Africa is looking east for Chinese investment - but all is not well in this remarkable partnership

Mark Austin

Former ITV News presenter

It is not unusual to hear Twinkle Twinkle Little Star ring out from a primary school in Kenya. British influence, British charities and British money still play a part here; the colonial legacy exists still.

But what I was not expecting on a visit to a school in a shanty town on the outskirts of Nairobi, was to hear the rhyme sung by the township children in Mandarin, the official language of China.

The school, it turned out, was built by the Chinese and funded by the Chinese. A small gesture, but one appreciated by the headmaster, who says since Chinese involvement, exam results have dramatically improved.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. The Chinese after all are the new colonialists here. It is an economic colonialism and it's become more established with every passing year.

China has become Africa's biggest trading partner, exchanging about $170 billion (£127 billion) worth of goods a year. More than one million Chinese have moved to the continent in the past decade or so.

The evidence of Chinese investment is everywhere. Most of the office and apartment blocks going up in Nairobi are being built by Chinese construction companies.

The biggest construction project currently underway in Kenya - the Mombasa to Nairobi railway track - is being built by the Chinese, who have imported their own steel, engineers and labour for the massive job.

Elephants pictured near a railway track in Nairobi. Credit: ITV

The talk in government in Nairobi and Beijing is of a win-win partnership. But the voices of criticism are being raised ever more loudly. Many believe Kenya and the rest of Africa has opened up to what is effectively exploitation.

Kenyans are not benefiting sufficiently from the investment projects underway in their own country. There are also complaints that China takes primary goods from Africa and sells back manufactured ones .

So all is not well with the relationship and things have also deteriorated since China's economy has slowed. But it remains a remarkable story.

Africa now looks east and likes what it sees. And if it isn't China, it will be growing its trade with Africa even more quickly than Beijing.

Watch this space.

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