March 25, 2015
According to local media reports, a Chinese restaurant in the Kenyan capital Nairobi has adopted a rather unsavory practice. After 5 p.m., most African patrons are barred from entering the premises.
Reporters from the Daily Nation newspaper recently approached the establishment — which has the unimaginative name of “Chinese Restaurant” — only to be turned away by a guard who told them the hours when Africans could frequent the restaurant were over. “Only taxi drivers or Africans accompanied by Chinese, European or Indian patrons are allowed into the compound,” reports the newspaper.
According to the Daily Nation’s story, restaurant representatives claimed the policy came into effect last year after a brazen robbery by armed gunmen.
“We don’t admit Africans that we don’t know because you never know who is Al-Shabaab and who isn’t,” said Esther Zhao, the restaurant’s “relations” manager, referring to the al-Qaeda-linked terror group based in neighboring Somalia. “The Chinese people who stay here or come to dine want to feel safe.”
The newspaper reports that a few “loyal,” well-heeled African patrons are allowed entrance–others may be admitted provided they’re willing to shell out upwards of $200. (It should be noted there are plenty of other Chinese restaurants in Nairobi that are probably far more friendly than this one.)
A Kenyan government official quoted in the article claims that, whatever the restaurant’s justification, the no-Africans-after-dark policy “amounts to racial and ethnic profiling, which is unconstitutional.” Not long after the Daily Nation was published, authorities arrested the restaurant’s owner, Zhao Yang, on charges of operating a restaurant without a valid license.
It’s a small indication of the larger tensions that underlie China’s vast footprint in Africa. China is the continent’s biggest trading partner — racking up to $160 billion in trade in goods each year. More than 1 million Chinese, the majority of whom are low-level traders and laborers working on Chinese company projects, have moved to Africa in the past 10 years, according to the Economist.
But parallel to this well-documented boom are a chorus of critics, deeming China’s presence in Africa to be a new form of imperialism.
“China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism,” wrote Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, in an op-ed in the Financial Times in 2013. Meanwhile, Chinese attitudes to race — particularly regarding Africans — are in need of considerable improvement.
Chinese officials are aware of African concerns. “We will not take the old path of Western colonists,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi while in Kenya earlier this year.
That message should probably be conveyed to Nairobi’s Chinese Restaurant.