Appealing for international cooperation to face the COVID-19 crisis, the President of Kenya warned that African countries could be in danger of being caught in the crossfire of US-China rivalry and this poses a grave danger for African nations.

Iran PressAfrica: In Nairobi and in an interview with the Financial Times hosted by the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, Uhuru Kenyatta said: "All we are saying is let’s not be sucked back into isolationism, we need each other today more than we ever did. It's unfortunate that this crisis comes at a time when there are so many different global tensions, different trade wars going on."

His appeal for unity came as the US and China engage in a war of words over influence in Africa and as both Washington and Beijing seek to deal with countries bilaterally rather than at continental level. The Trump administration has accused China of seeking to tie Africa up in debt, while Beijing has put itself forward as a development partner not prone to meddling in the continent’s internal affairs.

President Kenyatta said that he was willing to begin negotiations on a bilateral trade deal with the US as soon as next month, angering other African governments that blame Nairobi for going it alone instead of negotiating as part of the 54-member African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

Faced with the continent’s worst economic collapse in the last decades, African leaders have complained at what they see as a lack of international leadership in contrast with that shown after the global financial crisis of 2008.

Commodity prices, tourism, and remittances have collapsed, causing much of the continent to move towards recession.

The US has already unveiled its negotiating objectives for the deal, which could take two years to negotiate, citing its goal to secure “comprehensive market access” to Kenya’s agricultural sector and duty-free access for US apparel; China has also sought to deal with African countries bilaterally, particularly over debt relief.

At a China-Africa summit on June 17, which President Kenyatta attended virtually, Xi Jinping, China’s president, held out the possibility of extending debt relief. China and western lenders are wary of offering debt relief only for their money to go to pay off the others, including private lenders.

The IMF said last month Kenya was at high risk of debt distress after the debt had risen to about 60 percent of output. Kenya insists it wants only to postpone rather than to write off payments. 212/207

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