The Other African
This year I applied for the Schwarzman Scholar Program I did not get in however my current affairs essay was one that I feel needs to be read so here it goes:
China’s economic courtship of Africa started over 20 years ago.China contributesnearly $200 billion in trade and within the period between 2001 and 2011 China also committed $75 billion in aid to the continent. There are an estimated 1 million Chinese people currently in Africa. While the powers that be negotiate trade deals and political alliances, there has been a conversation that hasn’t been given any attention. The growing number of Chinese immigrants has resulted in a growing African Chinese population; these are ethnically Chinese people who have grown in Africa and biracial children with Chinese and African parents.
In the news there has been an increase in the number of stories about Chinese businesses on the continent mistreating workers, doing illegal business and just the general sentiment that Chinese people are inherently bad. While these may seem like exceptions and not the norm but we cannot turn a blind eye to the underlying tensions that are brewing. Africa’s history with colonialism is still quite fresh in it’s memory. With parallels being drawn between the West and China’s approach to Africa. Being Zimbabwean I know the dangers of letting citizens’ unrest about foreigners go unaddressed. In South Africa immigrant Zimbabweans were, and in some instances still are, subject to xenophobic attacks. The problem is that right now China remains something of a mystery. The narrative of China and its people is still very dominated by Western media and Africa’s media is still taking cues from western media.
“Much of the literature on China in Africa, including work on Chinese migrants, invokes the spectre of colonialism or imperialism in some “neo” form.”-Yoon Jung Park.
If this issue is not addressed Africa and China potentially will begin to have social issues similar to the #BlackLivesMatter situation in America. We need to begin to create policies that support and encourage social integration for the Chinese immigrants within Africa and the African immigrants to China. We need to start nurturing a generation of leaders that are well versed in Chinese and African culture who will help bridge the gap between the two. Chinese Embassies should hold more events that facilitate engagement between the locals and the Chinese immigrants and the same should be done by African embassies within China. China and Africa share a common goal economic growth and improved standard of living for our people. We are in a position to do it better and more sustainably.
For me this sentiment was first vocalised when I saw a Zimbabwean lady and her chinese partner with their biracial baby in the store. This is still a relatively rare sight in my country. I looked at this cute baby and wondered where was a place in the Zimbabwean narrative because she almost didn’t exist in it. I recently connected with a Chinese guy and when I asked him where he was from he said from here. If am being honest I did not believe him but I said the polite thing where did you learn? Since Zimbabwe is only about 15 million people there are only so many places foreigners can send their kids to school. So it would be easy to verify. But here is the thing as he proceeded to tell me how he was upset about how he was Zimbabwean yet no one viewed him as such and expected him to always prove it. I realised I too had the same problem in my head and my context Zimbabwe is a black country with a minority white people every one else is a foreigner. Most people even view the white people as foreigners.
I get why Africa doesn’t have time to deal with the nuance of identity politics. At the fore front of our agenda is economic growth, political stability and redefining our own identity. I am not in any way shape or form suggesting we put this issue on the Agenda what am saying is even if it’s in hushed tones or as a last resort to break awkward moments we need to start asking the question:
Who is an African? At what point can you say you are African?
My answer to the question is simple:
“I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.”
― Kwame Nkrumah