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Viewing cable 07NAIROBI4246, KENYA - DOING BUSINESS THE CHINESE WAY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07NAIROBI4246 2007-10-30 08:08 2011-03-01 21:09 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Nairobi
VZCZCXRO2675
RR RUEHGI RUEHRN
DE RUEHNR #4246/01 3030813
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 300813Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3164
INFO RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0373
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 0021
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 0027
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 0018
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0019
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NAIROBI 004246 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE PASS USTR - BILL JACKSON 
STATE FOR AF/E, AF/EPS AND EB/CIP 
 
E.O. 12958:  N/A 
TAGS: ECON ECPS EFIN KCOR CH KE
SUBJECT: KENYA - DOING BUSINESS THE CHINESE WAY 
 
REF: NAIROBI 4202 
 
NAIROBI 00004246  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
Sensitive-but-unclassified.  This cable is not for release outside 
USG channels. 
 
1.  (SBU) Summary: Chinese firms selling into Kenya's information 
and communications technologies (ICT) sector are throwing a lot of 
money around, according to industry contacts.  Indeed, Chinese 
influence may be so great that it is distorting important investment 
decisions in the country.  Putting aside corruption, Chinese ICT 
vendors are difficult to beat on price and quality, and therefore 
often win government procurement tenders.  However, companies that 
buy Chinese equipment often find that they end up paying the piper 
later due to poor after-sales service.  End summary. 
 
2.  (U) In the course of gathering information for reftel report on 
developments in Kenya's information and communications technology 
(ICT) sector, interesting anecdotes emerged about the way Chinese 
firms do business in Kenya. 
 
---------------------------- 
China "Re-Colonizing Africa" 
---------------------------- 
 
3.  (SBU) "The Chinese are re-colonizing Africa for natural 
resources," according to Michael Joseph, the Amcit CEO of Safaricom, 
Kenya's largest and most successful mobile phone company, speaking 
to U.S. Mission staff on October 18.  Joseph diverged from his brief 
on Kenyan efforts to build FONN, a new terrestrial national fiber 
optic network (reftel), to say the project is an example of how "the 
Chinese are driving the ICT agenda in Kenya."  FONN, he said, was 
poorly planned - consciously so, in his view, so that Chinese 
companies could get fatter contracts.  As noted reftel, FONN will 
extend all the way to the borders of Kenya's neighbors, which means 
it will traverse vast tracts of virtually empty land in Kenya's 
northern and western reaches.  Two Chinese firms and one French firm 
have been awarded contracts to construct the network.  According to 
Joseph: "We don't need fiber to Garissa (in sparsely populated 
Northeast Province), we need it in Nyeri" (a bustling market town 
just north of Nairobi). 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
Chinese Stuff: Good and Cheap, But Service Stinks 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
4.  (SBU) Joseph went on to describe the use by Chinese ICT vendors 
of concessional credits from the Chinese government to lock up 
contracts - nothing new there.  Echoing the views of many industry 
contacts, he said the quality of the ICT equipment provided by 
companies like Huawai and ZTE is pretty good, and their prices are 
low.  But he used a monosyllabic expletive beginning with "S" to 
describe after-sales service.  When there are equipment problems 
later, he said, the Chinese run for the door, and matters are made 
worse by the language barrier. Safaricom purchased equipment last 
year from Huawei, but the deal was too good to be true.  Huawei 
effectively reneged and only delivered half the equipment promised 
in the contract.  Joseph went to China personally, eventually got 
the Huawai CEO to admit that the company had lied, and then forced 
it to cancel the contract. 
 
---------------------------------------- 
Chinese Buying Politicians and Influence 
---------------------------------------- 
 
5.  (SBU) More insidious, said Joseph, is that "the Chinese" (by 
this we believe he meant Chinese firms, not the government) are 
"funding the political agenda" of Kenyan politicians and ministers. 
When he returned from China after cancelling the Huawei contract, he 
was summoned to the office of Mutahi Kagwe, the Minister of 
Information and Communication, and told the cancellation put all 
Chinese foreign assistance to Kenya at risk.  He also received phone 
calls from different ministers with no responsibility for ICT who 
insisted that he reconsider the cancellation.  One was the Minister 
of Immigration, who hinted that Joseph, a foreigner, might have work 
permit problems if he cancelled the contract.  He held his ground. 
Joseph said that whenever he meets with a Chinese firm, "within 20 
minutes" he receives calls from various Kenyan ministers or members 
of parliament lobbying on behalf of the company. 
 
6.  (SBU) Another likely manifestation of the undue influence and 
 
NAIROBI 00004246  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
unfair play by the Chinese, said Joseph, was the recent Phase II 
expansion of the CDMA fixed wireless service being rolled out by 
Kenya's monopoly fixed line phone company, Telkom Kenya (see 
reftel). Because of Telkom Kenya's state-owned status, the project 
by law should have been put out for public tender.  But instead, the 
Kenyan government quietly and unilaterally awarded the contract to 
Huawei, the Chinese company that did Phase I.  Separately in August, 
the CEO of one of the country's largest internet service providers 
confirmed the details of the deal, which he said raised eyebrows 
throughout the industry. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
Telkom Kenya Looking for Non-Chinese Tech Partner 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
7.  (SBU) Asked about China's influence in the ICT sector on October 
18, the more restrained CEO of Telkom Kenya, Sammy Kirui, insisted 
that the Chinese "can't throw their weight around too much." He 
echoed Joseph's assessment that Chinese equipment is decent quality 
and low price. But like Joseph, he complained that "you pay down the 
line" in terms of poor after-sales service.  As a state-owned 
entity, he said, Telkom has to follow government procurement 
procedures, and "the Chinese always do well on government tenders." 
After Telkom is privatized (reftel), however, it will have more 
flexibility to procure equipment on the basis of factors beyond 
price, such as network compatibility.  The company already counts 
Huawei as a "strategic technical partner", but has issued an 
expression of interest for a second such partner.  Huawei rival ZTE, 
also a Chinese company, is pressing hard, but Kirui insists that the 
company's second strategic tech partner must be non-Chinese. 
 
------------------------------------------ 
Finding Ways Around the Chinese Juggernaut 
------------------------------------------ 
 
8.  (SBU) More emphatic is the Permanent Secretary of Information 
and Communications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo.  Ndemo, a talented former 
U.S.-resident business executive, has repeatedly lamented the 
inability of U.S. firms to win Kenyan government tenders.  A strong 
proponent of U.S. technology, he is resorting to creative ways to 
circumvent a tender process which he sees as handcuffing the country 
by virtually guaranteeing that it is forced to buy low-cost Chinese 
equipment, without heed to other important factors, such as 
after-sales service and network compatibility.  Ndemo recently 
signed a memorandum of agreement for a public-private partnership 
with a Saudi firm that for the most part sells and services 
U.S.-made equipment.  The deal calls for the construction of at 
least one $30 million data center that will complement the roll-out 
of the national fiber network.  By structuring the relationship in 
this way, Ndemo believes he can legally buy the equipment and 
technology most appropriate for Kenya, without having to pander only 
to the lowest price seller. 
 
9.  (SBU) More generally, Ndemo regularly expresses concern about 
the influence of China in the ICT sector.  Without providing 
details, he has told Econ/C many times that he and other senior 
technocrats are under constant pressure from their own ministers and 
the country's senior political leadership to buy Chinese. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
10.  (SBU) The views and anecdotes conveyed by people like Joseph 
and Ndemo put a bit flesh on the bones of the oft-repeated (but 
seldom proven) contention that Chinese companies play dirty.  Most 
disturbing in this case is the idea that Chinese influence is so 
great that it's actually distorting critical investment decisions in 
Kenya's all-important ICT sector.  For further investigation is the 
role of the Chinese government.  We wonder if it simply turns a 
blind eye to the dirty work of Chinese firms, or if it actively 
contributes to the problem. 
Ranneberger

...