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.

Onesmus Mwenje
Affected Hawker
Nairobi, Kenya


  • Chinese speaking Swahili
  • Harry Hazueruth

    Just send chinese back home>The black man has issues with his value system. When UN and World Bank officials come calling and engage the government on their day to day mandate, they celebrate and make wild interpretations as to endorsements from the big two, a sign of Uhuru s innocence at the ICC. What they don’t know is that the ICC is an independent court that has its own calender and procedures. The black-man is always looking for endorsement from the white man regardless of what the jubilee people will say about neo-colonialism. They still lie prostrate to the powers that be. What a sad state of affairs. Tomorrow when the ICC does its work, will we be told how bad the UN is? Where is Duale? Why cant he and his allies now fight the ICC or ASP? Let me qualify who the black-man is: A person black or white who has no principles, a sycophant, a leach who believes that the boss is right all the time; a masquerader to the throne; a thief who has no shame; a loud mouth who changes like a chameleon. The worst kind of the human species who thrives on the suffering of the majority and who sees nothing bad in rape, murder, philander. Shindwe!!!!!!

  • China in Africa - investment or exploitation

    China in Africa – investment or exploitation

  • ivory demand increases in China

    100,000 Elephants Killed by Poachers in Just Three Years, Landmark Analysis Finds

    Central Africa has lost 64 percent of its elephants in a decade.

    Ivory-seeking poachers have killed 100,000 African elephants in just three years, according to a new study that provides the first reliable continent-wide estimates of illegal kills. During 2011 alone, roughly one of every twelve African elephants was killed by a poacher.

    In central Africa, the hardest-hit part of the continent, the regional elephant population has declined by 64 percent in a decade, a finding of the new study that supports another recent estimate developed from field surveys.

    The demand for ivory, most notably in China and elsewhere in Asia, and the confusion caused by a one-time sale of confiscated ivory have helped keep black market prices high in Africa.

    The new study, published in the August 19 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led by George Wittemyer of Colorado State University, included local and regional population estimates and concluded that three-quarters of local elephant populations are declining.

    The study authors conducted the first large-scale analysis of poaching losses using data on illegally killed elephants maintained by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

    Wittemyer and his team hope the new information will move the discussion beyond anecdotes and wild guesses. “I think it’s the only quantitatively based estimate out there,” he said.

    Researchers and conservationists hope the analysis will prompt policy makers to take further action to stem the years-long onslaught of poaching, which now threatens the survival of elephants in Africa.

    Previous estimates of population declines produced by study co-authors Julian Blanc and Kenneth Burnham, both of CITES, used similar data to examine poaching trends, but those estimates limited the analysis to just 66 sites that were being monitored.

    “Nobody’s put out any scientifically-based numbers for the continent,” Wittemyer said. “People have said numbers, but they’re based off guesses. This is the first hard estimate we have at that level.”

  • anti-chinese sentiments

    Anti-Chinese sentiment

    All these factors help make the Chinese community in Lesotho commercially successful. However, all is not perfect. Despite – or perhaps because of – their success, strong anti-Chinese sentiment prevails in popular opinion in Lesotho.

    Rather than distinguishing between different East Asian groups, local Basotho often designate all Asians as “Chinese”, sometimes rudely calling them “the dog eaters”. Local frustration with the perceived Chinese takeover of the small-scale retail industry in Lesotho frequently manifests itself in stories of Chinese managers abusing local staff or of forbidding their Basotho employees from ever working at the till or handling cash.

    Furthermore, Fujianese shopkeepers have been accused of every imaginable malpractice, from removing pieces of chicken from barbecue packs and selling the underweight packs at full price, to vending poisonous baby formula and rotten vegetables, to relabeling and selling goods well beyond their sell-by date. Chinese businesses are accused of operating under fake licences and avoiding tax. Chinese migrants are also believed to eschew the national banking system, preferring instead to keep their earnings under their mattresses or on their person. A combination of xenophobia and opportunism has made East Asians the most frequent victims of violent crime in Lesotho – though since 1991 there has been no popular violence against the immigrant community as a whole.

    The prevalence of anti-Chinese rhetoric at all levels in Sesotho society, however, does not change the fact that the Basotho are increasingly reliant on the retail services provided by the immigrant Fujianese population. As one Mosotho told Think Africa Press, “if there was no Chinese in Teyateyaneng, where would I buy?”.

    As well as sometimes obscuring the benefits locals gain from cheap Chinese imports, anti-Chinese sentiments also sometimes obscure the realities of Fujianese immigration. While popular belief has it that Chinese immigration to Lesotho is increasing exponentially with the help of the Chinese government, for example, there is evidence to suggest that there are actually more Fujianese leaving the country today than entering.

    In fact, as economic prospects in Fujian continue to improve and China transforms itself into a country of net immigration, we can expect to see a shift in Fujianese migratory flows in Africa away from the poorest countries such as Lesotho, and towards wealthier African countries and China itself. Unless the Basotho take advantage of the Fujianese presence in the country and learn from their highly effective business model quickly then, it may be too late, as we can expect Fujianese traders to be replaced by another wave of foreign merchants – if not from China, then from West Africa or elsewhere in the global South.

  • china africa trade

    Other Risks: A growing number of small-scale Chinese private firms are setting up in Africa, without the direct endorsement of the Chinese government. This growth of private investments in sectors outside the traditional Chinese areas of investment in natural resources has fuelled a good deal of resentment among local investors and people. In many African countries, Chinese traders have forced local shopkeepers out of business. This resentment was given a voice by Botswana’s president, Ian Khama, in a recent interview with one Johannesburg-based Business Day newspaper, when he said, “We have had some bad experiences with Chinese companies in this country. We are going to be looking very carefully at any company that originates from China in providing construction services of any nature.”

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