With those words, Ambassador Liu Xinsheng ushered in the Year of the Rabbit at Chinese New Year Celebrations in Dar es Salaam just over two months ago. At street level – specifically, the Chinese Embassy on the appropriately named Kajificheni* Close – there’s less reason for optimism.
Visa applicants tired of overnight queuing demonstrated last week and, if Ijumaa is to be believed (another impressive front page montage pictured above), were forthright in their views:
“This is our country, we’re tired of your harrassment. You lot come here to do business but if we want to do the same you treat us like dogs”
[it was claimed that the Chinese ] government limits the numbers of those going to buy Chinese goods so that the Chinese here acting as agents for producers back home can profit while locals die economically.
“We know their game and we’re not having any of it. If that’s how they want it, the Chinese should be denied entry here”, said one.
Ijumaa is merely mimicing government posturing. Just a couple of weeks prior to Chinese New Year, Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Lazaro Nyalandu went street level himself and called for foreign petty traders in the Kariakoo commercial area to desist within 30 days or be deported. And a spin around Kariakoo this weekend will indicate just how successful that was…..
But trade is a two way street. The Tanzanian visa applicants will be looking to make their way to southern China, often via Hong Kong, looking to stock up on everything from cheap elecronics to wedding dresses. In the 90s, they would have been boarding a bus to Nairobi with some dash ready for the return via Namanga.
Tactically one has to question the move by the crowd at the embassy to harangue embassy officials to the point where riot police are called. As this article advising Africans on doing business in China notes, in a piece of advice that could apply to both sides at Kajificheni:
You should not damage the honour, good reputation or respect of any other party or do anything that might cause someone else public embarrassment.
Keeping a lid on these issues also has wider ramifications. China may be reluctant to see uncontrolled migration and its attendant tensions. As Chris Alden of LSE’s Africa International Affairs Programme points out, incidents like this do not serve wider strategic interests.
And though empathy is in short supply, it may also be worth considering the commonalities between Kariakoo’s Chinese traders and their Guangzhou-bound Tanzanian counterparts. Global trends and national interests are important to understand. But the individuals caught up in these movements – whether Chinese or Tanzanian – have something in common, what Eamon Kircher-Allen calls a “a common mix of adventurousness and ambition.” Check out his excellent piece on Chinatown, Dar es Salaam.
For more regular briefings on China in Africa, bookmark Deborah Brautigam’s China in Africa: The Real Story.
*Go Hide Yourselves