The dust on the Focus on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac) Summit held in Beijing earlier this month may have died down.
But the impact of decisions made there have elicited a rigorous debate on China’s role on the continent.
Gathered at a hall in Nairobi last week, experts in international trade, development policy and foreign aid and relations pored over the debate on whether financial aid from Beijing is trapping Africa or providing the much-needed keys out of the jails of poverty.
At the Focac Summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping told his African colleagues that his country would be pumping another Sh6 trillion into the continent.
It was in addition to a similar amount announced at a previous summit in 2015, doubling Beijing’s financial commitment to Sh12 trillion in just 36 months.
This amount is twice what Japan, through a similar programme called the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad), has sent to Africa since 2012.
The money from China would have “no political strings attached”, Xi said, and that there will be no interference in African countries’ internal affairs; no imposition “of our will on African countries” and “no seeking of selfish political gains” in investment and financing cooperation with Africa.
But that pledge created both support and criticism.
Supporters view the pledge as China’s continued move to fill a vacuum – supporting the continent where Western development partners were either reducing or tightening conditions for help.
Opponents on the other hand saw this as a bid to tie down the continent into massive debt, trapping its inhabitants to be slaves for Beijing.
For example, the US National Defence Strategy for 2018 accuses Beijing of “predatory economic practices” targeting neighbours and other vulnerable countries.
Critics in Kenya amplified their view after it emerged that Nairobi had not yet secured financing to build the standard gauge railway to Kisumu and that the Chinese were now assessing actual feasibility first before committing their money.
It also came amid stringent tax proposals like the VAT on petroleum products, tax on airtime and mobile money transfers as well as cutting down on spending.
So what is the true picture?
Africa is the biggest recipient of China’s foreign aid, taking nearly 52 percent of it between 2000 and 2012, according to the China-Africa Research Initiative. It would have loaned Africa Sh12 trillion by 2021, according to FOCAC.
At Sh534 billion, Beijing is one of the major creditors to Kenya but not the biggest.
Yet in Nairobi, the discussants at the forum organised by the Africa Policy Institute (Api) debated whether China should be blamed for loaning Kenya or Africa.
Development economist Anzetse Were told the audience that Africa’s debt debate should first relook at governance issues.
“China is already playing its role (in providing financial aid); it is time for African governments to seize their decision-making power,” argued the Business Daily columnist who charged that as long as ordinary folks in Africa are kept in the dark about the nature of financing deals their leaders enter into, it is Africa to blame, not China, when debt mounts.
In an earlier paper published by the South African Institute of International Affairs, Ms Were had argued that implying China plies clueless African governments with debt fails to acknowledge that African nations are aware of these debt obligations.
“Indeed, arguing that China is manipulating African governments into debt confers a childlike innocence on African governments,” she said.
Chinese officials say their foreign aid to Africa has seen the construction of 6,200km of railroad and 5,000km of highways.
Between 2000 and 2017, a study by the Africa Policy Institute found China extended $136 billion (Sh13.6 trillion) to African governments and their enterprises in the form of official development aid, export credit, suppliers’ credit and commercial credit. The China Africa Research Initiative shows these loans were non-concessional.
API CEO, Prof Peter Kagwanja, who moderated the forum, argued that Africa should see Chinese loans as some form of Marshall Plan, and use it in a way similar to the US post-World War II financial assistance to Europe, to ensure infrastructure it builds is supported by policies to break trade barriers and ensure it borrows as much technology as possible from China.
Yet that mounting debt has caused problems in Africa.
Angola, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan account for over half of Chinese lending in Africa with Angola and Congo-Brazzaville having reviewed their debt plans with China after it became difficult to repay routinely.
Zambia and Ethiopia are in discussions for the same but China is taking over Zambia’s power utility firm, Zesco, after Lusaka defaulted on $8.7billion (Sh870 billion) worth of Chinese loans.
Djibouti is facing similar predicament.
But Chinese Charge de Affairs Li Xuhang argued Africa to see a “bigger picture”, not just in terms of debt.
“The debt itself is not guilty. What matters is whether the debt is used for the country’s building, or for corruption or abused,” he argued.
“Second, the debt burden of African countries is not the fault of China. The debts of Kenyan and other African countries were accumulated into a big burden for historic and complicated reasons,” he added.
Africa’s economy used to rely on the West, he said.
The loans from Europe, he argued, are seldom used in infrastructure but for short-term programmes like health or education or governance.
Beijing, is therefore plugging a hole by providing “first bucket of gold” in the beginning.
“Some countries seized their “gold” by wars or colonisation in the past. China and African countries are all victims of colonisation, and we will never follow their ways of collecting money,” he said
According to latest figures from the Treasury, the World Bank is now the biggest creditor to Kenya at Sh581 billion and other countries like France, Japan, Belgium, UK, Netherlands, Finland and German all have fractions of bilateral debt with Kenya.
Mr David Owiro, a trade policy consultant in the Ministry of Trade, argued that the source of debt should be the least of worries, it should be how policies are developed to use the money.
“Regional policies need to be coherent so we can translate it into an African agenda. China is coming to Africa more a complimentary than the traditional support so we need to develop a path to sustainability.”
But China’s critics cite the low trade volumes for Africans as a contributor to the situation of indebtedness. For example, Kenya imported Sh390 billion worth of goods, mainly machinery and material for construction, and sold only Sh10 billion to Beijing in 2017.
The Chinese official responded that the situation is affected by the global market fluctuations which have increased the cost of financing Africa and the fact that Africa exports mainly raw materials whose international prices never change or are mostly controlled by middlemen.
“China’s financing to Kenya and Africa is not a trap. African countries including Kenya, now in a period of rising development, are making efforts to realise industrialisation, economic diversification and modernisation.”
“At the request of Africa, China and Africa have agreed to identify cooperation projects to help Africa overcome development bottlenecks,” the Chinese charge de affairs said.
But China, he added, will conduct thorough feasibility studies for selection of projects, and take into full consideration the supporting development of the projects after their completion.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.