AND HOW ARE CHINESE SEEN IN AFRICA?
Lome, TOGO - The Chinese in Lomé can be found almost everywhere. I just go out from my front door, in the popular district of Nyekonakpoé, to be aware of this reality.
In fact, two young Chinese, husband and wife, are living on my right, but I see them only when they exit their car from the garage. While on my left there is a Chinese family of at least four people who I occasionally cross when they return from work on scooters, those too Chinese. Instead, behind my house, at 100 meters away, there is a two-story building next to collapsing where I thought lived a very poor family of Togolese or of immigrants from neighboring countries. One afternoon, coming back to my house, instead, I saw a Chinese in a bermuda appearing on the balcony with his slippers. He was enjoying the view with a cup of tea in his hand. "The
Chinese people often live in even worse conditions than ours", many Togolese say.
China is present in Togo, a small West African state, since the seventies. In contrast to other African countries where Beijing immediately established a high economic and financial relationship levels, here the Chinese have started to take care of health, catering, hotels and traditional art trade. Since then, they have grown in number and ambition. I have several friends, Togolese and foreigners, who talk to me about masseurs and traditional doctors, gamblers and humanitarian workers, cultural centers and supermarkets: all Chinese. In Togo, always more into debt with Beijing, chinese have funded and built roads, bridges, hospitals, stadiums, and the new airport and parliament.
Since I came back to Africa in 2005, I've seen the fingerprints of the Dragon on the African economies increasing so exponentially. A classic example concerns the case of espionage at the headquarters of the Union African (built in 2009 by a consortium of Chinese companies with 200 millions of dollars) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Last January Beijing had been accused of hacking the building's computers and having copied data for at least five years. "The Chinese authorities and African States have kept this discovery hidden for a year - wrote the British newspaper, Financial Times -. This shows how strong the Chinese influence is on the African states ".
During my first investigation on the relationship between China and Africa in 2006, I met in Tanzania Joseph Kijereda, engineer and former employee of the "Urafiki" (rafiki means "friend" in Kiswahili, Ed.), the largest textile factory in the country. The plant was built in 1968 on the outskirts of the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. It was a gift of Mao Zedong to the then president Julius Nyerere. With Joseph's support, I disguised as a university researcher and I succeeded to enter the Urafiki to meet Moses Swai, the manager of the personnel. "The United States begins to be afraid of the Chinese - Swai said to me -. Like the Europeans, even the Americans ignore how much Africa has developed thanks to China ".
When I lived in Kenya, I was feeling even more the Chinese presence in the everyday life. In Mombasa, for example, I had faked a disease to investigate the different Chinese clinics that seemed take care of everything, but everything, with herbal techniques. The first doctor, young and western-dressed, had immediately found a solution to my problem. It was enough to buy one of his own medicines. The second, on the other hand, elderly with a traditional Chinese dress, admitted he could not help me. So I mentioned how his colleague in the clinic next to him said he was able to cure me. "That guy is not a doctor, he owns two restaurants and a laundry, none of us Chinese goes to him! ", he interrupted me annoyed. "In China they would have arrested him already, but here he exploits the ignorance of the Africans to make money ".
During my stays in Senegal from 2012, there were frequent complaints about how Chinese clothes and fabrics contribute to ruin the local market. "I hate them because
they sell cheap, low-quality clothes, "they protested traders in the capital, Dakar, "we can not compete with the their market ". But to the Chinese it was not enough to export clothes and stuff into Senegal. In 2016, in fact, the company C & H Garment invested 25 millions of dollars to build a textile factory in the area industrial company of Diamniadio. The same happened in Ethiopia and Rwanda. But it's in Mali where I understood how much the Chinese did not spare any aspect of the African commercial sector.
It was 2013 and the former French president, François Hollande, came in victorious in Bamako after Paris had intervened militarily to "counter attack the jihadist offensive". On the streets of the Malian capital, as in other cities of the country, thousands of people waved the 3-colored French flags and shouted "Vive la France! ". Besides being annoyed by such scenes (the French soldiers are still in Mali and the situation continues to worsen), I began to ask where so many flags came from all at once. "Follow me and I'll show you!", a boy told me after he sold all of his flags and had to get more. In the middle of the central market, among hundreds of shops, there were some Chinese with dozens of boxes from which the "made in China" blue-white-red flags came out.
For over ten years, every new Chinese project in Africa makes me think of Joseph, sitting on the sofa in his house in Dar es Salaam. Speaking sometimes in Chinese, he loved telling me about his two years in Shanghai before finding work at Urafiki. "The Chinese language is very easy: if you like it you learn it in a few months, if you do not like it you will never learn it!". He told me with a laugh before becoming very serious and looking straight into my eyes: "It's a language where every word takes on a different meaning depending on how you pronounce it, and where inside each question there's already an answer ".
By Matteo Fraschini Koffi for CORRIERE-7, September 20th, 2018