Learning about China-Africa relations through Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway
Mount Allison student focusing on construction and history of the international project
Hudson Biko is spending this summer in Sackville studying relations between China and Africa. The Philosophy, Politics, and Economics student received a Mount Allison Independent Student Research Grant to carry out the project.
Biko, who is an international student from Kenya, is concentrating on one area in particular.
“I am going to be focusing on the construction of Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway as a way of telling the story of current China-Africa relations,” he says.
Biko has a personal interest in the project as he witnessed the construction of the railway during trips from Mombasa to Nairobi as a teenager. It was opened in 2017 and he saw it in operation last summer.
According to Biko, China is heavily involved in most aspects of the railway, including its funding, its use of Chinese labour and materials , and now that it is finished, its oversight by a Chinese company.
What does this mean for Kenya and Africa?
“The investment in the railway, much as it provides transportation infrastructure for Kenya, is also part of China’s strategy to expand its footprint and influence on the continent,” says Biko.
“I want to see what implications the railway has for China-Africa relations, and how and why it was built from both country’s perspective.”
Biko explains there may be far reaching ramifications to the building of the railway.
“Yes, there is this investment, but how is it affecting trade, policies and services in Kenya and influencing the accountability of Kenya’s and Africa’s leaders?”
One of the main advantages of the railway for China is it gives it access to resources. “China is a growing power but needs resources to help supplement its growth and Africa is resource-rich,” says Biko. “So, forming this relationship allows access to resources. The continent of Africa, with a large and growing population, is also a huge potential market for its products. China is also developing strategic diplomatic relations with the countries in the African continent, and benefits from their support in the international arena.”
For Biko, it is not clear what will happen in the long-term, but in the short-term Kenya and other African countries have been able to finance large-scale infrastructure projects. Part of the problem arises when they try to pay off the debt.
“As they are already in moderate to high levels of debt, some countries will have to turn to their national resources, or relinquish stakes in state-owned enterprises, to pay off what they owe. This may hamper the long-term development of countries that are loan recipients.”
This is Biko’s third Sackville summer. The first two years, he worked for the Mount Allison Admissions office. He meets virtually with his advisor on the project, International Relations professor, Dr. Dave Thomas bi-weekly.
"Biko is a really intelligent, committed, thoughtful student and person. It's an absolute pleasure working with him on this project, and I look forward to engaging with his analysis of the rail project in Kenya this summer," says Thomas.
During the school year, Biko plays indoor soccer and ultimate frisbee, works in the University’s marketing and communications office, and has been involved with ENACTUS, a student entrepreneurship group dedicated to making the world a better place. Over the past year the group donated and recycled about 600 textbooks collected on campus. Biko reached out to Textbook for Change, a social enterprise in Toronto.
“They have partnerships with universities in East Africa, so they donated some of the textbooks back home, which was fantastic,” says Biko.
After graduation, Biko, hopes to work for a development organization and then do a Master's in the field of international development.