The Chinese develop infrastructure because it will ease the flow of their goods around the country. Having a 1.5-lane road out of the largest port in East Africa (and largest oil refinery as well), will not make it easy to ship DVDs to Nairobi. Good roads allow for more piki pikis (inexpensive motorbikes used for taxi service; made in China), good electrical systems allow for more computers and mobile phones. And of course, also providing medical care and some food production will keep your consumer base alive. And it’s good for the PR. How is it that Communists are out-capitalizing Capitalists?
Don’t forget the tourists either. Kenya is a beautiful place, no matter where you hail from. It is also potentially the cradle of all humankind (the Great Rift Valley is thought to be just that). There are animals here that attract Westerners and Chinese alike, as they are unique to Africa. The tourist industry in Kenya is faltering as Westerners feel the global economic crunch. After the 2002 tourism crunch due to the terrorist attacks in Mombasa, Italians and Germans filled the tourist gap left by the British. The 2009-crunch gap will potentially be filled by the Chinese.
Take it as you will. None of this is to say that the notion of development through goodwill is completely failed. In fact, if you look at the second definition of investment it does not specify an expectation of return in the form of money just an expectation of worthwhile result. I think Western agencies with feet on the ground need to act more like capitalist investors, better judging risk and reward, creating situations of accountability, promoting the top, but all the while expecting tangible returns. Too many projects start, fail or have mediocre results. It’s worse than the Silicon Valley startup culture I tell you, and this is unacceptable.
All I know is that there are a lot of guys with Chinese motor bikes making money. They don’t care about soap, or porridge projects, or beekeeping because they can make enough money to have fun now. Everyone calls Kenya a polepole culture (culture of slowness), but the youth don’t go slow; they like fast bikes, and fast money, and that’s what the Chinese bring. Maybe we should just start a piki piki company and call it, “Goodwill.”
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