In the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, Michael Nganga is watching a Chinese Kung Fu movie.
His small home in Limuru village doesn’t have running water and its walls are made from corrugated metal. Yet outside, where chickens roam the yard, the father-of-two, who repairs shoes for a living, has a large Chinese-built satellite dish that connects his old television set to hundreds of channels. Most of which are being beamed from Beijing.
“It’s advantageous to have many TV channels,” said Nganga, who was limited to a few local Kenyan stations before the Chinese dish. “Because you can know how the world is changing every day.”
Nganga’s connection to the wider world is directly thanks to Xi Jinping, the president of China.
In 2015, Xi announced the 10,000 Villages Project, a lofty plan to take digital television to impoverished parts of Africa, such as the village where Nganga lives. Previously, television access in many parts of the continent was a privilege of the elite. Those of us who were connected relied on old-fashioned analog reception.
Xi’s dream was to upgrade huge swathes of Africa to modern, digital satellite TV networks. Those that could broadcast a constellation of channels over long distances. So long, in fact, that a TV channel from Beijing could be beamed to African homes.
This was more than just a philanthropic gesture. It was a stroke of soft-power genius that would raise China’s profile among Africans. While also giving Beijing a tighter grip on the continent’s communications infrastructure and control over how it is portrayed there in the media.
And it would boost the fortunes and power of one important Chinese company that otherwise keeps a low profile.