Claiming India has lost its “first-mover advantage” in Kenya to “newcomers”, the High Commissioner of Kenya in India, Willy Bett, on Friday claimed China has pipped India as their biggest investor and trading partner.
“The first-mover advantage that India had in Kenya was lost a few years ago. India was the number one investor in Kenya. But for the last four-five years, China has come up and dislodged India,” said Bett, while pointing out how Gujaratis were the first Indian community to come to Africa and set up business in the continent.
Bett, who was in Ahmedabad on Friday to address businessmen in Gujarat about the investment opportunities in Kenya, said the bilateral trade between both the countries dropped to USD 2.4 billion in 2018 from USD 3.24 billion in 2014. During this four-year period, China’s trade with Kenya grew to USD 3.9 billion from USD 2.5 billion in 2014. “Ten years ago, around 2008, the trade with China was less than USD one billion and it pipped India in 2014,” he said adding that when the Chinese came, Indians took “a step behind”.
India exports petroleum and steel products, pharmaceuticals, machinery, yarn, vehicles and power transmission equipment to Kenya and imports soda ash, vegetables, leather, tea and coffee.
Describing Indians as “natural allies”, the Kenyan diplomat said, “You need to take care of your first-mover advantage, so that you do not allow newcomers to come and do business in Africa and edge you out of the original advantage of being their first… It is time to retrieve it by restructuring our relationship. I want to tell you that competition has come up and the most obvious is China. For real, there is some serious competition.” Apart from China, UAE is another country that is making it’s presence felt in the oil and gas sector in Kenya.
Bett, however, said most of the perception about Chinese presence is born out of “panic.” “Chinese presence is all over, but some of it is panic also… I think there is more fear than anything else about China…,” said the high commissioner, while talking about how a Kenyan minister who visited Delhi last week was pounded with questions about China.
Talking about investment potential in Kenya, he said Indian businessmen could look for opportunities in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, agriculture and affordable housing.
This is however, not the first time an African nation has spoken out about China edging out India in Africa. During the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January 2018, Ugandan Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (international affairs), Henry Okello, had pointed out that the Chinese had grabbed the opportunities in Uganda, while Indians stagnated and complained about their presence in Africa. These remarks come at a time when both India and Japan are in the process of setting up an Asia-Africa Growth Corridor to counter the influence of China and its One-Belt-One Road (OBOR) initiative.