Chinese companies are building a superhighway in Kenya to help expand the economy. The project is helping Chinese businesses penetrate the continent. But the downside is increased poaching and an influx of counterfeit goods.
The Chinese impact on the country's wildlife has led to police at Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport seizing smuggled shipments of elephant ivory and rhino horn.
"Most of the arrests have been of Chinese origin," says Patrick Omondi, head of species conservation and management with the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Police caught a Chinese man in late April traveling through the airport with more than 200 pounds of ivory. Omondi says Kenya has been hesitant to raise the issue with the Chinese Embassy. "It will be sensitive, because we are looking for help from China on so many things," Omondi says.
NPR made repeated calls and sent texts to the embassy in Nairobi to discuss China's role in Kenya. Embassy officials never responded.
Esmond Bradley Martin, who studies the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, says both animals are increasingly in danger because prices and demand are growing as China's economy expands.
"Horns have been appearing in London at these natural history sales," says Martin. They're paying up to R600 000 for a pair of black rhino horns.
With the Chinese economy "growing at 9 to 10 percent, now average Chinese can afford to buy rhino horn," he adds. Chinese and Vietnamese demand for rhino horn is now so strong that at least one private reserve in Kenya gave its remaining rhinos to the government. The owner said she could no longer afford to protect the animals from poachers.
Chinese demand is helping to drive poaching and Chinese fake products are costing jobs. But people here say the Chinese are doing something Kenyans themselves never could: build a modern transport system. Kenyans hope the new roads will help lift up a country that's still relatively poor and improve ordinary lives.
The Chinese are building a massive highway and truck factory, and jockeying to construct a new port. Kenyans say it's all part of a broader Chinese strategy that is winning friends, opening markets and causing unease.
East Africa's economy is worth about R450 billion. The International Monetary Fund estimates that seven of the world's fastest-growing economies over the next five years will be in Africa.
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