Foreign aid as foreign policy tool: competition of projects aid allocation to Kenya between Japan and China

Publication type Article
Status Published
Occupation: Post-graduate student, Department of Theory and History of International relations; Lecturer Assistant, RUDN University
Affiliation: People’s Friendship University of Russia
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Occupation: Head, Department of Theory and History of International Relations, RUDN University; Associate Lecturer, World Economy Department, MGIMO University, MFA of Russia
RUDN University
MGIMO University, MFA of Russia
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Journal nameAsia and Africa Today
EditionIssue 12

The concept of recipient foreign aid countries that seems so deceptively simple is undergoing tremendous evolution as the international development cooperation scene is also evolving. This change is exemplified by the inclusion of some global South countries as some of the new emerging donors. As the new emerging donors abandon some of the classical foreign aid approaches and instead include approaches like aid with low conditionality and respect of sovereignty in their model, they are successfully challenging the traditional donors in development cooperation with developing countries. Following the assumption that foreign aid is a tool for foreign policy, this article attempts to reconceptualise the donor-recipient country relationships by focusing on a traditional donor country, Japan, and an emerging global South donor country, China. It argues, using Kenya as a case study, that Japan and China in pursuit of their aid foreign policy engendered the competition of development cooperation projects in Kenya, thereby increasing Kenya’s bargaining power. This is evidenced by how Kenya sometimes designs tenders for infrastructure projects in order to gain maximum leverage. We conclude after several analyses and observations of Kenya’s annual debt management report that even though Japan had a head start to China in its foreign aid allocation to Kenya, over the years China has managed to surpass it to become Kenya’s leading external creditor. However, to both countries Kenya is of key strategic importance in East Africa, so Japan has been trying to change its aid foreign policy to compete with China by developing counter measures and as a result of this recently there has been a slightly upward trajectory in its foreign aid allocation to Kenya.

KeywordsForeign Aid, Foreign Policy, Competition, Development Cooperation. Emerging Donors, Recipient Countries, Kenya, China, Japan
AcknowledgmentThe article was prepared within the framework of the scientific project of Russian Humanitarian Scientific Fund – Chinese Academy of Social Sciences No 17-27-21002 "Russian and Chinese assistance to Asian and African countries: comparative analysis and coordination prospects".
Publication date13.12.2019
Number of characters23154
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1 With the international scene shifting towards the East, it has had a direct impact on the global development assistance landscape and as a result it is reshaping the donor-recipient dynamics.
2 Denis Degterev in his work on International Development Assistance as an instrument of promoting economic and political interest of donor countries states that “the concept of political realism assumes that international assistance is aimed not so much at assisting recipient countries, but rather for promoting foreign policy and foreign economic interests of donor countries”. He further argues that “in practice, it is rather difficult to assess the validity of a particular doctrine; nevertheless, on the basis of a number of indirect features, some conclusions can be drawn about the presence of a “pragmatic” component in the strategies of international donors” [12].
3 This article by exploring these indirect features examines the donor-recipient dynamics because the growing number of stakeholders and initiatives in developing countries have added complexity to international development cooperation (IDC) scene.
4 Such dynamics are exemplified by the entry of new donors in the global financial aid system making it more polycentric and increasingly challenging the old balance and in the process affecting different donor countries’ foreign aid policies and recipient countries’ aid options. “This emergence of new donors on the world stage has not only resulted in an increase in relevant actors but also in a diversification of development cooperation strategies” [5]. This diversification has impacted directly on recipient countries’ aid choice, which inadvertently has led them to sometimes have more bargaining power when negotiating foreign aid than before.
5 Trumbull and Wall state that during aid allocation it is “implicitly assumed that when a donor makes its ODA allocation it does not consider the ODA that recipients receive from other sources. In fact, donors do make their decisions with knowledge of what each other are doing” [26]. However they further argue that based on this they might cooperate, but this article will argue that instead of the donor countries cooperating in development cooperation in Kenya, they are instead competing. This “possibility of competition among donors is accounted for by simply including the aid flows from all other sources among the determinants of the allocation of aid by a particular donor” [7]. This is even further complicated when the donor countries have similar aid projects.
6 Traditionally, foreign aid to Kenya was more oriented towards the Western countries but the entry of Asian countries, mainly Japan and China, to the scene has challenged them. So even “though foreign aid serves several purposes, and not least among them the wish to increase human welfare, the primary reason for aid allocations or aid restrictions is to pursue foreign policy goals” [4] and Japan and China are in pursuit of their own foreign policy goals and are strategically trying to mark their footprint in the country.


8 The basis of the research is that both countries view Kenya as a strategic gateway for East Africa region because regionally it is one of the countries with a strong economy and it is projected to grow even faster [2]. Similar sentiments were echoed by assistant Minister Lu Guozeng on 18th August 2005, at the Opening Ceremony of 4th summit of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation: “Kenya is an important country with a relatively better economic basis in East Africa” [1]. According to Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Kenya is “a marine and air transportation gateway to East Africa, a region with a population of roughly 140 mln people, which occupies a key geographical location” [21]. So since it is well connected to the rest of the region, it means that if a project is started in the country it can quickly expand to the rest of the region. The official websites of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China [25], JICA [20] and Kenya’s national treasury and planning annual public debt management reports [22] are the main sources of data (See: Tables 1, 2; Figures 1, 2). The embassies of Japan and China in Kenya, and Kenyan embassies in Japan and China as well are vital for source material during the research.
9 The research involves data collection through historical analysis of the various aid projects that have been taking place in Kenya by focussing on the areas of interests of the Japan and China. For example, infrastructure such as roads, railway lines, telecommunication or education and health sector. Literature used will be the one focussing on foreign aid as a foreign policy tool [4; 6]. The other main literature focuses on competition for aid allocation [3; 7; 26].
10 Literature on emerging donor countries by authors specialising in foreign aid was also used, mainly from Russia and China [12; 18; 28].


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