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African Expats Fight to Stay in Guangzhou as Policies Tighten

Posted: 07/18/2014 11:39 am

african communityWhile many expatriates from African countries have succeeded in business in Guangzhou, Chinese policies are making it more difficult for them, and other foreigners, to continue the lives they’ve made for themselves in China.

African countries are being courted by Chinese officials who insist, “China wants to engage every African country as an equal.” However, that sentiment doesn’t seem to be afforded to the residents of these countries.

Last year, the Chinese central government passed the Exit-Entry Administration Law that now requires expats to return to their home nations to renew their visas instead of doing so at intermediary destinations like Hong Kong. Jenni Marsh from the South China Morning Post recently detailed how this policy is impacting the African expat community in Guangzhou. While many people Marsh interviewed plan to return to their home countries in Africa, many others are resolved to carve out a long-term existence in Guangzhou.

The African community has galvanized and fought for longer visa extensions by proving how much they have given back to their newly-adopted city. As a result, visas procured by members of the African community can range from around three months to three years, depending upon the individual’s personal circumstances. And yet, a double standard remains as a Guinean trader named Cellou complained, “If my [Chinese] wife stays in Guinea she can get a Guinea passport.”

africantown guangzhou african africa chineseEven before the Exit-Entry Administration Law was passed last year, the African community in Guangzhou was already under pressure with the Guangdong Act of 2011. The Act rewards people who snitch on those who overstay their visas, forbids illegal immigrants to work or study, and gives any police officer the authority to stop foreigners to verify their passports. A Ugandan told Lan Shanshan, a research assistant professor at Baptist University:

“A visa is not a 100 per cent guarantee here. When police stop you, if you do not look like a pleasant person to them, they may draw the line on your visa and cancel it. They say, ‘China gives, China takes.’”

While staying in China may be difficult for African expats, they have still found a way to improve their odds: by marrying a Chinese wife. Linessa Lin Dan, a PhD student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said many African expats will marry a Chinese wife for business reasons.

“Opening a shop is very difficult for foreigners,” she says. “You need a Chinese passport or the landlord will ask for a bribe. A Chinese wife can speak to suppliers. It’s useful to have a Chinese partner.

“Many Chinese women want to marry Africans because they are from poor rural areas, often Hunan or Hubei provinces. Marrying a foreigner is a way to upgrade their social status, because the Africans have money.”

This sentiment is seconded by Pat Chukwuonye Chike:

“That is my sacrifice,” says the married father-of-two. “My wife cannot cook. My mother-in-law helps look after the children, and she is poisoning them against Africa. She’s an old woman, she knows the game she’s playing. There is crisis everywhere–terrorists were in Guangzhou last week–it is a sin to make my children scared of Nigeria.”

But perhaps the biggest problem facing the African community of Guangzhou is how to deal with mixed-race children. These kids are born predominantly to an African father and a Chinese mother and are caught between cultures. Chinese immigration policies threaten to separate those families.

While the one-child policy does not include foreigners, Africans are subject to the policy even though they do not qualify for Chinese citizenship. Furthermore, these mixed-race children risk being marginalized by a classification system that does not recognize “mixed-race” as an option.

Even the local media treatment has been mixed:

Lan Shanshan, a research assistant professor at Baptist University, claims there is a media edict on the mainland to report favourably on Africans in China, hence the state-owned newspaper Guangming Daily’s three-part special titled “Friends From Africa, How are You Doing in Guangzhou?”, in 2012.

africantown guangzhou african africa chineseAnd yet, we’ve seen pictorials by the People’s Daily that insinuate an unidentified African person to be an illegal immigrant, while news reports flat out finger the African community as the source of blame for the drug woes currently plaguing China.

Regardless, it is becoming more difficult everyday for an African expat to stay in China.

Photo:, the  Nanfang


Nigerian Businessman On Mission To Get Consulate in Guangzhou

Posted: 06/20/2014 11:35 am

Protestors outside a Nigerian consulate


China has courted controversy with its growing relations with many African countries by being accused of exploiting its many resources and people. While this may result in conflicting feelings among the sizable African expat community in Guangzhou, Festus Uzoma Mbisiogu is more determined than ever to get a new Nigerian consulate built in the city to serve the country’s growing diaspora.

Mbisiogu is the Coordinator of the Good Governance Initiative and CEO of Blue Diamond Logistics (China), and he believes having a local consulate in Guangzhou is necessary to take away the need to travel to Beijing for consular services. Furthermore, it is simply good for business.

Mbisiogu asserts that “Nigerian businessmen in China are the backbone of the nation’s foreign policy with China,” reports All Africa.

To emphasize this importance, Mbisiogu makes the following claim:

Nigerian businessmen in China contribute over 70% of China’s growing economy.

Now, that’s a backbone; but we think Mbigiogu just got his numbers backwards. According to China Daily, trade between Nigeria and China nearly topped US$13 billion in 2013, with 70% of Nigeria’s development headed by investment from China.

And yet, Mbisiogu hasn’t forgotten about the Nigerian expat community that lives in Guangzhou:

While noting that Nigerians in China almost lost touch (with) inherent gains of the growing Sino-Nigeria relations, the business mogul, who also owns one of the largest manufacturing companies in Nigeria, implored all to leverage on the high volume of business transactions between China and Africa, particularly Nigeria, and ensure continuous business prospects.

There is no firm number of Africans in Guangzhou, but at least 50,000 of them call the city home.


Photo: NY Post


China Insider: Why a Racist Quote in People’s Daily Online Isn’t Racist At All

Posted: 04/25/2014 8:35 pm

africantown guangzhou african africa chinese

A quote given in a pictorial seen on the People’s Daily Online is not racist at all.

While a picture can tell a thousand words, we’ll let the actual written words speak for themselves in this case:

An African young man uses the text scanner at a shop and warily looks around. His frightened look reveals his identity of a new comer, perhaps without legal documents.

Yeah, that seems to be unfairly judging a person you don’t know anything about with a biased preconception. But, this caption isn’t racist because we’re not getting the full picture here: the true way to enjoy this pictorial is not by the pictures, but through the photographer.

The photo essay is about the African community that resides in Guangzhou. Estimated to have originated in 2002, “Africatown” was the coalescence of a number of Africa traders that continually grew year by year. However, the growth of Guangzhou’s Africatown seems to rely upon the uneasy truce made between the African and Chinese communities which is founded upon the mutual ignoring of each other’s existence.

Well, that didn’t sit well with Li Dong. Two years ago, Li Dong quit his job and decided to fully document the African community in Guangzhou through photography.

But though we have Li’s many photographs of the African community, we really aren’t any closer to understanding them—not by the People’s Online pictorial and it’s rather direct-yet-ambiguous statement. Instead, we need the proper context to relate with—and for that, we have Li Dong himself.africantown guangzhou african africa chinese

The full story about the African community photographs broke back on April 10, and it did it by telling us about Li Dong: his life, his history, his accolades. The introduction to the story starts off grandly like this:

Man of academics from a famous school, executive of a company, Entrepreneur… Li Dong is a man with many proud labels.

And then majestically reveals the purpose:

Within the two years of observing and living on Baohaozhi Street, he has become the African’s neighbor; from the beginning when people were wary [of his presence] up until the present when he is fully understood, he has slowly used his camera lens to tell the unknown stories of life and struggle of these people from another country.

And then it goes on to tell everything about Li. We are told of Li’s disgrace of losing face as a child when he saw the way Chinese would act around foreigners, and then Li explains how his work is required understanding to achieve a cultural advantage:

“Before, (Chinese) would need to take up the whole day to decide which bottle of mineral water to purchase when outside the country, but now an increasing number of Chinese are (more comfortable) with buying things when abroad. Before, (we Chinese) were wild for foreign trinkets; now, an increasing number of foreigners are instead coming to China to study and get rich…”

Yes, we need to know the all the motivations why someone would do something like this. We need to know that the person doing this is a person of high standing and privilege, after which we can extend our respect to the things he stands for by proxy. Yes, we need read the background first in order to give the proper respect, and then understand later.

The story of the African community in China is in fact Li’s story of why he was compelled to quit his job and devote an entire two years of his life to this project when a weekend wouldn’t do. We don’t need a pictorial telling the stories about the African community in Guangzhou because the real story we need to hear is the one that’s trying to tell it.

And let’s be fair to that quote by the People’s Daily Online: they did say “perhaps”.

Photos: People’s Daily Online


Ethiopian to connect Guangzhou-Africa service all the way to Brazil

Posted: 02/25/2013 1:00 pm

Ethiopian Airlines is tipping Guangzhou to be a key destination in an ambitious plan to connect the emerging BRIC nations of Brazil and China via Africa.

The new Addis Ababa–Lome–Rio de Janeiro–Sao Paulo service is marketed as a seamless gateway to Asia.
Ethiopian hopes to use Addis Ababa to its advantage but joins a long list of airlines competing on the Latin American-Asia route.

Crucially, it will be the sole operator between Addis Ababa and Brazil. However, its conservative approach means a non-direct flight will operate to build demand. Time will tell if the market takes off.

Ethiopian is one the better airlines on the African continent with ambition and vision, but the reality is they are up against bigger, legacy carriers such as Air China and Singapore Airlines.

Guangzhou’s thriving African expat community creates a demand for service between the city and Africa, which Ethiopian is looking to exploit. Conservative estimates put the number of Africans in Guangzhou at 20,000, but it could be as high as 150,000, according to the Globe and Mail:

There are at least 20,000 Africans, mostly from West African nations such as Nigeria, Ghana and Mali, living legally in Guangzhou, a city of about 12 million. The number could be as high as 150,000 if you include the many illegals and those temporarily in the city chasing business opportunities.

The demand is there but the big question is whether it will all work.

Generally, non-SkyTeam alliance carriers have a tougher job of competing with the dominant China Southern.

However, Emirates competes with the Guangzhou-based carrier on the Dubai route. And it has no problem filling planes with feeder traffic transiting at its Dubai hub coming from all over the world. It’s a big airline with a well-established frequent-flyer program – and officially claims the shortest LatAm-Asia service.

That being said, from Guangzhou, Ethiopian has no other feeder traffic or much help from fellow Star Alliance members, but as CAPA reports, it doesn’t have a problem filling planes, which is why it switched to a daily service late last year.

Since Ethiopian has been clipped by the grounding of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners worldwide, the plan may not even leave the gate if it’s new planes are not back in service by June.

Without these aircraft, Ethiopian’s five 777-200LR would not have sufficient capacity to cover its existing long-haul network to Beijing, Guangzhou, Toronto and Washington Dulles, as well as a direct Hong Kong service.

We say watch this space.

Images: BriYYZ/Flickr and CAPA

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