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Chinese state media has increased their collaborations with media outlets in Kenya, resulting in a dominant presence in reporting on Kenya-China relations.

Chinese state media has increased their collaborations with media outlets in Kenya, resulting in a dominant presence in reporting on Kenya-China relations.

The relationship between China and Kenya has faced challenges in the past year due to protests against China, allegations of Chinese hacking, and a large amount of debt owed to China. In response, Chinese media and diplomats have worked to improve relations by securing agreements with Kenyan media outlets and using the anniversaries of their diplomatic relationship and the BRI to their advantage. As a result, there has been a noticeable increase in positive and unquestioning coverage of China and its relationship with Kenya in major Kenyan media sources.

During the current week, Lee Xin, the Bureau Chief for Xinhua in Sub-Saharan Africa, visited the Kenya News Agency (KNA), which is owned by the state. Joseph Kamolo, from KNA, acknowledged the important phase of cooperation between the two state news agencies and shared how Xin advised KNA to promote China’s reputation in Kenya and globally.

Xin made this statement during a visit by Mr. Joseph Kipkoech, the New Director of Information and Head of the Kenya News Agency. The visit was an informal tour of the Chinese Xinhua News Agency Sub-Saharan Africa Bureau in Nairobi on Saturday, which included a team of officers from the department.

The Xinhua News Agency from China has invited the Kenyan news agency, KNA, to lead the effort in combating fake news and propaganda by accurately reporting facts and conducting research. This will help to create a more accurate depiction of the two nations, which have been misrepresented by former western colonial powers.

The state news agencies are currently in the process of finalizing agreements for news and information exchanges as President William Ruto plans to visit China before the end of the year. This partnership is at a crucial stage and both agencies are working together to renew their agreements. [Source]

In recent years, KNA has published an increasing number of articles discussing China. After searching for articles on their website that specifically mention “China” in the title, it was found that there are only two articles from 2021, three from 2022, and eight from 2023 so far. Out of those eight, one was released in February and one in June, followed by three in August, two in September, and one in early October. The articles published since August cover topics such as Chinese scholarships for educators and partnerships in economics, education, security, and media. There is also an article highlighting the release of the Swahili version of Xi Jinping’s book, “The Governance of China.”

The state-run Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) has exhibited a noticeable shift towards featuring content from Chinese state media. A search on their website for articles that mention “China” in the title shows an increasing number of pieces written by Chinese state media in the last four months, instead of their own journalists. In June, CGTN and Xinhua did not have any articles published, but in September they had a total of 14. So far in October, out of the three articles published, two were written by CGTN and one by Xinhua. During this time frame, KBC’s own journalists have only bylined five articles focused on China, a decrease from 16.

Most of the articles written by these authors portray China in a positive light. CGTN and Xinhua have emphasized China’s dedication to peace and friendship, and the KBC articles, which are taken from BBC, have focused on more optimistic coverage, such as this one about China’s economy. KBC’s own staff writer, Eric Biegon, has written extensively for China Radio International and has a connection with the China-Africa Press Centre, which sponsors African journalists for training in China. His articles tend to portray China’s involvement with Kenya in a favorable manner. Other local writers have criticized the West while praising China. One KBC contributor, Stephen Ndegwa, is also a frequent contributor to CGTN.

Who Wrote KBC Articles That Include “China” in Their Titles?

Byline June 2023 July 2023 August 2023 September 2023
CGTN 0 2 6 12
Xinhua 0 0 3 2
KBC 9 7 3 2
Stephen Ndegwa 0 0 1 1
Eric Biegon 3 1 6 2
Other in-house staff 4 4 3 1
BBC 3 0 3 5
Total 19 14 25 25

Capital FM, a popular radio station and news site in Kenya, has also undergone a shift in its coverage of China. A search of their website reveals that in June, there were a total of five articles mentioning “China” in the title, all written by Chinese state-media outlets such as China Daily, CGTN, and Xinhua. However, in September, this number increased significantly to 33 articles. In October, out of the six articles published, five were from China Daily and the remaining one was from a contributor praising the BRI. On the other hand, only four articles were authored by in-house staff in September, and there were no bylines from AFP or other agencies, compared to less than three articles in the other months.

During this period, Stephen Ndegwa, a contributor for CGTN and KBC, wrote five articles for Capital FM. Adhere Cavince, another author for Capital FM, has also contributed to various Chinese state-media platforms. These articles from both contributors portray China in a highly favorable manner. Additionally, in-house staff at Capital FM have written articles expressing enthusiastic admiration for Chinese scholarships and investments.

Who wrote the Capital FM articles with titles containing “China”?

Byline June 2023 July 2023 August 2023 September 2023
China Daily 0 0 1 29
CGTN 2 2 3 3
Xinhua 3 0 2 1
Stephen Ndegwa 1 1 2 1
Adhere Cavince 0 1 0 0
Other in-house staff 0 1 3 4
Unnamed contributor 0 0 0 1

The government of Kenya issued a press release.

0 0 1 0
AFP 1 2 1 0
Other news agencies 0 1 2 0
Total 7 8 15 39

The Star, a media outlet in Kenya, has been producing positive content about China, possibly due to partnerships with Chinese media. Recently, one of their editors was selected for a fellowship program with the Kenya Editors Guild and the Chinese Embassy. Another journalist from The Star is currently participating in a media exchange program in China, organized by the China International Press Communication Center. This journalist has since written favorable articles about China, one of which was titled “Setting the record straight: Negative perceptions by West alarm China envoys.” Some of these articles use images from Xinhua or simply state “HANDOUT” as the source.

In the last two months, several individuals who contribute to Chinese state media have published opinion pieces in The Star. This includes nine pieces by Stephen Ndegwa, one by Adhere Cavince, and one by Dennis Munene. In a previous article for China Daily, Munene argued that Chinese training programs for African journalists can combat false information spread by Western media about China. The Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, Zhou Pingjian, also wrote two opinion pieces for The Star during this time. None of the opinions or columns related to China published in The Star during this period included any negative views about China.

The Daily Nation of Kenya has only featured op-eds from Chinese state-media contributors in the past two weeks. Adhere Cavince praised the BRI and urged Kenya and China to collaborate for development. Dennis Munene encouraged Kenyan President William Ruto to align with the BRI and embrace partnership with China. Ambassador Zhou Pingjian listed China’s achievements in development and promised mutually beneficial cooperation for the China-Kenya partnership. (Two weeks ago, Ambassador Zhou wrote another op-ed in the Daily Nation celebrating China-Africa cooperation.)

The Chinese embassy in Kenya has been actively interacting with local media lately. According to their website, Ambassador Zhou published a similar article in KBC, Capital FM, The Star, and the Daily Nation on September 28, and another one in The Star and the Daily Nation on September 12. The last opinion piece before that, as stated on the embassy’s website, was published in September 2022.

The increase in Chinese government and state media presence in Kenyan media could be due to growing tensions between Kenya and China over the past year. In March, there was a demonstration by hundreds of Kenyans against a Chinese-owned store in Nairobi for allegedly selling cheap and counterfeit items that harmed local businesses, seen as part of a larger “invasion” by China. In May, Reuters reported that a Chinese group with ties to the government, called “BackdoorDiplomacy,” had hacked into various Kenyan government ministries. The high external public debt of Kenya, with about 17 percent owed to Chinese creditors, has led President Ruto to increase taxes in order to avoid default. These issues have not improved the perception of China among the Kenyan public.

Chinese citizens living abroad have expressed their dissatisfaction. In the past year, Han Zhen from the China-Global South Project translated a message written by popular African-based WeChat blogger Nie Shaorui (聂少锐). In the post, Nie argues that Chinese citizens in Kenya are being unfairly blamed for these problems and encourages Chinese media in Africa to help them by promoting Chinese viewpoints.

In the end, our nation is not strong enough and we do not have much influence in Africa. We are facing resistance and negative portrayals from different sources. It is important for our leaders to improve their public image and approach, instead of always trying to please others. Effective communication and dialogue are necessary. Chinese media outlets in Africa should fulfill their duty by promoting our viewpoints and ideas. [Source]

To potentially manage the situation, Chinese representatives have initiated a flurry of diplomatic and media interactions with their Kenyan counterparts during the summer. On July 9, Ambassador Zhou held a meeting with the Kenya Editors Association (a highly influential media association in Kenya, according to a statement from the Chinese embassy). Representatives from Xinhua and China Media Group’s Africa departments were also present. Zhou expressed a desire for increased communication and collaboration between the two sides, and discussed sharing information, training personnel, and exchanging institutions. On July 22, President Ruto also met with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and agreed to strengthen cooperation and exchanges in various areas between their countries.

In August, there were several new actions taken. On August 14, a seminar was held in Nairobi to launch the Swahili version of Volume One of “The Governance of China” by Xi Jinping. The China-Kenya film festival also began on the same day, with government ministers from both countries in attendance. On August 17, Xinhua president Fu Hua met with Kenyan Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Director of Information at the Ministry of ICT, Innovation, and Youth Affairs Esther Wanjau in Nairobi. Both sides agreed to strengthen media cooperation. Later that day, Fu and his Xinhua team had a meeting with KNA. On August 25, senior members of President Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance party were supposed to travel to Beijing to meet with CCP leaders, but the trip was cancelled at the last minute. It is expected to be rescheduled for October.

In August, the Chinese embassy organized a photo and video contest called “Shared Future” to showcase Chinese-Kenyan cooperation and friendship. The contest offered nearly $4,000 in prizes and was judged by Joan Pereruan, a visual and syndication editor at the Nation Media Group which owns Daily Nation. The first prize was awarded to Enock Sikolia, a Kenyan journalist who has been working at CGTN for three years and previously worked for Nation Media Group for over six years according to his LinkedIn profile. However, the Xinhua article announcing the winners failed to mention Sikolia’s background. Another first-place winner, Han Xu, who is a photojournalist for Xinhua in Kenya, was also not mentioned in the article. This further highlights the China-centric nature of Chinese media “cooperation” with Kenya.