China will appoint a Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa in efforts to support long-term peace and stability in the region, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday.
The region’s countries should also take “their destiny in their own hands,” he added, suggesting that the Horn of Africa countries should hold peace talks.
The Horn of Africa region has been threatened by instability in parts of Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia.
Mr Wang spoke in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa. The minister is on an African tour and he arrived in Kenya on Wednesday for crucial talks.
Appointment of an envoy shows China is following in the footsteps of the US, which in April last year named Jeffrey Feltman as the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa. Feltman is due to step down and Washington will replace him with its former Ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield.
Feltman’s five visits to the region in the past one year have yielded little as Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia all face continual crises.
The region is important for China, which already has a military base in Djibouti and has invested heavily in Ethiopia and Kenya, and has been establishing its presence in Somalia.
A war in Ethiopia, which pits the government against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) may not directly hurt Beijing, but it could slow down investments, including the continuing infrastructure building in the country.
Chinese companies recently completed the expansion of the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, raising its capacity to handle more passengers and flights.
China also completed the construction of the berths at the Lamu Port, which could be more viable if southern Ethiopia taps into it.
As originally intended, the Lamu Port was supposed to be a part of the envisioned Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (Lapsset), a Ksh2.1 trillion ($18.5 billion) project of a main port, highways, railways and airports.
Insecurity, such as Shabaab attacks on the Kenya-Somalia border and the conflict in Ethiopia, could slow that down.
In Mombasa, he met Kenyan delegation led by Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, where they signed six bilateral deals in trade, ICT investment, agriculture and economy.
The agreements will see Kenya start exporting avocado and fish to China.
In the agreements, the two countries agreed to work together to promote investments from Chinese enterprises in areas of agro-processing, textiles and apparels.
Also signed was an MOU on the establishment of a working group that will look into issues of tariff and non-tariff barriers to Kenya-China trade and fast track increase in exports from Kenya to China.
The two sides also concluded and signed two protocols to facilitate bilateral trade, particularly the export of avocados and sea products from Kenya to China.
Not a debt trap
At the same time Mr Wang dismissed claims that China is lending money to African countries to trap the continent with debts.
The minister said those spreading the false information want to destroy its relations with African countries.
China will continue helping African countries to combat its challenges, including poverty and underdevelopment, he said.
“This so-called debt trap is not a fact; it's speculation being played out by some with ulterior motives. This is a narrative trap created by those who don’t want to see developments in Africa. If there is any trap it is about poverty and underdevelopment,” the minister added.
Mr Wang said China wants to work with other countries that are friendly to African countries to eliminate poverty and underdevelopment, and contribute to the continent’s pursuit for independent and sustainable development.
“Our commitment is to be Africa’s good friend and partner. Our bilateral relationship has become a fine example of solidarity cooperation and common development between China and Africa. We will continue to support each other,” he added.
Mr Wang further said that China will donate one billion vaccines to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As a friend of Africa, China will never sit idle. The vaccines will be delivered in every corner of Africa where there is a need. We have announced another 10 million doses of vaccines to Kenya. In the face of various acts of power politics, China and Africa will defend international justice and fairness,” the minister said.
CS Omamo lauded China for standing by Kenya during its challenging times, saying Beijing has helped Kenya with major infrastructural development including the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
The multibillion-shilling railway project was launched in 2017 by President Uhuru Kenyatta and built using a loan from China Exim Bank.
“China has supported Kenya’s national development agenda through extensive infrastructure development, which has raised the stature of this country as a regional transport and communications hub. SGR stands out as a pivotal flagship project,” CS Omamo said.
She was accompanied by Cabinet Secretaries Mutahi Kagwe (Health), James Macharia (Transport, Housing and Infrastructure), Peter Munya (Agriculture), Ukur Yatani (Treasury), Betty Maina (Trade and Industrialisation) and Joe Mucheru (ICT).
In a poverty reduction and agricultural development initiative, China has donated 12,000 tonnes of rice for relief efforts to families that have been affected by the pandemic.
“Kenya lauds China’s contribution to the global development agenda and is pleased with the ongoing cooperation between the two countries at the United Nations Security Council and support to the African Union in the implementation of Peace and Security mandate,” CS Omamo added.