Parliament Warns of Sovereignty Compromise as China Funds New Ministry HQ

President William Ruto with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a past visit to Beijing.

Members of Parliament have expressed significant concerns about China's plans to finance and construct the Ksh4.4 billion State Department of Foreign Affairs Headquarters, a move they fear could undermine Kenya's sovereignty and independence in foreign policy.

This issue, dubbed "a new one by the National Assembly," has sparked considerable debate.

Last month, it was disclosed that China had committed to building Kenya's new Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters, a development seen by many as an extension of Beijing's influence in Nairobi. 

The Budget and Appropriation Committee (BAC), headed by Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, noted that China's grant funding and primary role as the project's contractor could compromise Kenya's sovereignty.

The committee’s report, released on Wednesday, June 5, states, “China's grant funding and being the main contractor of the project could potentially compromise Kenya's sovereignty and foreign policy.”

The project, estimated at Ksh4.8 billion, will be financed through Ksh3.60 billion in grants from the Chinese government, with the remaining Ksh1.2 billion coming from Kenya’s government funds, according to the documents in Parliament.

President William Ruto at high-level meeting with the Member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party Of China Central Committee and Director of the Office of Central Committee for Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi.

The 15-member committee, which includes MPs Millie Odhiambo and Lesuuda Naisula, stressed, “Such projects should be adequately financed through GoK funding and undertaken solely by the Kenyan Government.”

The pledge from China is to celebrate 60 years of bilateral relations between Kenya and China.

These details emerged during a ceremony where the Chinese government donated two VIP buses to the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs last month. 

During the visit, Kenyan officials expressed optimism that Beijing's pledge would be complete within the next three to four years, anticipating a new working station for Kenya's diplomats. 

Maurice Okoth, the Director of Asia and the Pacific Directorate stated, "We, in this ministry, have special gratitude to the government of the People's Republic of China for the generous grant towards the construction of a new ministry headquarters," addressing an audience that included Chinese Ambassador to Nairobi, Zhou Pingjian.

"I look forward to working with you to ensure the completion of this important project before the end of your tour of duty in Kenya."

In May, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted a technical team from China tasked with designing the new headquarters, following a commitment made in 2021.

Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing’Oei noted the project as a key demonstration of the diplomatic relations between Kenya and China.

“We are deeply grateful to the Government of the People’s Republic of China for its commitment to support the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the construction of our new headquarters,” Sing’Oei remarked. “This initiative stands as a visible marker of 60 years of diplomatic relations between our two nations.”

Currently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs operates out of the Old Treasury Building next to Harambee House along Harambee Avenue in Nairobi, a location deemed insufficient for its needs.

The proposed new headquarters are expected to provide a more spacious and modern facility for the ministry.

The debate comes as Kenya faces pressure to name its main trading partner between the US and China. This follows the red carpet treatment of President William Ruto by President Joe Biden last month.

Ruto has however maintained that “Kenya is neither facing East nor West.”

Presidents William Ruto and Joe Biden sharing a moment at the White House Rose Garden, May 23.