Two weeks ago the Chinese community in Lusaka cried foul after some of their members were rounded up at the JCS market by the joint operations team involving the police, immigration and other security wings. In order to try to find answers, some of the Chinese petitioned their embassy and their association to quickly engage the Zambian government and find out why the Chinese were treated in the manner the joint operations did to them.
Not long ago, some Chinese miners were rounded up in a similar fashion on the Copperbelt and were locked up by the immigration and the police. It was alleged that these Chinese were mining illegally and most of them did not have valid papers to work in Zambia. The Chinese community was disgusted because among the arrested was a pregnant lady. Similarly, the Chinese protested and cried to their leaders to have their countrymates released. Indeed they were released and most of them were deported back to China.
As someone who has been conducting research on Chinese operations in Africa, I have taken an interest to understand why such things are becoming a common occurrence for the Chinese, not just in Zambia but in many parts of Africa as well. Not many years ago, I was working in China for a Chinese multinational as an international business manager who was responsible for helping the company expand into new territories outside China. I remember travelling with my Chinese colleagues to many countries across Africa and South America. Apart from Brazil, generally the Chinese colleagues were given red carpet in all the countries we visited, more especially in Africa. The Brazilians were very cautious about my Chinese colleagues. On several occasions, since most of my colleagues could not speak English, the Brazilians warned me to stop my colleagues from taking photos or making sketches of the technology they were seeing. I was puzzled at this kind of mistrust and being naïve, I thought the Brazilians were just trying to be petty.
Fast forward to today, I had a similar incidence right here in Zambia when I talked to some officials about how I was planning to go into a joint venture with my Chinese colleagues for some project. The officials looked at me and said, “Just be careful not to give them too much information, otherwise they will go behind your back and do the project on their own without you”. I was short of words and I wanted to tell my country mates that I have lived with the Chinese for more than 15 years and I am married from there, so the Chinese are good people, they can’t throw me out. However, I kept quiet and took some time to think about the warning.
I am sure that most of us are asking ourselves about what really happened to the most loved Chinese colleagues in our country? Is their honeymoon in Zambia and Africa in particular slowly coming to an end?
When the JCS market incidence happened, a Chinese friend called me. He was like, “Kumbu, you have lived in China for many years and you are also married to a Chinese lady. What do you make of the recent happenings where Chinese people seem to be a target for so many negative things in the country”? If the Chinese are not being robbed, then they are being harassed by some unscrupulous people, or they are having a run-in with the officials. He further went on to lament about how some of them have invested heavily here to the extent they have made Zambia their home country. He really wondered why the Chinese who are doing so much for the country should be subjected to such ill treatment.
Indeed I really sympathised with my friend, and I felt sorry for what happened. However, my mind could not stop asking why over the past few years, most of the Zambians have begun to have a different attitude towards the Chinese, whom not so long ago they welcomed with a red carpet. Just what went wrong? Immediately, my inquisition led me to think about a number of things, both structural and social, that may have led to this. Today I will try to dwell much on the aspect of how, as Zambians, we are working with our Chinese colleagues and I will cover other aspects in subsequent write ups.
To be Continued……………………….
Article by Kumbukilani Phiri and Durban Kambaki