No Africans Allowed? Suspicion about the discrimination of a Chinese restaurant in Kenya provokes widespread anger
Published on: 3/25/15
Source: Sohu News
Original text (in Chinese):
A recent scandal involving a Chinese restaurant in Kenya that barred locals after 5pm has made headlines internationally. The incident and the global reaction have exposed tensions surrounding Chinese businesses practices in Africa and initiated conversations about the racial dynamics of Sino-African engagement. As I watched this unfold, however, it seemed to me that Chinese voices were somewhat absent from these conversations.
In the following article that was published in Chinese last week, Yingying, an entrepreneur working in Africa, draws on a large survey of ethnic Chinese in Africa and adds a different perspective.
This translation was originally published on Cowries and Rice.
On March 23, the most influential newspaper in Nairobi, Kenya published on its front page a story titled, “Restaurant: Sorry, No Africans, we don’t trust them after dark.” This attracted the attention of ethnic Chinese from all walks of life within Kenyan, and even those in other African countries.
Also on March 23, the author ’s Quan Fei Gou [全非购] media platform published an article called, “The lead story in Kenya’s biggest newspaper reports on an incident where some Chinese restaurants bar locals at night; Chinese people, what do you think,” and conducted a survey. Based on the 312 received results, ethnic Chinese in Africa think, first of all, that this practice of some restaurants is painfully embarrassing, and subsequently, that this incident could have been a little more tactfully mediated. They also think that locals should be allowed to dine at night. To resolve public security concerns, restaurants can strengthen security practices. At the same time, the respondents commonly considered Kenyan’s commentary and media coverage of the incident too extreme.
Soon after, the Nation’s official website published two articles. “Restaurant has no license: Agency,” indicated that the Chinese restaurant was operating without a license. A second article, “Warning to cancel Chinese diner’s permit,” leads with the line: “Nairobi Governor Evan Kidero Monday warned he would cancel the license of a Chinese restaurant barring Africans from accessing their premises after 5pm.” Given that Nation is considered Kenya’s most influential major newspaper, and based on the way the lead articles handled their reporting and commentary, it seems that this incident will apparently not be easily concluded.
Ethnic Chinese readers all are incredibly concerned with this incident’s development and how it is handled. According to Africa’s Chinese people, this is just a case of Chinese and African cultural conflict. The local media’s coverage has been too extreme: the overwhelming majority of Chinese restaurants do serve locals all day. The principle consideration of Chinese restaurants that bar Africans in the evening is security. If the security situation in Nairobi over the past several years were better, there would not be Chinese restaurants that do not let locals enter. That said, even under the current security situation, the overwhelming majority of Nairobi’s Chinese restaurants and hotels still indiscriminately open their front doors and welcome all local guests—there is no discrimination against locals whatsoever.
Clearly, this incident seems to have been poorly handled. Human rights, discrimination and colonization lenses were consciously applied to it, producing a harmful impact on every single ethnic Chinese person living in Nairobi.
In reality, the overwhelming majority of Chinese restaurants and hotels are incredibly friendly towards locals, consistently striving to move towards a local marketplace approach—like Panda Restaurant, New Jiangsu Restaurant, Bangkok Restaurant, For You Cafeteria, Fragrant, Spring, etc. When eating in these restaurants, often there will be many more locals than Chinese. Sometimes upon entering there is not a Chinese person in sight, leading one to believe they went to the wrong place. One boss openly expressed that restaurants are precisely “walking the route” of local people. As locals, not Chinese people, are the main source of business for restaurants, this is the operational strategy of localization and market adaption.
The reason this Chinese restaurant barred locals – namely, safety concerns – is very straightforward; as one reader puts it, they are just afraid of being robbed! Chinese enterprise work units in Africa are frequently unable to guarantee security and are repeated robbed. Often these cases can never be solved; the lost property hardly ever can be recovered. This is an area of dissatisfaction for a lot of Chinese in Africa. In Africa, Chinese businesses often pay taxes, promote local industry and the economy, all the while personal and property security cannot be guaranteed. The restaurant identified by the local media does not completely bar locals. It is only because of safety considerations that it does not serve them at night. For Chinese companies doing business, if there is money to be made, it must be made—and money does not differentiate between black and white. They seem to be without recourse.
However, if carefully considered, questions arise: is safety really the only reason for this restaurant’s actions? Is there really no recourse? Are Chinese enterprises in Africa already complying with local laws? Respecting local cultures? Is it perhaps that Chinese enterprises, when dealing with this type of issue, do not have enough experience and only rely on their own, more simple understanding and implementation methods, by no means taking local experience into consideration? Have they perhaps not considered the impact and consequences of this kind of action?
In the authors opinion, the biggest reason Chinese enterprises inappropriately handled this incident is a lack of intercultural operational management experience. When managers encounter these issues, they do not know how to respond and can only issue a straightforward rejection. When encountering media interviews, they know even less how to voice an opinion in a way that will be self-advantageous. Ultimately, it comes down to an inability to respond to public incidents overseas and a deficiency of public relations crisis management capacity.
This is clearly a widespread problem that Chinese enterprises face in the process of going out. The author thinks that while the government has encouraged industry and businesspeople to go out, service has yet to completely follow. State industries have managers that root themselves in Africa. Africa experience can then be passed down and a lot of unnecessary disputes can be avoided. However, the majority of private enterprises lack effective training and guidance mechanisms. As more and more private enterprises enter Africa, and as private enterprises become an important component of “going out”, proper guidance and training is extremely necessary. If embassies and Chinese firms in Africa do not engage in service-related precautionary work, in the future the incidence of similar cultural, legal and labor conflict will only increase, and the government will only be able to play firefighter.
According to incomplete statistics, there are more than 400,000 Chinese restaurants abroad. Chinese restaurants are one of the mechanisms that touch the most locals and have the greatest influence. If embassies and organizations of overseas Chinese can sufficiently utilize the spaces of these restaurants and hotels and engage them in organized leadership and training, they can both solve the Chinese restaurant regulation problem and allow dining locals to understand more of Chinese culture. This could turn every Chinese restaurant into window for the transmission of Chinese culture, with the boon of serving as a major public diplomacy success.