Gambling in Kenya: Are the Chinese to Blame?

One afternoon as my family was driving towards the Westlands roundabout in cosmopolitan Nairobi, we stopped by the Shell petrol station for gas. I looked out from the car window at an advertisement board right beside the station. Its florid designs emphatically communicated the opening of a casino, promising a great fun experience, and a chance to win what we all need more of: money. As I looked closer at the advertisement, I noticed a line written in Mandarin at the bottom of the billboard, and it stated – “this will be the luckiest place for you.” At first I was amazed that my language had been written on an ad in Kenya, a country where many languages are common, but Mandarin is very rare. Why advertise in Chinese? I was unsettled by the statement that this advertisement was making: the Chinese people are perpetuating the increase of the gambling industry in Kenya.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), a professional service network working in Kenya, there are thirteen licensed Casinos currently operating within Kenya . These casinos are usually situated in hotels such as the Intercontinental Hotel or The Safari Park Hotel, popular Chinese rendezvous points. Many of these Chinese citizens are here in Kenya because they are construction managers or workers, and the view these casinos as perfect places to have some fun and relieve the stress of daily work. Mr. Zhang, a Chinese Construction manager working in Nairobi, says, “Looking around the casinos, all you see is Chinese and all you hear is Mandarin.” Many of these Chinese workers enjoy the sensation of sudden monetary loss or gain, and fail to the see the detrimental effect that casinos and gambling can bring to their lives.

Mr. Shen, a Chinese business man in Kenya, says that “Gambling in Casinos is just like playing games.” To most Chinese who are working in Kenya, gambling is not an affront to any of their moral standards. They enjoy the thrill of winning and losing, just like many people around the world enjoy board games. But to many others, gambling can be classified as a heinous act. Sarah, a student at a local Nairobi school, states “My Christian background is what determines my view of what’s right and what’s wrong.” Often, our beliefs and our cultures determine what we believe as right or wrong. If the Chinese men and women in Kenya believe gambling isn’t wrong, what’s the ptoblem?

Is culture the only thing that is provoking the Chinese to gamble in Kenya? Kenya, as a country, tolerates gambling. Along with Nigeria and South Africa, Kenya is one of the countries in Africa where gambling is allowed by law. The PWC projects that the revenue generated by the gambling industry in Kenya will reach 29 million dollars (USD) by 2019. This can be seen as a boon for business. Is it cause for concern? Some would say that this money is filtering through the economy through the weakness of  human nature. The government, by allowing gambling, is manipulating human nature to generate more money for its own use. It is using the people that it is governing. A government should make rules that restrict the people from making poor choices, and should never make money as a result of the poor choices that people make.

The Chinese, due to a surrounding culture and their own value systems, take the bane of gambling lightly. But the Kenya government takes advantage of this to further boost the gambling industry in this poverty–stricken country. It uses the weakness of others to increase its own revenue. This needs to change.

Bill Yang (photograph and article)

Made in Kenya (by China?)

Mombasa has always been the center of Kenya’s export and import industry. Millions of tons of cargo flows in and out of the city. When goods are brought to Mombasa, the only possible infrastructure available for the transportation of these goods is Mombasa Road. This is true, but it won’t be this way for much longer.

The Mombasa-Nairobi Railway is the biggest infrastructure project that China has embarked upon (up to this time) with Kenya. The total proposed investment for the project is about 3.8 billion dollars (US), with 90% of this funding provided by China. Once this railway is completed, the total time required for goods to travel from Mombasa to Nairobi will only be 4 hours; presently, it can take approximately 36-48 hours for similar cargo to travel the same distance by lorry. Although this project is greatly supported by the  Kenyan government, not all Kenyans seem to be in favour of this large project, or the partnership that has been formed between Kenya and China.

Arthur, a Kenyan Student from Rosslyn Academy, states, “The advantage is being taken [by the Chinese], because the Chinese people are bringing everything from China. They bring workers from China, they bring materials from China, and they bring machines from China.” Many people think that China’s development of the railway is not currently helping the economy of Kenya. According to some statistics, Mr. Huang, a manager from the project’s front line, there are about 30,000 native Kenyans employed to help out with the construction. Though it may be true that Chinese workers are also employed by the project, it is also true that Kenyans are set to benefit from this partnership through job creation.

Another problem that has bothered some people of Kenya is how the money will be paid back to China. Njeri, another student, says that Kenya is too poor to pay back the money. After asking Mr. Haung about what arrangements have been made regarding repayment, he said that China is currently investing money in the construction of the railways, and once the railway is done, for the next 30 years, the ownership rights of the railway will belong to the Chinese. If this is the case, then the advantage obviously belongs to Kenya; after 30 years of service, the railway will belong exclusively to Kenya.

Another misunderstanding in this issue is that the Chinese will be able “steal” natural resources as part of their presence in Kenya . “Chinese are just digging up land, under the light they are building the road, but under the dark they are actually stealing gold from the land.” said Mwangi, an Uber driver in Nairobi. The sentiment behind this critical and cynical statement has recently become popular, especially since oil was found upcountry. Some Kenyans think Chinese are eyeing their oil.

In response to this allegation, the Manager of the Railways project, Mr. Haung, stated that many people think that China is stealing their natural resources because it is requesting land from the people. Building a railway requires land to set up headquarters, and other accompanying structures. Since the Mombasa-Nairobi railway is exceptionally long there will be a huge amount of land in use. After buying so much land from the people, the locals begin to think that the Chinese organizations are just digging up their natural resources; however, this is not the case.

Although the railways might not have a positive image in the hearts of some locals, it can’t be denied that the completed rail line will have a positive impact on Kenya. Once the railway is finished, Kenya’s economy will quickly develop. Perhaps then, people will be more thankful for the good working partnership of China and Kenya.