Kenya Exploits US-China Rivalry in Construction of Ksh 6.2B Military Base

US troops at Manda Bay Airfield in 2019
US troops at Manda Bay Airfield in 2019.
New York Times

Kenya is keen on exploring the rivalry between the United States of America (U.S.) and China to obtain funding for the expansion of the Manda Bay Airfield in Malindi. 

Kenyan officials want the U.S. to pay for the expansion of the joint counterterrorism base but will have the option of turning to China if the Americans turn down the request. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, the United States has so far resisted Kenya’s request that their administration picks up the bill for the upgrade, but the issue is not yet settled.

U.S. service members in Manda Bay
A file photo of U.S. service members in Manda Bay.
Wall Street Journal

The planned upgrade of the military base is projected to cost about $50 million (approximately Ksh6.2 billion), including support buildings. 

Reports indicate that the expansion process will include a new runway long enough to handle jet fighters at Manda Bay Airfield. 

The airfield is a hub for U.S. and Kenyan operations against al-Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in neighboring Somalia.

The Americans are particularly worried that Kenya will bring a state-owned Chinese construction firm into a U.S. special operations base if the Pentagon opts out of the project. 

Kenya is a key U.S. ally in the 16-year, low-visibility campaign against al-Shabaab, which the U.S. military considers al Qaeda’s most-active franchise worldwide. 

However, the manner in which his administration will handle the aspirations for the facility could mark a new skirmish in U.S.-Chinese competition for influence in Africa.

The United States' operations in Africa have been through high-end military training while China has particularly focused on financing ports, bridges, and roads.

Since his inauguration, President William Ruto has been courting development partners in a bid to achieve his campaign manifesto. 

While the details of the deal for the expansion of the facility are scanty, President Ruto has been vocal against debt financing while calling for austerity measures across the government. 

An image of KDF soldiers during a past operation.
An image of KDF soldiers during a past operation.
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