China has signed a historic deal with five East African nations to build a $3.8 billion railway system linking the economic superpower with resources and markets on a continent traditionally exploited by Western powers.
AFP reports Chinese Premier Li Keqiang signed the deal with the leaders of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan at the Kenyan State House in Nairboi on Sunday.
Under the terms of the six-nation agreement, China’s Exim Bank will fund 90 percent of the cost to replace dilapidated, colonial-era rail lines with modern, standard-gauge lines linking the five nations.
The first leg of the project will link the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city, with Nairobi, the capital. From there, the railway will eventually extend to principal cities in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and war-torn South Sudan.
Construction on the project is expected to begin this fall and take approximately three and a half years to complete.
“This project demonstrates that there is equal cooperation and mutual benefit between China and the East African countries, and the railway is a very important part of transport infrastructure development,” said Li, who is currently traveling through four African nations in a bid to boost political and economic ties with nations that possess vast amounts of natural resources coveted by Beijing.
Li has refuted charges that China is replacing Western powers as a “neo-colonial” force in Africa. Addressing the World Economic Forum in Nigeria, Li pledged to devote more than half of its foreign aid to African nations. The Chinese premier largely sidestepped questions of Chinese resource exploitation in Africa and focused instead on cooperation between China and African nations in the fields of infrastructure development, poverty reduction, education, environmental protection and cultural exchanges.
African leaders expressed their appreciation of China’s interest and investment in their economies. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta asserted his country’s relationship with Beijing is “based on mutual trust” and that China is “an honorable partner.”
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been the target of fierce Western condemnation over his nation’s draconian anti-gay law than punishes some consensual adult sex acts with life in prison, said he was happy to see that “China is concentrating on the real issues of development.”
“They don’t give lectures on how to run local governments and other issues I don’t want to mention,” Museveni said, apparently referring to the discriminatory anti-gay law.