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April 4, 2015

China-Africa in the news: South Africa’s visa rules, apples, and more debt concerns

Lungu-KeqiangThe manager of the Chinese restaurant at the center of a racism row in Nairobi, Kenya, was released on bail this week. Esther Yang is charged with operating the restaurant without a license. She is also accused of working without a work permit and being in Kenya illegally.

The incident has sparked a lot of discussion about the Chinese in Kenya among both Kenyans and Chinese working in Africa. It is an all too familiar manifestation of the racism narrative underlying “economic and social development efforts in Africa by non-African actors,” according to Anzetse Were. But Were also points out that Kenyans were surprised the racism was coming from the Chinese who have also experienced racism from the West, and have been at pains to frame their growing engagement with Africa as one between equals. Another Kenyan believes the local response was strident, yet it has been absent against “more harmful discrimination within Kenya.”

Chinese working in Africa, meanwhile, agree that  while the restaurant erred, the reaction to the incident was excessive and sets them up as potential victims of profiling. The China Africa Project has translated online reactions from Chinese residents in Kenya (one says “over 90% of the Chinese restaurants in Nairobi have been robbed before,” at night). China File sought out Huang Hongxiang – one of the Chinese journalists we work with – who runs a Nairobi consultancy group targeting Chinese companies. A Chinese director of a business lobby in Nairobi, on the other hand, believes the incident “was deliberately planned by people who do not want the Chinese and Kenyans to do business.”

South Africa’s visa requirements are keeping away tourists. Especially those from “key markets” like China and India, according to the Southern African Tourism Services Association (Satsa). Satsa says the visa requirements – which were amended last year – make it very hard for potential tourists to acquire visas. Between September and December last year, tourist arrivals from “China fell nearly 50% and those from India were down 15%” compared to 2013.

Corruption accusations around Chinese-backed projects in Kenya. Five Kenyan ministers are among 175 government officials accused of corruption by the country’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. Some of the cases in the commission’s report involve “multi-billion-dollar Chinese-backed infrastructure projects.”

A rare call from an African president. Unlike many of his colleagues who do not question the conditions tied to foreign investment/aid, Zambian President Edgar Lungu encouraged Chinese companies working in Zambia to use local labour and contractors. Lungu, who was on an eight-day state visit to China, made the call while meeting Chinese developers in Sanya.

Uganda’s Museveni travels 122kms from Tianjin to Beijing by train. That is according to a press release by Uganda’s Office of the President. Museveni was in China for a five-day state visit, attending the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference 2015 with Zambia’s Edgar Lungu.

South Africa exported apples to China. The consignment by Core Fruit was the first time South Africa is exporting apples to China, the world’s biggest apple producer. It is set to arrive in Shanghai in May. Apart from being historic, the consignment is also a big breakthrough for South African apple producers: it took more than eight years for the South African government to negotiate market access to China.

Chinese artists are representing Kenya at the Venice Biennale. NPR looks at the spectacle currently playing out at the ongoing Venice Biennale, a prestigious international contemporary art exhibition. Almost all artists at the Kenyan pavilion are Chinese. NPR explains how it came to be so (it is also not the first time it is happening).

Ugandan MP complains about Chinese debt. It was revealed last week that Kenya’s debt to China has shot up as a result of expensive infrastructure projects. In neighbouring Uganda a Member of Parliament drew concern to Uganda’s debt, in particular its debt to China. He says China, whose loans “are very expensive and conditional,” is about to become Uganda’s biggest lender. And like in Kenya, the Ugandan loans are for large infrastructure projects.

Scholarships and opportunities. In Togo the University of Lome will receive $200,000 from the China Merchants Group, a Chinese state-owned corporation, to set up a scholarship fund for “excellent students.” Meanwhile, the Center for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University is receiving applications for its Phandulwazi nge China scholarship. The scholarship “targets citizens of African states from academia or the broader civil society with a proven research interest in China-Africa relations.”

Raymond Mpubani

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