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Growing ties with China boon for Kenyans

25 March 2013, 12:15

Nairobi - Kenya's stagnant job market does not frighten Brian Mbuthia Gikonyo.

Fluent in Chinese, the 24-year-old could easily get employed after earning a bachelor's degree in the Chinese Language and Culture from the University of Nairobi.

Gikonyo's career choices include a tourist guide for Chinese visitors, and a local employee of Chinese companies.

"I love learning Chinese but what's more important, it can help me find a better job," he said.

With more than 41,000 Chinese visiting Kenya last year, Gikonyo is already benefiting from the booming tourism business.

A part-time tour guide for a Chinese travel agency, he has earned 150,000 Kenya shillings (about 1,600 U.S. dollars), enough to afford a round-trip ticket for his first journey to Tianjin, China's northern coastal city near Beijing.

Tourism is one of the rising industries in Kenya bolstered by the country's growing ties with China. Bilateral trade hit 2.841 billion U.S. dollars in 2012.

All of this has placed Kenya, a leading economy in East Africa, in a favorable position to benefit from its ties with China's vigorous economy.

In recent years, Kenya's expanding middle class present huge market potential for China-made cellphones, cars and textiles.

Meanwhile, the growing Chinese middle class also begun seeing Kenya as a tourism attraction, and thus adding new vitality to the Kenyan economy, which has slumped due to the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

This has certainly been the case for Masai Mara, Kenya's most famous national reserve for safaris, where Chinese visitors are flocking in, anxious to see the exotic landscape and purchase local goods.

Gerishon Ikiara, a international economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said that in the past China's growth was mostly driven by exports, but the government's new policy of boosting domestic consumption could give Africa a lift.

"They (the Chinese) demand commodities from Africa and this in turn will give African producers better returns," Ikiara said.

Last year, China invested 379 million dollars in Kenya in new energy, infrastructure, tourism, and agriculture, according to statistics from the Chinese embassy in Kenya.

The east African country, apart from being a huge market for Chinese construction of roads, rail and other capital intensive projects, also sees increasing technology transfer and job opportunities for locals.

Foton Motor Group and Chery Automobile, two car manufacturers, are among the Chinese producers that have set up assembly plants in east Africa. Sources at Chery told Xinhua the company had an order for 800 police cars made in Kenya.

China's labor-intensive industries have begun to turn their eyes to Africa, where labor costs are forecast to grow more slowly, according to said Kwame Owino, an economist at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a local think tank.

"Africa can position itself to be the next global manufacturing hub. This will help reduce the high level of unemployment on the continent," Owino said.

- Xinhua


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