This forum holds great diplomatic significance for China, as it’s the most important event of the year and a notable celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. Over 140 countries and 30 international organizations, including leaders, officials, and representatives from various sectors, have confirmed their participation.
According to Rigathi Gachagua, the head of state, who criticized his predecessor’s heavy borrowing from Beijing, will visit China at an unspecified date. He will ask for “more time to slowly repay the debt”, as well as a billion dollars to complete road projects delayed by lack of funding.
Kenya, one of East Africa’s largest economies, has accumulated more than $68 billion in debt, equivalent to 67% of its gross domestic product.
“We are a responsible government, we can’t say we won’t pay the debt,” Rigathi Gachagua told a local radio station.
China, which William Ruto has not visited since his election in August 2022, is the country’s second-largest creditor, after the World Bank. In Mombasa, East Africa’s largest port on the Kenyan coast, it is financing the construction of a new terminal.
Beijing has also lent $5 billion (€4.7 billion) for the realization of the most expensive infrastructure project since the country’s independence in 1963: the train line that since 2017 has linked the port city of Mombasa to Naivasha, in the Rift Valley, via the capital Nairobi.
During the election campaign, William Ruto had denounced the loans of his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta, pledging to find other ways of stimulating development to build the country’s necessary infrastructure. China has rejected criticism that its lavish loans are plunging some countries, particularly in Africa, into debt overload.
During a visit to Kenya in July, Beijing’s head of diplomacy, Wang Yi, praised bilateral cooperation and a “win-win” partnership. Despite a dynamic economy, around a third of Kenya’s population lives in poverty.
Economic growth slowed to 4.8% last year, from 7.6% in 2021, hit by the global fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a devastating regional drought that hit the country’s vital agricultural sector. Inflation remained high, at an annual rate of 6.8% last month.
In July, global ratings’ agency Fitch Ratings downgraded Kenya’s ability to repay international lenders from “stable to negative”, citing tax hikes and social unrest.