Nairobi Hawker Complains About the Invasion of Kenyan Informal Sector by Chinese Hawkers
A photo that has gone viral online showing a Chinese man roasting maize purportedly in the streets of Nairobi, has ignited anger amongst many Kenyans who feel that the Chinese have ‘invaded’ the informal sector and are taking away jobs meant for poor Kenyans. The feeling is linked to the presence of whites and Indians in Kenya who do not directly hawk their goods on the streets. In 2012, some Kenyan traders protested in Nairobi against what they called: “The Chinese Invasion”.
The Star newspaper reported that the protestors said the Chinese were selling their goods, which mainly included textiles and mobile phones at throw away prices. “When we go to the Embassy to ask for a Visa to go to China, we are only given a two weeks Visa”.
“The Chinese must go. Let them come and build roads. We don’t want them to manufacture goods, export them to Kenya, and engage in wholesale, retail and even hawking the goods,” claimed one protestor.
The hawkers also said the Chinese do not have work permits and that most of them are taking three months wok permits to hawk in Kenya. “The government must protect us. We are not enemies of China, we want them to come as investors and not as hawkers,” said Ben Mutahi, the chairman of the Kenya Worldwide Importers and Traders Association.
“Who gave Chinese hawkers work permits to do business? They can’t speak English. We welcome investors. Hawking is not an investment. We need the law to be applied and the government needs to withdraw wrongly given licenses,” said Evans Kidero, then Nairobi Governor hopeful.
Former President Mwai Kibaki declared in 2003 that Kenya would face East and opened the doors for the Chinese. Unfortunately, they are now major players in the informal market, which is the core of survival for majority Kenyans.
Across Africa, the Chinese have been accused by petty traders of flooding their markets with cheap goods and using unethical trade tactics to throw them out of business. There are now approximately 1 million Chinese living in Africa. IRINNEWS reported that:
“In Malawi, Chinese-owned shops and restaurants have proliferated since the country established diplomatic ties with China in 2007. But the government was recently prompted by bitter complaints from local business owners to introduce legislation preventing foreign traders from operating outside of major cities.”
In Lesotho: “Chinese are now selling makoenya [fat cakes], loose cigarettes, even beer at retail prices, but their business category forbids them from doing so.”
Anti-Chinese sentiment is on the rise in Lesotho, making it the latest site of such ethnic hostilities in Africa. A growing number of Basotho blame Chinese immigrants for the ongoing poverty of the small landlocked country, which has few natural resources and depends heavily on remittances from workers in its giant neighbour, South Africa.
“They are killing Basotho businesses all over! Up in the mountains you find Chinese; they are all over and they’re killing us!”
In Zambia: “Yes, they are giving us jobs, but these are not jobs to help us [improve our lives]. They are jobs to help them make more money. I am paid 350,000 kwacha [US$70] every month, and what can you do with that amount? It is like my salary just goes for transport to come here and go home.”
In Namibia: “Our goods were not allowed to enter China. Only after we complained bitterly and there was a stand-off where we were to withdraw from the mission, were we allowed a temporary permit to export some products into China.” China had earlier refused to accept Namibian meat and fish to be sold or consumed in China, leading to the cancellation of a planned trip to China by a Namibian business delegation.
“The Chinese provide unfair competition by flooding the market with inferior products at lower prices, thereby edging local businesses. Civil work in Namibia, which has predominantly used local labour, is largely carried out through Chinese construction firms bidding below current market prices.”
In Congo Kinshasa: Chinese shops are abundant in the city, most selling counterfeit brands and employing the Congolese to do the peddling. “They pay them monkey-money,” says Billy Mbudi Butshianga, who works as a consultant for Western companies. “How can you pay someone $50 a month when they have a family to feed? So employees steal without them noticing.”
“If we can take the Congo,” Mao said in 1964, “we can have all of Africa.” While Mao had revolution on his mind, today’s party leaders understand that Congo’s soil has every mineral known to man: 10% of the planet’s known copper; 30% of its cobalt; 80% of its coltan (used in everything from PlayStations and iPads to magnets, cutting tools, and jet engines); and untold quantities of bauxite and zinc, cadmium and uranium, gold and diamonds.
The Chinese should concentrate on investments in the formal sector dealing with infrastructural projects and mining, and should not compete with Kenyans whose livelihoods depend on hawking and other petty trade.