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The Focus on China-Africa Cooperation Summit held recently in Beijing may have died down. But the impact of decisions made there have elicited a rigorous debate on China’s role in Africa.
Chinese officials say their foreign aid to Africa has seen the construction of 6, 000kilometers of railroad and 5000km of highways, but all these development marvels have come at a cost to Africas independence.
When a video of a Chinese man ,using deragotory and racist words towards Kenyans including the president surfaced a few months ago, Kenyans went ballistic online. There was finally proof of the many allegations of racism experienced by Kenyans in the hands of Chinese employers and supervisors.
Countless Kenyans came forward with their stories and experiences of disgusting racist treatment especially at their places of work. The Chinese investors that the government let into the country in a bid to create jobs and opportunities for the many unemployed citizens came with a lot more than just jobs.
Workers in Nairobi swap stories of racism and discrimination they have witnessed. One described watching a Chinese manager slap her Kenyan colleague, who was also a woman, for a minor mistake. Other Kenyan workers explained how their office bathrooms were separated by race: one for Chinese employees, the other for Kenyans. Yet another Kenyan worker described how a Chinese manager directed his Kenyan employees to unclog a urinal of cigarette butts, even though only Chinese employees dared smoke inside.
What stood out the most were stories of Kenyan employees at the Chinese built Standard Gauge Railway, a project that promised countless job opportunities as well as learning experiences to many. At the inauguration of the project, two Kenyan women operated the train as the cameras clicked away and everyone clapped in jubilation. The celebration was not to be long-lived.
Several things came to light a bit later. Kenyan engineers have been prevented from driving the trains except in front of cameras. In interviews with The New York Times, several current and former locomotive drivers agreed that only Chinese drivers got to operate the train, describing a range of racist behavior. “‘With uniforms on, you won’t look like monkeys anymore,’” Fred Ndubi, 24, recalled his Chinese supervisors saying. Two other workers with him offered the same account.
Richard Ochieng’, the Kenyan man who recorded the viral racist video of the Chinese man, in an interview with New York Times, brought to light more issues. The realities of his salesman job did not even slightly match the expectations. The pay was a fraction of what was initially offered, and subject to deduction for a long list of infractions. “No laughing,” was one of the injunctions printed in the company rules. Each minute of lateness — sometimes unavoidable given Nairobi’s notorious traffic — came with a steep fine. An employee who was 15 minutes late might be docked five or six hours’ pay, he said.
His new boss, a Chinese man his own age, also started calling him a monkey. It happened when the two were on a sales trip and spotted a troop of baboons on the roadside.
“‘Your brothers,’” his boss exclaimed, urging Richard to share some bananas with the primates. And it happened again, with his boss referring to all Kenyans as primates.
Humiliated and outraged, Richard decided to record his boss’s rants. The rest unfolded online with the Chinese man being deported by the country’s authorities.
The cases that have come to light recently are just but growing branches of a tree long grown. Sometime in 2015, a Chinese restaurant with a controversial policy of barring black Kenyans after 5pm was shut down by the Nairobi city council.
Having only known about racial discrimination from history classes and foreign news, episodes involving discriminatory behavior by the region’s growing Chinese work force have unsettled many Kenyans. Concerns about racism and