Guangzhou, also known as Chocolate City, the heart of Little Africa, is said to have the largest African population in Asia, according to a 2014 report by the Guangzhou Development Research Institute. The report said, at one point, there were up to 200,000 Africans in the city – an estimate that authorities have disputed.
The first African traders who arrived in Guangzhou in the late 1990s were attracted by its annual international trade fair, China’s economic boom and the ease of doing commerce in the city. In 2000, Beijing hosted the first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, leading a campaign to create positive relations with resource-rich African nations. In 2014 Africa-China Trade flows had exceeded U.S. trade with Africa by more than $120 billion, the city’s vice-mayor also said there were about 16,000 Africans in Guangzhou, of which 4,000 were residents during the peak of the Ebola crisis that same year.
But over the last one year, there has been an exodus of the African populace from Guangzhou and the largest African expat community in Asia is gradually losing its competitive edge.
Professor Lin Jiang from Guangzhou’s Sun Yat-sen University said, “China’s economy is going down, so our African friends might feel that the opportunities are not as good as 10 years ago, so they might start looking at Southeast Asian countries or India for opportunities. I feel that this is a natural result.”
As a result of exchange rates, and the rise of workers’ wages, factory prices is higher than before. Also, hourly manufacturing wages in China have risen by 12 percent a year on average since 2001, while the strengthening yuan has seen profit margins slashed. Due to the mounting international pressure, the Chinese authorities have vowed to protect the intellectual property rights of global brands, imposing tougher penalties on trademark infringement.
Racism and China’s hostile immigration policies
It was reported by a 2008 Wikileaks cable that the local Chinese authorities had long been “extremely concerned” about the “visible” African population in Guangzhou. “Many Chinese residents do not want to live in “Africa Town” due to “differences” ranging from “culture to lifestyle to hygiene,” an American diplomat wrote to Washington, citing research commissioned by the local authorities.
For the first time since 1986, China updated its legislation governing foreigners – the Exit-Entry Administration Law in 2013. But the residents in Guangzhou lament that it’s vague and similar to the 1986 law and the only clear changes are harsher penalties for those who overstay visas and work illegally.
The heavy presence of police surveillance in the community which involves passport checks at their homes, hotel rooms and on the streets has also led to the exit of the majority of Africans from Little Africa, either moving to other areas of the city or out of China. “Sometimes they’ll check you. Some countries, like European countries, police cannot come to you and ask for your passport. But in China, they’ll come to you and ask for your passport, said Florent, a Togolese trade.
Dollar drought in Oil-dependent African nations
As a result of the slump in global oil prices which has affected other commodities, governments in are limiting access to foreign exchange in order to safeguard the dwindling reserves. This, in turn, is affecting many Africans who can’t trade in their local currencies in Guangzhou because they use the dollar to buy things in China. But when there are no dollars, it is a very big problem. President Muhammadu Buhari negotiated a currency swap deal with Xi Jinping in Beijing this year, which will allow Nigerians to send the yuan back to Nigerian banks in order to balance the currency slump but this yet to take effect.
By: Torinmo Salau