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Kenya leader warns against US, China rivalry in Africa

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Washington (AFP)

Kenya's president said Wednesday that African nations should be free to cooperate with both the United States and China, warning that foreign powers were exacerbating the continent's divisions.

On a visit to Washington, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he was "very concerned" about a return to the Cold War era when Africans had to choose between the United States and the Soviet Union.

"Western countries, and their counterparts in Asia and the Middle East, are returned to competition over Africa, in some cases weaponizing divisions, pursuing proxy actions and behaving like Africa is for the taking.

"Well, I want to tell you it is not," Kenyatta said at the Atlantic Council think tank, a day before he is set to meet President Donald Trump.

China has been funding billions of dollars worth of infrastructure around the world, including a modern new rail-line between Nairobi and the port of Mombasa, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

The United States has been increasingly vocal in urging developing nations to be wary, warning that they can be saddled with unpayable debts to Beijing for projects built largely with Chinese labor.

Asked about the criticism of China, Kenyatta said: "We don't want to be forced to choose."

"We want to work with everybody, and we believe that there is opportunity for everybody.

"There are those areas indeed where America stands out and has much, much better strengths in certain fields.

"On the other hand, you have the Chinese who build hospitals in seven days."

Kenyatta said he was not only warning about US and Chinese interference but also saw foreign hands in "proxy wars" including in Kenya's neighbor Somalia.

Kenyatta is expected to speak to Trump about trade policy ahead of the expiration of US import preferences in place since 2000.

Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act that expires in 2025, sub-Saharan nations can export an array of products to the United States tariff-free if they meet conditions that include maintaining a market-based economy, protecting labor rights and combatting corruption.

Kenyatta called on the United States to pursue long-term policies that promote economic integration within Africa.

"We are not just a gateway. We are a platform of skills, entrepreneurship, stability and rule of law," he said.

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