About one hundred Algerian and Chinese residents
have clashed in Algeria’s capital yesterday. Unfortunately, this is not
an isolated phenomenon. Violent clashes between Chinese immigrants and
discontented Africans have occurred all over the continent from South
Africa, Namibia, Zambia, my research site in Tanzania, to Ethiopia and
Egypt. The situation is getting worse by the day since various factors
are provoking these unforeseen acts of xenophobia. In the light of the
latest attacks against Chinese in Algeria, I’m piling up a list of the
top ten reasons why Chinese are despised in Africa. I am basing my list
on the most common answers I received from Africans I interacted with
in South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania. I believe these causes might be
similar in other countries as well. The top is not made from the most
significant to the less significant factor as this is irrelevant since
all these causes act together and can only be seen as a whole!
Disclaimer: This article is more about perceptions
than facts. These perceptions are the ones that cause xenophobia even
if there is a loose connection to facts. This article is not meant to
suggest that Chinese people are hated all over the continent. In fact,
many Africans I talk to every day praise the Chinese for being
hardworking, honest and direct people. The only reason why this article
was written was to contextualize the attacks against the Chinese people
in Africa, not to draw conclusions about the Chinese Diaspora itself.
- High unemployment in urban centers (where most
Chinese immigrants work) fuels tensions over migrant workers. In Dar es
Salaam, I met Chinese citizens working on less than 60,000 Shillings a
month (45 dollars) which is unacceptable even for the average person
working in the city.
- Chinese workers in Africa, most of which happen
to be uneducated, have no respect for local customs. I witnessed one
Chinese getting brutally beaten in Zanzibar last August because he
refused to stop drinking beer in front of his shops and listen to loud
music. It goes without saying that this type of behavior is offensive
during a religious holiday, especially one as important as the Ramadan.
- Chinese traders sell extremely cheap products which break easily. This causes tensions between buyers and sellers.
- More than half of the uneducated Chinese that I
interacted with are very aggressive in their behavior and use curse
words loosely. This is another cause of frustration among the local
- Various Chinese living in Africa are not only
aggressive but racist in their attitudes and behavior. Instead of
trying to see other Africans as their equals, they claim to be superior
in front of the ones they interact with. This brings back old memories
from the colonial period. Moreover, the actions of a few (not every
Chinese I met in Africa is racist) affect the perception of the whole
- Many Chinese do not speak the local language at all which makes communication even harder.
- Various Chinese run enterprises throughout Africa
have failed to pay their employers, something that is seen by many
Africans as another form of direct exploitation. While the Chinese
government has taken concrete measures against some of these companies,
these instances are still prevalent in much of Africa.
- At least in East Africa, Chinese citizens have
been incarcerated for illegal fishing, illegal activities or even
prostitution (I myself and currently into the businesses of two Chinese
run brothels in Tanzania.) Illegal fishing in Tanzania made a lot of
Tanzanians who depend of the fish trawled out of Lake Victoria and the
Indian Ocean think that “the Chinese” are stealing their food. Such
generalizations are harmful but the local authorities have not put any
effort into addressing them. Not all Chinese are illegal fishermen or
crooks but if people take some isolated incidents out of context they
are more likely to form negative opinions about them.
- There are more and more biased media accounts in
East Africa that portrait the Chinese community in less than favorable
terms. It took me a lot of time to find out why this is the case. My
findings point to the fact that the businesses of some of the most
important businessmen in Tanzania and Kenya are affected by the Chinese
firms operating in this part of Africa. These owners have many
political connections and are now pressing of the local mass media to
write about the Chinese community in negative terms. Two businessmen
told me they actually ordered inflammatory articles against the Chinese
- There is almost no
effort to control Chinese immigration in East Africa. More and more
Chinese people come here every year which creates anxieties among the
local people. And why shouldn’t that be the case? In one month since I
came to Dar es Salaam I interacted with Chinese who, to come to the
first reason why Chinese I despised in Africa, are plumbers,
electricians, instructors, engineers, agriculturalists, babysitters,
carpenters, miners, machine operators, street sellers or even baggers.
Again, I don’t think this is a problem on its own but uncontrolled
migration causes much of the anxieties to begin with.