The contemporary and continuing presence of Chinese state owned corporations in Sub Saharan Africa has reignited the long buried economic colonialism narrative. Contesting views claim the development significance of Sino-Africa engagement or that the net effect of such engagement is a basket of economic neo-colonialism. This research is anchored in public concern that, although new to Africa, China, is motivated by a desire to explore and exploit African resources similarly to Western nations in the past.
To determine China’s impact, the research is nested under internationalisation – Foreign Direct Investment theory and focused on the Sub Saharan Africa region. The research is narrowed further to target Chinese state owned corporations’ investments in Kenya. Applying ethnographic methodology, a representative sample of various stakeholders in Kenya was interviewed. Together with data from participant observation, documents and discourses, a detailed qualitative analysis was completed.
The study reveals the participants’ experiences consist of varying view points: on one hand, the limited absorption of local labour, lack of skills and technology transfer, limited regard and care for the environment, continuous engagement in unethical practises such as bribery to win major construction tenders and other concerns, indicate that Chinese corporations are seen to exhibit features akin to economic neo-colonialism. On the other hand, through the realisation of significant infrastructure development such as the construction of roads, real estate, railways, ports, and upgrade of airports, their real and actual impact is far from exploitation and close to a development partnership. This constitutes building the much-needed and long overdue sustainable economic foundation that will, in the long-term, facilitate real economic growth in Kenya. Importantly, through collaboration with various willing stakeholders, civic education and human rights awareness, the majority of Kenyans led by the youth are summoning their collective agency to not only create technologically sophisticated enterprises, but also to demand transparency and accountability in government, credible and unifying leadership across all levels, and unrelenting efforts in fighting corruption.