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When I landed in Nairobi in 2006, the Chinese were rebuilding Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
When I landed in Nairobi in 2006, the Chinese were rebuilding Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. At the time, their interests in Africa, which have grown exponentially in the past three years, were just starting to be noticed in black Africa. Today, the Chinese are building tomorrow’s roads, exploring for oil and building ports.

But there’s a growing discontent. Some Kenyan business owners, for example, are concerned that they’re losing out on lucrative contracts. The Chinese are being described, in some circles, as the new British. The only difference is that the former haven’t fired a shot.

The story, however, is quite a bit more complex than this caricature. Let’s start with a given. The Chinese have got a vast country to supply. Their need for energy, building supplies and food outstrips what can be produced within its borders. So the Chinese must find dependable, controllable stream of commodities. Africa is a perfect place.

The continent is geographically close, and wealthy in every respect, but the people. You name it: Timber, copper, gold, oil and a variety of minerals. Not to mention the perfect, endless growing season for food.

There’s another issue at work, and it’s the most often-discussed problem on the continent. Corruption is at the highest government levels in many African countries, including democracies like Kenya and dictatorships like Zimbabwe. So enter China.

With lightening speed, they’ve increased spending and commitments. This is not some overnight decision. The Chinese will be involved in African affairs for a very long time.

What will it mean? You’ll see better roads, improved rail lines, increased air transportation, cheaper access to a variety of commodities and a better overall economic climate. As things move forward, you are likely to see more options for health care and new educational opportunities.

ALL OF THIS WILL HAPPEN, IN PART, TO benefit the Chinese workers who are in the country for one sole purpose: To help find commodities and move them to Kenya’s ports. This kind of relationship has been happening for centuries in Africa, whether with the traders from Arab lands or the influx of Europeans.

What else will the Chinese investment bring? Lots of discontent if it’s not handled properly. Already, Kenyan businessmen and women are complaining about the fact that Chinese are doing the work once done by their companies. There will be further disappointment because Kenya will not see the gains in employment that ought to come with such expansion.

The reason is very simple. Corruption still rules in Kenya. Government officials, who are in charge of these massive contracts, will continue to line their pockets until they are stopped by the people. Kenyan businessmen and women should not be angry with the Chinese.

They should focus their concerns on a government that does not represent their interests. Why do you think that buildings are collapsing on a regular basis in Nairobi, and it’s not uncommon for traffic wrecks to kill a dozen or more?

This is not complex algebra. It’s very simple stuff. The Kenya government must be stood on its head, and wrongdoers punished for their thievery. Future contracts with the Chinese should be heavily negotiated so that they’re good for all of the Kenyan people — not just the bureaucrats.

The US made headlines in Kenya because it froze the money normally given to Kenyan education. Lots of American money still flows into Kenya, but it’s being aimed more carefully. America’s interests are more strategic.

There’s a strong view that Kenya can model the change that’s needed in many African countries. A more stable Africa means a more prosperous continent, and a brighter future for the people. The translation: Fewer places for terrorists to hide.

The Chinese share many of these concerns. While there hasn’t been a lot of publicity, the Chinese navy has been working with Western interests against the Somali pirates who are tormenting the world’s shipping lanes.

So let’s end the debate about whether the Chinese ought to be in Kenya. The real question is how quickly can Kenya get its house in order?