What started as a rumour could soon become real. For the second year running the United States reveals that China intends to build another African military in Kenya.
In 2020, the United States Department of Defense warned that Beijing had ‘likely’ sought bases in Angola, the Seychelles, Kenya, and Tanzania.
Then in May this year, General Stephen Townsend – America’s top brass in Africa – warned a new naval base similar to the one in Djibouti could soon appear on Africa’s west coast.
Subsequently, this week the US Department of Defense again in its annual report to the US Congress repeats the same claims although China insists that it is a mere rumour.
“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] has likely considered a number of countries, including…Kenya as locations for PLA [The People’s Liberation Army] facilities,” said the Pentagon (US Department of Defence) in its annual report to the US Congress.
“A global PLA military logistics network and PLA military facilities could both interfere with US military operations and support offensive operations against the United States as the PRC’s global military objectives evolve.”
China opened its first military base in Djibouti in 2017. Chinese Navy marines are deployed at the Djibouti base, along with armoured vehicles and artillery support.
The US has says a Chinese base in Kenya would allow Beijing to project its military might into the Atlantic.
Consequently, the US has warned Kenya not to allow a Chinese military installation on her territory.
The US claims that the planned base in Kenya is part of China’s pursuit of a global military logistics network to counter the existing interests of superpower nations, including the US.
Nairobi and Washington, alongside its former colonial master Britain, have strong military engagements.
The US, for instance, has a military base in Manda Bay, Lamu while the UK has a similar base in Nanyuki.
In July, the UK renewed its multi-billion shilling defence pact that allows its troops to continue training at Nanyuki.
The new Joe Biden administration early this year also announced the deployment of American special troops to Kenya to help in counter-terrorism efforts.
The Department of Defense warned last year that Beijing has ‘likely’ sought bases in Angola, the Seychelles, Kenya, and Tanzania, and just this week General Stephen Townsend – America’s top brass in Africa – warned a new naval base similar to the one in Djibouti could soon appear on Africa’s west coast.
“The information mentioned…is totally false. Their (Pentagon) latest report is just the same as the previous fact-neglecting and bias-brimming,” Xueqing Huang, the Chief of Information and Public Affairs Section for the Embassy of China in Kenya, told the Business Daily earlier in an e-mailed response.
Such a base, which could be located anywhere from Mauritania to Namibia, would allow China to project its growing military might not just across the Pacific Ocean but the Atlantic too, General Townsend said.
But while the thought of Chinese military bases popping up across Africa may be new to some, in fact it is only the latest chapter in a decades-long effort to bring the continent under Beijing’s sway that has gone largely unnoticed.
The Chinese are outmaneuvering the U.S. in select countries in Africa.
China is building railways, including new lines between Mombasa and Nairobi in Kenya, Abuja and Kaduna in Nigeria, Lobito and Luau in Angola, and between Ethiopia and Djibouti.
China has constructed or expanded no less than 41 harbours in sub-Saharan Africa up to 2019, according to a CSIS report, meaning Beijing now has a commercial interest in around one in five of the total.
Africa’s power grid is also being transformed off the back of Chinese investment. China has financed seven new coal-fired plants in Africa with plans for 13 more – but the country is also investing in hydroelectric, and has interests in some of the continent’s largest dams.
For example, the huge Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which spans the Blue Nile and has sparked tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt, is a project in which China is heavily involved.
To run those projects, thousands of Chinese companies and tens of thousands of Chinese workers have set up on the continent and show no sign of going anywhere.
China has lent at least $153billion to African governments to finance the development – according to the China-Africa Research Initiative – though the real total is thought to be far higher once other types of financing such as grants and direct investment are included.
The projects don’t stop there. According to The Heritage Foundation, China has built no fewer than 186 government buildings in 40 out of 54 African countries, developed 70 per cent of the continent’s 4G networks, and even built sensitive intra-governmental communications networks for 14 nations.
Even the African Union headquarters, located in Ethiopia, was full financed and build by China.
And Beijing’s interest shows no sign of slowing. In 2018, President Xi Jinping announced the creation of a $60billion pot of Chinese money specially ear-marked for development projects in Africa.