President Uhuru Kenyatta has vigorously defended the country's acquisition of loans from China, telling CNN that the debt has been used to plug an infrastructural gap that in the long term will bring jobs for Kenya's youth. The president also talked about the mooted plan to have him stick around in leadership after his term ends in 2022. The interview was recorded on Friday ahead of Kenya Airway's maiden non-stop flight to the United States, opening a new chapter for the national carrier.
Below is the full transcript of the interview.
RICHARD QUEST: What's your comment on the election battles of last year?
UHURU KENYATTA: As you all know, we came from quite an election last year that was contested and we ended up with two elections. So, last year was not a very interesting year, let's say, for business. And this is what we are coming out of. And, maybe, a lot of people are yet to feel the real impact of that. That's why we've been keenly focused on ensuring that we create this political atmosphere of getting people together, of trying to put that year behind us so that we can focus ourselves on matters growth, development and economy. This is what matters to our people.
QUEST: What policies will that include?
KENYATTA: This is one of the key things that we ourselves brought about. On our first five years, we had focused on the hard infrastructure: looking at the railways, roads, power and water connectivity. But what we've now agreed on... is focusing more on the software, the softer aspects: the health, housing, and job creation.
These are the elements and the areas that we are looking into, which we believe, tied with what we started doing in our first four years will move the country now to the next level.
QUEST: I was anchoring many programmes during your election and obviously watching the twists and the turns. How deep are the scars of that election? One person said to me the other day here that we have a really peaceful and gentle country where everybody gets on until there is an election. Would you agree with that?
KENYATTA: And that is, I believe, what we are trying to come out of. That's why we've been really focusing ourselves on working together even with the opposition leaders and saying Kenya comes first. You can't always go through this cyclical five-year period where we are talking about election, fighting over elections...we are conflicted as a society. We've got to be able to move and that, actually, is the basis of the partnership that we've agreed on with the leader who we were competing against last year.
And we've said, 'Look, we don't have to always agree on everything. But we can agree on things Kenya, and we can agree that this issue of cyclical elections has to come to an end.
QUEST: You're raising money; you've got high debts. The country has a fairly high debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio at the moment. The largest part of the bilateral debt is to China.
KENYATTA: China as well as to many other institutions as well.
QUEST: Are you comfortable with the increasing debt that this country has to China?
KENYATTA: What would worry me is if the debt that we have incurred has gone into recurrent expenditure; [the debt] has gone into paying salaries or electricity bills and so on and so forth. But what we have utilised our debt for is to close the infrastructure gap and anybody coming into Nairobi after 10 years -- just Nairobi alone. Let's not talk about the rest of the country -- will be able to note that the number of roads that we have been able to do, the new railway lines that we've been able to do, all aim at both improving business and increasing job opportunities for our young men and women.
The number of people we have moved as a country in 10 years, from 32 percent of our people connected to our electricity grid, we are now closing to 65 percent of our population.
QUEST: My point is not the money being borrowed, it's who is doing the lending: China. You're putting yourself in Beijing's debt.
KENYATTA: We are borrowing from China. We have borrowed from the United States. We have borrowed -- our healthcare system is money [that] we are working together with companies like General Electric who are the backbone of what we are doing in our health sector. When it comes to energy, we are working very closely with AFD, the World Bank and the African Development Bank.
QUEST: The criticism is that China has another agenda. You're familiar with this.
KENYATTA: We are familiar with those arguments. But our position is a very clear one. We have an infrastructure gap that we need to fill and we are going to work with our partners across the globe who are willing to partner and to work with us to help us achieve our socio-economic agenda. Because, Japan, for example, is our biggest lender when it comes to all our port developments. Today, Mombasa port wouldn't be without the support of Japan. When we talk about electricity and electricity generation, we wouldn't be where we are without the support of AFD of France. So, why are we focusing ourselves only on one lender?
Actually, as far as I am concerned, we have a very healthy mix of debt from the multilateral lenders -- who are basically the World Bank and the African Development Bank -- to bilateral lending. Like I said, Japan, China, France...are working with us to help us achieve our objectives.
QUEST: The argument is they don't have the same agenda that President Xi [Jinping] might have in terms of bringing Africa within the greater sphere of influence of China.
KENYATTA: We are looking at it, like I said, from our Kenyan perspective. And our Kenyan perspective is that we have a development agenda, we have a social agenda, we have an economic agenda, and we are willing to partner with all countries that help us achieve our objective.