Opinion

Ill-mannered few soil China image abroad

Ill-mannered few soil China image abroad
  • Africans have suffered over the centuries at the hands of haughty foreigners: Remember, flogging the ‘native’ was the standard form of punishment in colonial Africa.

  • And some Indian settlers have treated Africans worse.

  • The Chinese would not want to be counted in this racist dustbin.

China’s engagement in Africa is an epoch-making process. It is, actually, a part of the global ‘Look East’ shift. The global economic tectonic plates have been shifting eastward in the past few decades. Africa has been the fulcrum and Red Dragon the magnet, attracting all and sundry to its industrial hubs.

This has had a great impact on Africa’s development in the past 30 short years. Sadly, this has come with negative perceptions.

The Asian giant has asserted itself as a global leader. Still, it continues to attract negative labelling. The ‘fake made in China’ label has stuck on its forehead like a badge of dishonour. The tragedy of this image is that everything China touches becomes a suspect fake.

Of course, this cannot be the whole truth. Many well-known Western products like iPhones and Levis Strauss jeans are manufactured in China. Chinese brands like Lenovo, Huawei and Alibaba are now global icons.

But Kenyans choose to buy fake goods from Chinese ‘Kariobangis’ in Guangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing. After all, we have perfected the art of faking goods in our Kariobangi.

But what should worry China even more is the rising notion that it is the new colonial master. Cases of Chinese workers abusing Africans are emerging. A video circulating on social media shows a Chinese hotelier flogging a Kenyan allegedly for coming late to work.

As a scholar, I have been a supporter of Sino-African engagement. In local and international forums, I counter the prevalent narrative that China is in Africa to plunder its fabled resources. Yet, despite my spirited defence, some Chinese workers in Africa keep painting a negative image of their country. Whenever a media story makes rounds about these Chinese doing something illegal or nefarious, my heart sinks.

Strictly speaking, one would understand China calling up its debt and even seizing collateral. That’s business, isn’t it? But flogging, insulting and underpaying workers in Africa throw us back to a colonial past that is best forgotten.

Africans have suffered over the centuries at the hands of haughty foreigners: Remember, flogging the ‘native’ was the standard form of punishment in colonial Africa. And some Indian settlers have treated Africans worse.

The Chinese would not want to be counted in this racist dustbin. In its manifesto, the Communist Party of China (PPC) does not have a policy encouraging Chinese nationals to treat Africans as serfs. Those who carry out illegalities do it in their private capacities.

China’s ambassador to Kenya, laudably, comes out to condemn Chinese workers breaking the law. Problem is, perception does not play with the rules in the diplomatic books. Individuals of a congregate create perception. Cumulative acts build stereotypes about a society.

That is why Beijing should act now lest the negative perception builds into resentment and, eventually, resistance against China and Chinese nationals and products.

Beijing’s best ambassadors should be the common Chinese people who come here to work, whom the PPC should equip with skills on how to behave among different cultures.

China should not take Africa’s open arms embrace for granted.

Dr Mbataru teaches public policy at Kenyatta University;