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In Kenya, Running With Chinese Characteristics


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Angil Garrison



Over the past decade, China’s increasing presence in Kenya has had a profound impact on various spheres of Kenyan society. From large-scale infrastructure projects to trade and investment, the influence of China is undeniable. However, there is one surprising area where the Chinese footprint can also be seen – Kenya’s running culture.


Kenya’s dominance in long-distance running is renowned worldwide, with Kenyan athletes consistently achieving remarkable success in global competitions. What is perhaps less known is the role that Chinese investments and influence have played in shaping and fostering Kenya’s athletic development.


In this article, we will explore the Chinese investments in Kenya and how the Chinese presence has become intertwined with the country’s running culture. We will delve into the influence of China on Kenya’s athletic development, the challenges it has presented, and the controversies that have emerged. Through this lens, we will gain insights into the complex dynamics between China and Kenya in the world of running.


It is important to note that the purpose of this article is to provide an unbiased exploration of the topic, shedding light on the various aspects of Chinese influence in Kenya’s running culture. While the Chinese involvement in Kenya’s running scene has been met with both praise and criticism, the intention here is to present a comprehensive and nuanced perspective.


Chinese Investments in Kenya

China’s investments in Kenya have been significant and wide-ranging, covering sectors such as infrastructure, manufacturing, and agriculture. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global infrastructure development strategy initiated by China in 2013, has played a pivotal role in strengthening economic ties between the two countries.


One of the most visible examples of Chinese investments in Kenya is the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), a modern railway line that connects the port city of Mombasa to the capital city Nairobi. Chinese companies were contracted to build and finance the project, demonstrating the depth of China’s involvement in Kenya’s infrastructure development.


Chinese investments have not been limited to transportation infrastructure. Kenya has also witnessed a surge in Chinese-funded manufacturing projects, such as textile factories and industrial parks. These investments have provided employment opportunities and technological transfer, fostering economic growth and development in the country.


In the agricultural sector, China’s investments have focused on boosting food production and modernizing farming techniques. This includes initiatives like agricultural technology transfers, irrigation systems, and the establishment of demonstration farms. By leveraging their expertise in agriculture, Chinese investors aim to support Kenya in becoming self-sufficient in food production and enhancing the country’s food security.


Overall, Chinese investments have played a significant role in Kenya’s economic development, fueling growth and creating opportunities in various sectors. This influx of Chinese capital and expertise has had a ripple effect on other aspects of Kenyan society, including the country’s running culture.


The Chinese Presence in Kenya’s Running Culture

While the Chinese investments in Kenya have primarily focused on infrastructure and economic development, they have indirectly influenced the country’s running culture as well. Chinese companies involved in the construction industry have sponsored and supported local running events, including marathons and road races, in collaboration with Kenyan sporting institutions.


These partnerships have not only provided financial incentives for athletes but have also paved the way for the exchange of coaching techniques, training methodologies, and equipment. Chinese coaches and trainers have been working closely with Kenyan athletes, introducing innovative approaches and technologies that have contributed to their performance.


Furthermore, Chinese sports equipment manufacturers have entered the Kenyan market, offering top-quality running gear at affordable prices. This accessibility has allowed more Kenyan runners, both amateur and professional, to access high-performance equipment. In a country where running is deeply ingrained in the culture, these advancements have had a profound impact on the overall running experience.


The Chinese influence in Kenya’s running culture extends beyond these direct contributions. The success of Chinese long-distance runners, such as Olympian and world-record holder Wang Junxia, has served as inspiration and motivation for Kenyan athletes. Their achievements have set a benchmark and demonstrated that world-class running is not exclusive to Kenya.


Additionally, the influx of Chinese tourists and business professionals in Kenya has led to cross-cultural exchanges on the running front. Chinese running enthusiasts visiting Kenya often participate in local races, fostering a sense of camaraderie between the two nations. This interaction has enriched Kenya’s vibrant running community and expanded its global connection.


It is important to note that while the Chinese presence in Kenya’s running culture has undoubtedly brought benefits and opportunities, it has also raised some concerns and challenges, which we will explore in the next section.


Chinese Influence on Kenya’s Athletic Development

The Chinese influence on Kenya’s athletic development has been twofold – through both direct and indirect channels. Directly, Chinese investments in Kenya’s sports infrastructure and training facilities have provided athletes with improved resources and access to modern training techniques. Chinese-built facilities, including stadiums and sports complexes, have given athletes a conducive environment to hone their skills and compete at a higher level.


Indirectly, Chinese coaches and trainers have worked closely with Kenyan athletes, sharing their expertise and introducing innovative coaching methodologies. This collaboration has resulted in the development of hybrid training approaches, blending Kenyan running traditions with Chinese sports science and training principles.


Chinese expertise in sports medicine and nutrition has also made an impact on Kenya’s athletic development. Chinese nutritionists and sports scientists have worked alongside their Kenyan counterparts to optimize athletes’ diets and develop personalized nutrition plans. This emphasis on proper nutrition and sports science has contributed to the overall well-being and performance of Kenyan athletes.


Furthermore, the Chinese influence has extended beyond the technical aspects of athletic development. They have played a role in improving the management and organization of Kenyan sports institutions through knowledge transfer and administrative collaborations. This includes areas such as athlete management, event planning, and sports marketing.


One notable project in this regard is the partnership between Athletics Kenya and the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA). This collaboration has facilitated exchanges between Kenyan and Chinese sports administrators, leading to a transfer of best practices and institutional knowledge. These efforts aim to strengthen Kenya’s sports infrastructure and governance, ultimately benefiting the athletes and the nation as a whole.


It is important to acknowledge that the Chinese influence on Kenya’s athletic development is not without its critics. Some argue that the heavy reliance on Chinese resources and expertise may overshadow the traditional methods that have propelled Kenyan athletes to success. They fear that the Chinese influence could dilute Kenya’s unique running culture and lead to a loss of distinctiveness in the global athletic landscape.


However, proponents of the Chinese influence maintain that the collaboration with China enhances Kenya’s athletic development by introducing new perspectives, technologies, and opportunities for growth. They argue that embracing this partnership can propel Kenyan athletes to even greater heights and contribute to the overall advancement of the country’s sporting achievements.


As Kenya continues to be a global powerhouse in long-distance running, the Chinese influence on Kenya’s athletic development will undoubtedly remain a topic of discussion and debate.


Challenges and Controversies

While the Chinese influence on Kenya’s running culture and athletic development has brought numerous benefits, it has not been without its fair share of challenges and controversies.


One concern raised by critics is the potential for an overreliance on Chinese resources and funding. Some argue that the heavy involvement of Chinese companies in sponsoring running events and investing in sports infrastructure could result in a disproportionate influence on the direction and development of Kenya’s running culture. There is a fear that the traditional values and practices that have led to Kenya’s running success could be overshadowed or diluted by Chinese interests.


Another controversy that has emerged is the influx of Chinese athletes into Kenya to train and compete. Some argue that this could lead to local Kenyan athletes being overlooked for opportunities, as Chinese athletes may receive preferential treatment and resources due to the financial backing they bring. Critics also express concerns about the potential for cultural appropriation, as Chinese athletes may adopt Kenyan running techniques and claim them as their own.


Additionally, the involvement of Chinese sports equipment manufacturers has raised questions about the impact on local Kenyan businesses. While the affordability and accessibility of Chinese-made running gear have been positive for many Kenyan athletes, it also poses challenges for local manufacturers trying to compete in the market. This could potentially lead to a loss of diversity and local craftsmanship in the industry.


Furthermore, there have been discussions regarding the sustainability of Chinese investments in Kenya’s running culture. While Chinese companies have played a significant role in sponsorship and infrastructure development, there are concerns about the long-term commitment and potential for dependency on Chinese funding. It is important for Kenya to strike a balance between leveraging the benefits of Chinese investments while also ensuring the sustainability and autonomy of its running culture.


These challenges and controversies highlight the complex dynamics at play when it comes to the Chinese influence on Kenya’s running culture. It is crucial for stakeholders to engage in open and transparent conversations to address these concerns and find ways to maximize the benefits while preserving Kenya’s unique running heritage.



The Chinese influence on Kenya’s running culture and athletic development has undeniably left a mark on the country’s sporting landscape. Through their investments in infrastructure, sponsorship of events, and collaboration with Kenyan athletes and sports institutions, China has played a significant role in supporting Kenya’s athletic achievements.


Chinese investments in Kenya’s sports infrastructure have provided athletes with improved facilities and training resources. The collaboration between Chinese and Kenyan coaches and trainers has introduced innovative approaches and enhanced training methodologies. Additionally, the accessibility of high-quality Chinese sports equipment has benefited both amateur and professional runners in Kenya.


However, the Chinese influence has not been without its challenges and controversies. Concerns regarding an overreliance on Chinese resources and funding, potential cultural appropriation, and the impact on local businesses have been raised. Balancing the benefits of collaboration with China while safeguarding the uniqueness and autonomy of Kenya’s running culture is a delicate task.


Despite these challenges, it is critical to acknowledge that the Chinese influence has also brought numerous opportunities for growth and development. The exchange of knowledge and expertise has enabled Kenya to further enhance its athletic capabilities and compete on the global stage.


Ultimately, the Chinese influence on Kenya’s running culture is a complex and evolving phenomenon. As Kenya continues to dominate the world of long-distance running, it is important for stakeholders to navigate the challenges and controversies with an open and transparent dialogue. By doing so, Kenya can capitalize on the benefits of the Chinese presence while preserving its rich running heritage, ensuring that the country’s athletes continue to inspire and excel on the international stage.