetrating even politically unstable nations (which Western countries had previously avoided) like South Sudan, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo as well as Zimbabwe, so does the perception build that China has neo-colonialist ambitions in Africa. Indeed, the recently-published series of stories in the New York Times are one such media project which is solely inclined to incite Africans against the Chinese.

While it is hard to tell with absolute confidence that China is totally free from any negative effects in Africa, and has in some quarters been blamed for increasing poaching, the truth of the matter is that China has played a pivotal role in reawakening the continent's economic energy, which had been stagnant for a long time.

Who knew, for instance, that Kenya's railway system would one day be modernized? No one ever imagined that Addis Ababa, stained by perennial political conflicts, would have a light rail transport. Thanks to the Chinese working on the Gibe III, Ethiopia is now set to be one of the major sources of electricity in Africa. The truth of the matter is that it is the Chinese who have also helped Ethiopians revive their shoe-making industry, making the country one of the very few countries in Africa that is flourishing in the leather industry.

Instead of driving negative publicity, it is time for the Western media to engage in constructive reporting that will hold power to account without necessarily being catalyzed by malice and envy. That way, both the Western world and China will help its younger sibling, Africa, to grow. That time, is indeed, now.

The author is a researcher and expert on China-Africa cooperation based in Nairobi, Kenya. Follow him on Twitter:@kapchanga.  Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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