Kadara Swaleh – De:link // Re:link

An Anthropological Study of the Impact and Repercussions of Chinese BRI projects in Coastal Kenya

Kadara Swaleh

This PhD study seeks to examine the impact and repercussions of recent Chinese Belt-and-Road-Initiative (BRI) projects in Coastal Kenya. The study focuses on major Chinese infrastructure projects including a) the modern standard – gauge railroad (SGR) from coastal city of Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city and b) a deep-water seaport near the historical port-town of Lamu, aimed to serve neighboring landlocked Ethiopia and Southern Sudan. The SGR railroad project (completed in 2018) in fact implemented the cessation of the usage of Mombasa’s deep-sea port for the clearance of all goods and commodities – these were now to be cleared far upcountry in Naivasha. This has aroused a plethora of destructive effects on the income situations and daily lives of coastal residents who used to be reliant on activities around Mombasa port. This project follows related questions and examines multiple ways local residents and communities have been affected by these projects.

The study focuses on the unfolding repercussions and investigates it in its wider historical and political context, especially with a view to Kenya-China relationships. It pursues ethnographic fieldwork, following the perspectives of regional residents, and uses archival work, grounded theory, urban anthropology, and transregional fieldwork in China - in order to connect with all the respective relevant perspectives and narratives. The study focuses on disruption of livelihoods of the coastal population and related forms of disorientation(s). It builds on a strong sense of familiarity with local experiences (among coastals) and transregional visions and interactions (of/with the Chinese), while using translocality and the image of ‘translocal entanglements’ as a heuristic analytic lens.

Protests in Mombasa © Fast Action Pressure Group

Photo on the left: Protesters in Mombasa, Kenya, blaming China's funded railway for cargo transport monopoly from the seaport of Mombasa to the hinterland. This has disrupted thousands of trucks and related businesses in Mombasa thereby causing mass unemployment in the port city.

Photo on the right: A section of civil society leaders in Mombasa taking part in a protest against the government decree favoring China's funded railway which has negatively impacted the economy of the port city.