Covid-19: Harassment of Africans in China

By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu

Dateline: Eixample, Barcelona, Spain

The Covid-19 pandemic has generated an unprecedented level of news on one topic across the world in a few months. From the high rate of infections to deaths, a profound change of life as we know it, grounding of economies, the aftermath of lockdowns, the stream of information has been steady.

In light of this, the news of the poor treatment of Africans recently in China went viral within a short time. The horrific videos penetrated African countries, propelling reactions of shock, anger, and disbelief. Africans in the industrial hub of Guangzhou were evicted from their homes and hotels under the harsh weather while those married to Chinese were subjected to forced Covid-19 tests in the name of checkmating importation of the virus from abroad.

I understand that these are difficult times. If the government is worried about containing the disease, there is a civil way of encouraging testing rather than manhandling people. 

Also, we see the power of technology and social media in action today. In a normal Communist and secretive China, this news would have been buried. But citizen journalism with the aid of mobile phones triumphed. 

Initially, I thought it was fake news. I double-checked the sources. In no time, it was confirmed. Africans started speaking up. The Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament in Nigeria demanded answers from Chinese officials in Nigeria. The Nigerian Ambassador in China tackled his diplomatic Chinese colleagues. The former African Union Ambassador to the United States of America Arikana Chihombori-quao delivered a timely and dispassionate missive to the Chinese government.

As if that was not enough, Macdonalds in Ghuangzou displayed a notice banning Africans from eating at the fast-food joint. Is there something wrong with these people? Who does this in 2020? The backlash prompted the restaurant to issue an apology and to shut down temporarily to enable it “further educate managers and employees on our values, which include serving all members of the community in which we operate.”

I am not surprised by these happenings. Racism in China and Asia, in general, is not new. It is only recently coming to light and should be called out. Africans that live in Asia tell tales of discrimination, racism, disrespect, random attacks, and profiling on account of their skin color.

In my first article about Covid-19 in March, I touched on how Asians felt the heat of discrimination because they were cast as the face of the disease, which originated in Wuhan, China. They mounted campaigns on social media with #Iamnotcoronavirus. I condemned such treatment because it’s simply inhumane.

A few weeks later, Africans in China are being targeted in a country where the virus started. It’s confusing.

China needs to tread softly. This is a country that has besieged Africa in the past 10 years or more, importing its citizens into the continent, sealing construction deals worth billions of dollars, cornering licenses for the exploitation of natural resources, supporting its local companies to run wild making money.

Many Chinese live in Africa today on the back of African kindness and openness. Africa has played host to peoples from other continents for thousands of years, often to their detriment. African humane gestures are hardly reciprocated. Instead, countries descend on the continent like a bunch of predators that want nothing but to loot, pillage, grab, exploit, and destroy. The perception is never that of an equal partner. This is unacceptable. The days of riding roughshod over Africans are numbered.

President Xi Jing-ping has relentlessly traveled to Africa, knocking on the doors of African governments to open up for China. He has organized high profile conferences hosting African Heads of States in China. He is very shrewd about it. His China-Africa policy is unambiguous and has succeeded.

Chinese Foreign Minister visits Africa every year to continue to cement relations and to expand their economic and military presence. The Chinese premier has also visited, with different levels of the country’s officials touring more than 43 countries on the continent.

President Xi needs to apply the same zeal in combating racism against African people. You cannot gain from us and then turn around to slap us in the face. It doesn’t work that way.

Do I need to mention the China debt trap? Countries seem to be in danger of their strategic assets being seized for the inability to pay back their loans. China denies this. My take is that there is no smoke without fire.

Taking a loan is not intrinsically bad. But some of the loans both from China and the West are predatory. The loan seekers need to critically interrogate them before signing away their future generation in a bid to build airports, roads, etc.

African leaders need to wake up. The bulk of the responsibility to fight for their people rests on them. Our leaders need to drop the beggarly attitude. The world needs Africa more than Africa needs the world. That’s the truth.

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