China’s African pop­u­la­tion de­clines amid crack­down

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

GUANGZHOU, China: Dreams are fad­ing in China for African traders like Mouhamadou Moustapha Dieng, who in 2003 was among the first wave of Africans to set up homes and com­pa­nies in this port city and forge trad­ing links be­tween China and the African con­ti­nent.

Young African traders who want to fol­low in the foot­steps of Dieng’s gen­er­a­tion com­plain of dif­fi­cul­ties get­ting visas, po­lice crack­downs and prej­u­dice, which come amid ris­ing na­tion­al­ism and slow­ing eco­nomic growth. Guangzhou is be­lieved to have the largest African pop­u­la­tion in Asia, but many are leav­ing as long -time traders strug­gle against a slow­down in the Chi­nese econ­omy and in­creased com­pe­ti­tion from Chi­nese traders and the in­ter­net. “Now the trade is al­most fin­ished,” said Dieng, 54 and from Sene­gal. His prof­its are down 40 per­cent from a decade ago. In the ab­sence of a Sene­galese con­sulate in the city, newly ar­rived 20-some­things on tourist visas head di­rectly to his of­fice for ad­vice on how to do busi­ness in China. “They come with their bags, they sit down, they don’t have any­where to sleep, they don’t have money,” said the fa­ther-of-four. “Most of them, af­ter 10, 15 days they go back.”

In re­cent times

Over re­cent decades, Chi­nese com­pa­nies and en­trepreneurs have spread out across Africa build­ing sta­di­ums, roads and other large projects, cul­ti­vat­ing land, run­ning ho­tels and open­ing restau­rants. Less well­known are the thou­sands of Africans who live in or reg­u­larly visit the south­ern trad­ing port of Guangzhou, which neigh­bors Hong Kong. Es­ti­mates of this pop­u­la­tion of res­i­dents and float­ing traders vary, and the po­lice’s en­try-exit ad­min­is­tra­tion de­clined to com­ment or of­fer data. The city’s vice mayor said in 2014 that there were ap­prox­i­mately 16,000 Africans in Guangzhou, of which 4,000 were res­i­dents. Guangzhou’s pop­u­la­tion is 13.5 mil­lion.

The first African traders started ar­riv­ing in Guangzhou in the late 1990s, at­tracted by its an­nual in­ter­na­tional trade fair, China’s eco­nomic boom and the ease of do­ing com­merce in the city thanks to its whole­sale markets, fac­to­ries and low prices. Guangzhou had ben­e­fited from be­ing one of the first Chi­nese cities al­lowed to open up to busi­ness in the 1980s, giv­ing it a head start in at­tract­ing ex­porters.

Now that rosy pic­ture has faded. Traders have to com­pete with on­line com­pa­nies like Alibaba that al­low cus­tomers to order from their of­fices rather than go­ing to markets. They also have more com­pe­ti­tion from Chi­nese, like Dieng’s for­mer em­ployee who started her own busi­ness tar­get­ing his clients af­ter pick­ing up the Sene­galese lan­guage Wolof.

The Associated Press spoke to 15 Africans in Guangzhou, both res­i­dents and traders who travel back and forth. Some long-timers re­ported that the city had be­come more wel­com­ing over the years as mu­tual un­der­stand­ing in­creased be­tween Chi­nese and Africans. But oth­ers spoke of hos­til­ity from lo­cals and au­thor­i­ties, which comes amid a grow­ing wari­ness of for­eign­ers pro­moted by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. Ob­servers say the Com­mu­nist Party is lean­ing on na­tion­al­ism to dis­tract from slow­ing eco­nomic growth.

Clau­dia Thaiya, 30, who sends elec­tron­ics, fur­ni­ture, clothes and shoes back home to Kenya, says when she went to look at an apart­ment re­cently, the ad­ver­tised price went up when the land­lord saw her. In some shops, she says, she hears deroga­tory com­ments about her skin color. “It shows that we’re seen as dirty,” said Thaiya, a for­mer teacher.

Ben­jamin Stevens had a busi­ness sell­ing liquor in Zam­bia be­fore com­ing to study Chi­nese and civil en­gi­neer­ing two years ago. He says he sees Africans be­ing stopped by po­lice to have their pa­pers checked ev­ery day, and Chi­nese move away from him on the sub­way. “Now what I plan is to get what I want and that’s the knowl­edge, about civil en­gi­neer­ing, and go and put it into prac­tice in my coun­try,” he said. Dieng, who lives close to the cen­ter of Xiaobei, an ur­ban vil­lage nick­named “Lit­tle Africa,” said that for the past year, he has had to reg­is­ter at the lo­cal po­lice sta­tion ev­ery month, rather than an­nu­ally as in the past. “It seems they want the Africans to leave this area,” Dieng said. “Ev­ery month now, I have to go to the po­lice sta­tion, ev­ery month. I feel like I’m in jail.”

An of­fi­cer at the Jian­she po­lice sta­tion, who did not iden­tify him­self, said that it “de­pends on dif­fer­ent cases” as to how of­ten for­eign­ers should reg­is­ter.

Heidi Hau­gen, who re­searches Africans in China at the University of Oslo, said that the gov­ern­ment wants to ap­pear “in con­trol to their lo­cal con­stituents - al­though they’re not elected, that’s an all-im­por­tant part of le­git­imiz­ing the gov­ern­ment.” “So if the im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion be­comes too large and too vis­i­ble, then that can be­come a po­lit­i­cal problem in it­self,” she said.—AP


GUANGZHOU, China: In this photo taken Thurs­day, Aug. 11, 2016, head of Guangzhou’s Tan­za­nia com­mu­nity, John Rwe­humbiza, poses for a photo dur­ing an in­ter­view.

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