Attacking Chinese Construction Workers to Get Jobs? Right End, Wrong Means

5 Ago


Some thoughts on the recent Clash of Kenyan Youngsters with Chinese Workers

Being an ethnic Chinese (i.e. not definitely a national Chinese, I hope you could understand the difference) and a political science student, I have been interested in the discourse of China’s New Imperialism and colonialism over the African continent. Though I have not paid much effort in reading the relevant materials, I often listen to stories shared by my friends in Africa. Last year, I got a chance to do an internship in Kenya and decided to suspend my degree to explore, and I have talked with numerous people from all walks of life since then. I hope my experience and view can contribute to the discussion and thoughts on the recent clash – Kenyan Youngsters’ attacking Chinese Construction Workers, accusing the Chinese of taking their jobs. Please understand that I haven’t done a lot of statistical research on this topic, so this article will be greatly referring to my daily conversation or cooperation with people from different nationalities, classes, genders and sectors in East Africa.

This article will be divided into 3 parts. In (1) Right End, Wrong Means, I would briefly explain my basic views. In (2) Who is the one to blame?, I would refer to some conversations I had with the Mzungu in East Africa, which is about the difficulties we faced when cooperating with Africans. I do not intend to stereotype all Africans, but I do want to share some critical opinions to provoke discussion. (3) Blame or Boost? I would share, in my view, what’s the right means to the angry Kenyan youngsters’ end.

      • Right End, Wrong Means

The title of this article has summarized my view. Suppose the intention of the young Kenyans involved is to get jobs and earn money, the intention is right, or at least not wrong. (if they’re not earning money for doing bad, and I’m not going to go into details about the creation, transformation and internalization of work ethnics in recent centuries, and if you’re interested, you may refer to Bauman’s writing.)

Suppose the Chinese have really dominated the local job market, the means of attacking Chinese construction workers, however, is wrong. Firstly, these workers are innocent. They are in the lower levels in the power pyramid, who usually don’t have many choices in life, but to travel from China to Kenya to make a living for their families. There will be few, if not no benefit from attacking them – Not only will the situation remain unchanged, but the workers are also literally suffering! What’s the point of attacking them? Even if you say they’re helping with this evil and unfair process of Chinese dominating local job market, depriving the locals of their opportunities, has any other means been tried before attacking them? Personally I’m not a fan of non-violence principle but I believe violence should be opted for when there’s no better option. Have the people who’re concerned about the situation ever organized themselves to do some more research first? Have they contacted the local politician, or the Chinese companies to negotiate? If other means have not been tried and the first means to voice out for concern is by attacking the Chinese construction workers, it is just ridiculous.

      • Who is the one to blame?

Blaming is easy, but who is the one to blame for the situation? (Suppose the Chinese have really dominated the local job market – as said above I’m not going deep into the statistics) The Chinese who are imposing New Imperialism on Africa? The Europeans who colonized and robbed the African continent? The World Police Americans who turn a blind eye to the New Imperialism? Or, the Africans themselves?

No offence. Or if I’m offending, sorry I have to continue. As the Chinese saying goes, “苦口良药﹑忠言逆耳” (Good medicine always tastes bitter and Good advice always sounds unbearable.) The reason I’m saying (some) Africans may be the ones to blame is – before blaming the others, have these people reflected on themselves? Most of the time there’s a reason behind. If one’s having a lot of personal problems, but would never reflect on oneself, and just sitting there shouting for concern and blaming the others, finally getting illness – who is the one to blame?

Again, I’m not saying the Chinese, the Americans or the Europeans have no responsibility to the problems Africa facing today. Instead, I’m focusing on – have the (some) Africans, who are always blaming the other nations, spent some time to reflect on themselves?

Difficulties when cooperating with Africans

Several months ago I had a dinner with a group of friends, mostly Mzungu, who’re working in East Africa and we talked about the difficulties we faced when cooperating with the Africans – we first talked about punctuality as the local friend had been late for an hour and a half but were still on the way. Then we took turn to talk about our experience, of which the funniest was – Ms.Z, a Chinese journalist, had to do an interview with a person and the local photographer was late for an hour. One guy asked what if it was a urgent issue but not an interview, British businessman Mr.D humorously explained “breaking news which IS NOT BREAKING!” which made all of us burst out laughing. Mr.Y, a Chinese businessman, shared that he got a colleague who has been waiting someone else to sign a contract FOR A MONTH, and SHE IS STILL WAITING FOR THAT SIGN, but then everyone else around the table took it for granted. Mr.Y continued to share: Two of his Chinese friends were parking a car in a shopping mall parking lot. When asked by local guard how long they would park, they answered 15 minutes, and the local guard followed: “so is it Chinese 15 minutes or African 15 minutes?” “What’s the difference” the Chinese asked. “Chinese 15 minutes is around 15-20 minutes, while African 15 minutes is 30 minutes or more.”

I personally got some experience too: Several months ago, my local friend Ms.C who’s responsible for our company’s billboard advertisement was first late for half an hour when we were to walk around in town to pick the suitable billboard spot, making us embarrassed to keep waiting in Java House and we instead waited her outside it. I thought she would be better later, but I was wrong. We agreed to sign the contract and she promised the contract would arrive at our company on Monday. I called her on Monday and she told me she got something else to do and couldn’t make it. Okay then Tuesday. I called her on Tuesday morning and confirmed the contract would arrive at our company at 1pm, and called her again at 12nn being told that she forgot that she would be having a meeting and couldn’t come again, and SHE HAD NO INTENTION TO TELL ME THIS NOT UNTIL I CALLED HER. If that’s something personal I could just let it go and wait, but it’s my job – My boss Ms.J understood that I could hardly demand Ms.C fiercely, therefore she took my phone and spoke to her directly that the contract must arrive at our office on Wednesday. She then reminded me if I was too benign I would just be ignored – and the contract eventually arrived at our hand on Wed. Frankly speaking, I do not understand Ms.C.

Ms.C seems to represent the common image of Africans. Later I realized not only the Mzungu think in this way, but also the local people. I was told by my local friend the concept of “Mzungu time” is very common among local Africans, meaning it is understood that the Mzungu are having different conceptions of time compared with the locals. I really don’t know if it is a cultural difference or institutional problem, but I know this is one of the important causes why sometimes the locals are not welcome in business deal.

Apart from being late, there are other difficulties, for example knowing nothing about their responsibilities, or the endless demand for direct monetary assist which makes the ones being asked uncomfortable. My friend Mr.J once held a ceremony in Nairobi inviting government officials from other African countries, and the officials are endlessly asking for monetary allowance even though we already paid him flights, accommodation and food, and those officials were just coming for one day. I’m not going into details here as these are just too common. However, I think the aforementioned experience tells something – even if the discourse of Chinese dominating the local job market is valid and substantial, there are understandable reasons behind.

      • Blame or Boost?

This afternoon I was walking with friend who’s a local teacher, and we talked a bit about this issue. When asked if he liked Chinese coming to Kenya, he said yes, and the reason is the Chinese helped build a lot of roads and buildings, “If we ask a local company to build, they will distribute the money and cannot build anything!” He literally told me this. I wonder what would the angry Kenyan youngsters have thought, or would they still have attacked the Chinese worker had they heard of this saying.

I’m not sure what’s your answer to my question in part 2 “Who is the one to blame?”. Yet, apart from blaming, there’s another option – boosting oneself. Easier said than done. It’s just too easy to blame the others and push away any personal responsibility. But when one starts to identify his or her own (country / nation) problems, and to boost himself or herself by working hard to tackle the problems, the situation will change, as the Confucius said: “君子求诸己,小人求诸人” (What the superior man seeks, is in himself. What the mean man seeks, is in others.”)

For example, if I were one of the angry youngsters, I might start to think: Even the evil Chinese who’s always trying to take away our opportunities and resources, do I myself have any room for improvement? Am I lacking the skills needed? Why do I not have the skills? Am I lazy to learn? Do I lack the money to pay for tuition? Why is the government not paying the basic tuition? Where are the taxation spent? Do I fulfil my civic responsibility to maintain the checks & balance of the government? Have my fellow countrymen done anything wrong and made others feel hard to cooperate with? Have the local companies delayed work schedule all the time to make the others lose confidence in them? If I have to attack somebody to change the situation, am I going to attack the Chinese construction workers? Or, is there anything I can do before attacking someone?……

I hope this article will add some light to the discussion.
Thanks “African voices” for accepting non-African voice like me!


Write by Emil Yeoh




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