“Rolling with NAK is a new tv talk show hosted by China-based Sierra Leone’s Neneh Ada Yang. Ada is an artiste, fashion designer, host, painter, collector and mum. Ada also has a foundation in China, Sierra leone, US and some other countries which supports the less privileged. The talk show is produced by her and hopes to have top dignitaries and celebrities based in China and those that are on tour in the country.”
The existing discourse on Africa-China relations lacks substantial coverage of the role of women both as the subjects and actors/decision-makers/agents. So the China-Africa Reporting Project (the Project) and From Africa to China are jointly commissioning a series of Themed Grants aimed at reviewing how women are effecting and affected by China-Africa relations. The grants are open to female journalists from Africa and China.
The Project will publish the resulting articles in a series of briefings and may also invite contributors to participate in discussion activities. From Africa to China will publish each article and document the process of producing the articles in collaboration with the journalists. All selected journalists will be free to submit their work for publishing independently.
To apply see the section below “How to apply”.
The Action Plan for 2016-2018 released after the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit in Johannesburg in 2015 highlights three commitments directly related to women and women & children: Gender equality; employment and self-development; and poverty reduction.
For each of these commitments outlined in the Action Plan, China has committed to work together with African states for the empowerment of women. Yet there is insignificant reporting on Africa-China relations in the context of women, and a lack of female voices telling stories about Africa-China relations.
Via these Themed Grants, the Project and From Africa to China seeks to commission female journalists to produce investigative features and articles exploring one of the following themes:
- Employment and self-development for women:
- Vocational and technical training facilities
- Training of 200,000 local African vocational and technical personnel and providing Africa with 40,000 training opportunities in China
- Resource mobilisation and poverty reduction:
- To what extent have African states and China mobilized resources (including non-governmental organizations) to implement 200 “Happy Life” projects in Africa?
- How successfully have poverty reduction programmes focusing on women and children been implemented by African states and China?
- Exchanges on gender equality and practical cooperation on women and gender affairs:
- Dialogues between female leaders, seminars, skills training, human capacity development and cultural exchanges
- Other broader thematic areas:
- The role of women as actors who are influencing Africa-China relations at both state/leadership and grassroots levels
- The effects of Africa-China relations on women at both state/leadership and grassroots levels
- The roles of female practitioners (academics, scholars, politicians, business leaders, journalists) in reporting Africa-China relations
How to apply
Female Chinese and African journalists interested in applying for this Themed Grants series should send a proposal containing all the items listed below to firstname.lastname@example.org by no later than September 25.
Applications must contain:
- Draft title of the feature to be produced, including clear indication of which theme listed above to be pursued and relevance to the role of women in Africa-China relations
- Brief proposal of the topic and methodology and further supporting information
- Budget in US dollars (or rands if in South Africa) with clear itemized expenditure, within the total falling within the range US$350 to US$1,500
- Indication of where applicant intends to publish the article
- Applicant CV and list of previous China-Africa publications (if any)
Applicants are also encouraged to review the Project’s reporting grant guidelines and adhere to them as much as possible.
About From Africa to China
From Africa to China is an online platform run by four women from Africa who experienced Beijing while pursuing MA degrees in China studies at Peking University. The purpose of the platform is to unpack Africa-China relations through a mixture of research-based content and reflections on daily life in China from the perspective of a young African woman. Beyond advancing storytelling on Africa-China relations from the perspective of young Africans, From Africa to China specifically aims to contribute a considerably lacking female voice to the discourse on Africa-China relations.
As every summer for the last 5 years, media comes again with a story of how Africans pursue their dream in the southern Megalopolis of Guangzhou.
Beginning in May, Liang Yingfei spent four months photographing Xiaobei Road in Guangzhou, which houses the largest African community in China. A series published in three parts, the first parts focuses on Serges de la Roche, who goes by the Chinese nickname Xiaolong (Little Dragon). A Togolese businessman who has lived in China for nearly 10 years, Xiaolong has been selling a wide variety of goods—from diesel generators to gadgets—to customers in Africa. Due to the increased difficulty in obtaining a Chinese visa, he was planning to return to Togo with his Chinese wife and their two Chinese-born children. The second part of Liang’s series looks at the effect of China’s recent economic slowdown on African businesspeople and students in Guangzhou, while the final part is a collection of portraits of Africans in Guangzhou
L’eldorado chinois a laissé place à la désillusion pour les Africains expatriés, confrontés au racisme et à un climat économique difficile.
A Canton, «même les Chinois se sont mis à parler lingala et bambara»
Torse nu, les muscles saillants, deux jeunes Chinois lancent de lourds ballots de chaussettes et de tee-shirts, comprimés à la presse. Sous le plafond de cet immense entrepôt de Canton, un semi-remorque attend, conteneur ouvert. Dehors, sous un soleil de plomb, une vendeuse de fruits fait résonner la sonnette de son triporteur, en vain. «Avant, la cour était remplie de conteneurs prêts à partir», soupire Moustapha Dieng, le patron. Sous-officier dans l’armée de l’air sénégalaise, il a tout lâché au début des années 2000 pour tenter l’aventure en Asie. Il fait de l’export de vêtements à Bangkok quand, en 2003, il entend parler de la Chine.«Au début, je prenais le bus au hasard, j’allais voir des usines de jeans, de chaussures. Les prix étaient tellement bas ! La qualité était très mauvaise, j’ai fait venir des échantillons de Thaïlande pour l’améliorer. J’ai fermé Bangkok, mes clients m’ont suivi. C’était l’eldorado.» Un business porté par la multiplication par vingt des échanges commerciaux bilatéraux entre l’Afrique et la Chine depuis 2000, atteignant 220 milliards de dollars en 2015.
Dieng apprend le chinois, fait venir sa famille, embauche, étend ses activités aux matériaux de construction et aux meubles. «Jusqu’en 2014, j’envoyais environ 180 conteneurs par mois en Afrique. Maintenant, c’est 120, 100, parfois moins. Le loyer de l’entrepôt a doublé en dix ans, les taxes augmentent. Quand je suis arrivé, les ouvriers chinois étaient payés 100 ou 150 euros, aujourd’hui c’est 400 minimum.» Un acquis social qui n’arrange pas ses affaires. Il se réoriente peu à peu dans le transport maritime, sa famille rentre à Dakar : «Ça devenait difficile de payer l’école française pour les quatre enfants, plus de 10 000 euros par an chacun.» Son employée chinoise, qui avait appris le wolof, est partie avec le fichier clients pour monter sa propre affaire. «Le Sénégal construit des zones industrielles pour attirer les Chinois et privilégier les circuits courts. Si on ne s’adapte pas, c’est fini pour nous ici», analyse l’entrepreneur de 54 ans.
Il aurait pu louer des bureaux plus chics, mais il a préféré rester dans le quartier de Xiaobei. «Chocolate City», comme l’appellent sans vergogne les Cantonais, est un monde à part, quelques rues quadrillées de passerelles pour piétons et de ponts autoroutiers. Des fillettes métisses, yeux bridés et tresses multicolores, tiennent la main à leur mère en talons aiguilles, des gamins maliens s’apostrophent en cantonais. L’enseigne d’un restaurant clignote en français : «Notre restaurant musulman se félicite de votre venue.» Le patron est pakistanais, les clients arabes, africains. Un Kurde irakien commande en turc les pains ronds odorants qui sortent du four à bois d’un boulanger ouïghour, minorité musulmane de l’ouest de la Chine. Sur les étals, le manioc côtoie les fruits du dragon.
Au McDo, deux Allemandes chargées de paquets mangent une glace. D’origine congolaise, elles importent des accessoires pour les coiffeurs afro de Cologne. «Tout le commerce vers l’Afrique part du Guangdong [la province de Canton, ndlr]. Même les Chinois se sont mis à parler lingala et bambara. Mais tout est devenu plus cher, on nous fait des problèmes pour les visas alors qu’on vient avec du cash, beaucoup de cash. Ce matin, une Angolaise se plaignait de n’avoir amené “que” 24 000 dollars, au lieu de 100 000 habituellement, à cause de la crise là-bas, causée par la chute du prix du pétrole.» Comme beaucoup d’autres, elles pensent prospecter au Bangladesh, où les salaires sont réputés quatre fois moins élevés, au Vietnam, voire en Turquie : «C’est plus cher mais on est mieux traités.» D’autres s’installent dans des provinces chinoises plus reculées, où les salaires n’ont pas encore augmenté. «Ici, quand tu fais fabriquer une ligne de vêtements d’après un modèle commandé à un créateur africain, renchérit une femme d’affaires à la table voisine, tu as à peine tourné le dos que le patron de l’usine en fabrique 5 000 pour son propre compte et inonde le marché.» A Xiaobei, les magasins de boubous sont désormais tenus par des Chinois.
«La police fait des descentes»
Immigration visible, le nombre d’Africains à Canton est sujet à toutes les élucubrations, la presse locale n’hésitant pas à les estimer à 300 000, additionnant allégrement toutes les entrées et sorties du territoire annuelles. Au moment de l’épidémie d’Ebola de 2014, la municipalité avait recensé 16 000 Africains, dont 4 000 résidents longue durée. Mais le racisme a la vie dure, alimenté par les préjugés et les activités d’une petite minorité vivotant de trafic de drogue et de prostitution, une fois le visa d’étudiant ou de tourisme épuisé. «Quand un Africain entre dans un ascenseur, les gens se bouchent le nez. Une fois, on n’a pas voulu me louer un appartement», raconte Moustapha Dieng.
Au premier étage d’une galerie marchande, des Africains discutent politique internationale autour d’un mafé poisson. Les plats, «préparés à la maison», sont servis par l’employée chinoise d’un beauty parlour,aidée par un jeune Guinéen rigolard. Les uns vivent là, les autres font des allers-retours. Tous sautent d’une langue à l’autre, chinois, français, anglais, langues africaines, et se retrouvent le samedi soir dans les «maquis», ces restaurants typiquement africains, où il y a toujours une fête nationale à arroser jusqu’à l’aube. Et tous déplorent «le business devenu difficile».
Dans les trois étages du Elephant Mall, la plupart des boutiques sont abandonnées. Une coiffeuse se désole : «Je fais des allers-retours depuis cinq ans. Mais c’est la dernière fois. On est trop maltraités, surveillés par la police, et méprisés.» Chacun semble avoir une mésaventure à raconter : corruption, conteneur bloqué au port, ordinateurs saisis, livreurs noirs harcelés… «C’est devenu compliqué d’obtenir les visas,explique Isidore, jeune secrétaire de l’association des Congolais et exportateur de matériel informatique. Les loyers montent, les tracasseries aussi. Je n’ai plus le droit d’héberger mes clients, ils doivent aller à l’hôtel, et la police fait des descentes pour vérifier. Avant, on était 2 000 Congolais, on n’est plus que 452.» De l’autre côté du boulevard trône la tour Tianxiu, gratte-ciel rose et décrépit. Showrooms, appartements, restaurants clandestins – parfois tout à la fois – s’y superposent. Un pasteur salue ses ouailles dans l’ascenseur. L’un d’eux, Felly Mwamba, a installé ses bureaux au 26e étage. Solide gaillard, une croix en bois sur son tee-shirt noir, il parle à toute vitesse en cantonais sur ses deux téléphones entre ses rendez-vous. «L’intégration est un combat. Ce n’est pas dirigé contre nous, c’est dans l’idéologie de la Chine de défendre ses intérêts. Les gouvernements africains devraient faire pareil. Je suis là depuis douze ans, je paye un loyer, des impôts, un comptable. Et on ne me propose rien, ni crédit à la banque, ni nationalité, ni permis de travail permanent. Même me marier avec une Chinoise est un problème.» Seuls 400 couples mixtes se seraient mariés depuis vingt ans.
Le Malien Thiam Younous, logisticien arrivé en 2002, ne décolère pas.«Au début, on était les bienvenus. Rien n’existait, on a été à la base du développement des échanges commerciaux avec l’Afrique. J’ai organisé la structure d’exportation, travaillé dur, créé des emplois. Depuis la réforme du travail en 2008, on affronte une concurrence déloyale. Quand j’achète en France, mon fournisseur me soutient. Ici, il me double.» Adams Bodomo, chercheur à l’université de Vienne sur la diaspora africaine, relativise : «Qu’ils se plaignent de la manière dont les traite la police de Canton, je comprends, j’ai été moi-même maltraité une fois. Mais ceux qui pleurent sur la compétition chinoise devraient plutôt réorienter leur stratégie.»
De nouveaux Africains arrivent, alléchés par les promesses d’intermédiaires véreux, mais faute de petits boulots, seuls les plus débrouillards réussissent. Roberto Castillo, professeur au département des études africaines de l’Université de Hongkong, confirme : «On est dans une phase de transformation. La stricte politique d’immigration affecte tous les étrangers, pas seulement les Africains. Les meilleures années semblent passées, mais il y a encore beaucoup d’opportunités. La plus ancienne génération de Nigérians est encore en ville, et au taquet sur les affaires. L’histoire est loin d’être finie.» En témoigne le sac à dos d’un changeur chinois clandestin, plein à craquer de grosses coupures en euros et en dollars, comme aux plus beaux jours.
As the global media apparatus is full on building a narrative of ‘Africans leaving China’, it’s important to keep in mind that besides Guangzhou there are other cities like Yiwu and Wuhan with significant African populations.
Global Times: As Guangzhou African community shrinks, other Chinese cities see growing numbers
Yiwu, home to the world’s biggest wholesale market, is also becoming a hub for China-Africa trade as its African community thrives. Many African traders regard Yiwu as their second home, as they are given opportunities to participate in the city’s affairs, enjoy a high level of religious freedom, and are treated with respect by law enforcement officers.
Senegalese businessman Sourakhata Tirera sits in his office in Yiwu. Photo: Zhang Yu/GT
Sitting in his office in Yiwu, East China’s Zhejiang Province, Sourakhata Tirera, a Senegalese businessman, shifts easily between Chinese, French and his mother tongue Soninke to answer phone calls from his suppliers, partners and employees.
A successful businessman who has lived in the city since 2007, Tirera, known by locals as his Chinese name “Sula,” is now a proud representative of the thriving African community in Yiwu.
The local government put up a poster with his face on it in the train station and on billboards alongside the city’s main road, as a way to laud his entrepreneurial spirit but also to showcase the city’s embrace of foreign traders.
While Guangzhou was the first Chinese city to receive large numbers of African traders and still boasts the country’s biggest African community, experts say it is increasingly losing its leading position to Yiwu, which is becoming China’s model international and multicultural trade city.
While recent reports show that the number of Africans in Guangzhou is gradually shrinking, Yiwu’s African population is on the rise. “When [Africans] leave Guangzhou, some leave China but some go to other places in China, like Yiwu. Those that leave Guangzhou leave because, among other things, they want to find better opportunities in other parts of China and elsewhere,” Adams Bodomo, Professor of African Studies at the University of Vienna and author of 2012 book Africans in China, told the Global Times.
The exact number of Africans living in Yiwu, which sits in the manufacturing hub of East China’s Zhejiang Province, is hard to come by. Local authorities estimate that about 80,000 African traders visit Yiwu each year, in addition to about 3,000 traders from over 50 African countries who have settled in the city of some 1.2 million. But experts say the number of Africans living in the city may be as high as 30,000.
Yiwu is also playing a growing role in China-Africa trade. In 2015, Yiwu exported 48.21 billion yuan ($7.24 billion) of commodities to Africa, a 50.9 percent year-on-year increase.
Walking on Yiwu’s streets, it’s impossible to miss the African presence. In Yiwu International Trade City, Moroccan women wearing headscarves and robes bargain with local shop owners through the medium of calculators and broken English. Nigerian traders gather outside logistics companies as they pack bags of underwear into cartons which are about to be shipped. At night, businessmen from North Africa relax in the city’s many halal restaurants, as they smoke hookah pipes after a day’s work. And on Friday, the area near the mosque by the Yiwu river, one of the largest mosques in China, buzzes with Chinese Muslims and traders from North Africa and the Middle East, who flock to the mosque to pray. [KEEP READING HERE]
In early July CNN published an extensive feature by Jenni Marsh on the recent trend of Africans leaving Guangzhou; of hundreds or thousands of them “giving up on the Chinese dream” amid a dollar drought and slowing economy in Africa, and hostile immigration policies and racism in China – all said to be putting the city’s competitive edge at risk.
The CNN feature inspired responses from the Chinese media, and in the last few weeks several reporters were sent Guangzhou. They were especially interested to answer for themselves whether there is some mass ongoing exodus of Africans from Guangzhou, and more importantly: China. From the various interviews they conducted with Chinese officials, traders, estate agents and academics in Guangzhou, the reporters concluded that there are several reasons why the city’s small African town has fallen on hard times, and it’s too early to say with certainty if there is a definite trend of Africans departing China en masse.
Chengdu Business Daily, a newspaper published in distant Sichuan province, sent it’s lead reporter to Guangzhou, Wáng Yì, who filed a lengthy feature on July 25. Another article was published online by China Business News on July 27, by Féng Yìqīng and Qiū Yīfēi. Both present the stark decline yet perseverance and idiosyncrasies of the small African town on Xiǎo Běi Road (Little North Road) in the area of Dēngfēng. Their reports aim to infuse recent events with an air of normality, but they also clearly show that while times are tough around Xiǎo Běi Road, times may also have changed.
Are they really all leaving?
Arriving at the once bustling Yuèyáng Business and Trade Plaza in the Xiǎo Běi Road area, where most of the advertising billboards are only in English, the Chengdu Business Daily reporter noted a marked decrease in commercial activity compared with former times. There were only a few customers and several shops stood empty. The reporter found a clothing shop where the owner, a man named Lǐ Qiáng, sat dispirited watching television dramas. He said he had not had a single sale for three whole days.
China Business News reporters arrived in Dēngfēng at 11 one morning, when they expected it would be at it’s busiest. But they were surprised to find the area mostly deserted. They soon realised their mistake, however, when a local Chinese person informed them that all the Africans were at home sleeping at this time; but they should come back at one to two in the morning, the busiest hours. Such is their custom, the local man said, it’s different from the hours the Chinese keep.
Nevertheless, it is clear that many of the African traders who used to frequent Xiǎo Běi Road are gone. And for those who remain, as well as for Chinese shops and businesses in the area, it is equally clear that times are very tough. All the people interviewed by the Chinese reporters seem to agree that things starting changing around two years ago, and that everyone – both Chinese and African – can now only earn about half of what they used to make; most are making losses.
The situation seems to have reached a desperate point, for Yuèyáng Plaza at least. The management company responsible for the building told Chengdu Business Daily that shop rents have been falling repeatedly; those for shops on the second floor have already fallen by 50%. The traders can’t make any money, the customers are gone, and rents cannot drop any further.
For the African traders who have established themselves in China and who are still in Guangzhou, the situation is no better. Chengdu Business Daily also went to speak with Fēilì, presumably the same Felly Mwamba, the Congolese “ambassador” in Guangzhou who also appeared in the CNN feature.
Fēilì told the Chinese reporters that he has been much vexed by the decline of the market. His income has fallen by about 40%, and it’s hard for him to make money at all now in China. The best years for Fēilì was 2005 to 2010 when he sent around ten containers to Africa each year. Then a decline set in from 2011, and the last two years have been especially tough. He now sends home only four or five containers a year.
In the last two years Fēilì has also seen hundreds of his fellow African traders leave the city, now he thinks there’s just about 300 left. He can see a clear trend: the many African traders who used to come on shorter visas are gone; the only ones left are those like him who have longer term visas. Yet the main reason for this, he concludes, is related to the economy: goods and the dollar are more expensive, costs are higher, incomes unstable.
China Business News talked to Kǎlǐfǎ from Sierra Leone, currently an MBA student at a university in Guangzhou and several years resident at Xiǎo Běi Road. Guangzhou’s goods have simply become too expensive, he said, and ever since late 2014 African traders – or the young and adventurous ones, as another African trader named Kùālā put it – have sought better opportunities elsewhere. Kùālā has lived in China for almost 20 years and set up a household, and he agrees that only those long term residents like him are left, the others have gone to India, Vietnam or elsewhere in southeast Asia.
Ālóng from Mali is another very experienced trader, with 14 years of living in China behind him. He is emphatic about the main reason why so many Africans have left Guangzhou: stricter enforcement of visa regulations. Fines of 2,000 renminbi and – in more serious cases – deportation, he says, meant many Africans had to leave. Yet Ālóng also relates another factor: the clampdown on counterfeit goods. It used to be easy for traders like him to buy fake goods in China and ship them back home; but these days, he relates, this has become rare. Punishment can be severe and offenders risk being expelled.
Further indications of the visa clampdown is provided by Ms Zhào, whose real estate company at a small office right in Dēngfēng assists foreigners with long term rental contracts. Some of her customers had to leave because they were unable to renew their visas, and only foreigners with proper long term visas (renewed annually) are able to get longer rental contracts. For those who stay, rent is more expensive: apartments managed by Ms Zhào’s company start at 8,000 renminbi per month. Ms Zhào added that if the Africans remaining in the city can afford this, they must still be earning well.
For a broader perspective on the events in Guangzhou, both of the Chinese articles turned to Wàng Liàng, an associate professor at Guangzhou University who is said to have studied the long term trends of Africans living and working in China. Wàng explained that many of the Africans “scattered” when the so-called Anti-sanfei campaign to deal with the three (三 sān) illegals (非 fēi) was launched. The three illegals refer to foreigners illegally entering, staying and working in China. The campaign was first announced by police in Beijing back in June 2012 as a 100-day operation.
But this, says Wàng, is only one of several reasons why there is a lot less people in Xiǎo Běi Road these days, and it does not necessarily mean there are a lot less African traders in China. Rising costs in the city have also contributed to foreigners heading to other less expensive areas like Húběi and Húnán provinces. Some enter China from other locations, and only then make their way to Guangzhou.
So how many are left?
There is reportedly a rumour in Guangzhou that as many as 200,000 Africans live in the city. Yet Páng Bō of the Guangzhou Entry and Exit Administration was able to clarify that this is certainly not true. In fact, of the total 20 million single person entries of foreigners at Guangzhou annually, around 200,000 are from African countries. Thus, says Páng, the number denotes person entries and not number of people, and especially not the number of illegal Africans in the city.
But is there a trend of many Africans leaving Guangzhou?, the reporter asked. Páng would not give a definitive answer, saying just that it would be better to first analyse more data before coming to a firm conclusion. He said that there are currently around 100,000 foreigners in Guangzhou, the daily rate varies between 80,000 and 120,000. Numbers peak during the Canton Fair in October and reach a low ebb at Christmas.
Chengdu Business Daily also quoted statistics provided by the Public Security Bureau of Guangzhou indicating that the number of foreigners with long term visas living in the city increased from 38,000 at the end of 2013 to 51,000 by June 25, 2016. Of this number, around 5,000 are African. In addition, there are currently around 6,000 Africans in Guangzhou on short term visas, making for a total of around 11,000, a decrease from 16,000 in November 2014.
Waiting for better days
All the traders interviewed by the Chinese reporters in Guangzhou spoke of their loss of income and the gloomy outlook. But all, even the dejected Lǐ Qiáng in his quiet shop in Yuèxiù Plaza, expressed their determination to hold on until things get better.
Fēilì is confident the good times may come back sometime, and Ālóng is philosophical about the future. Things of the future, he says, must be left to the future.
Just outside Yuèxiù Plaza the Chinese reporter found a Nigerian student from Wuhan University in Hubei province taking some pictures. Fēnní came to Xiǎo Běi Road for the summer and sought out some of his compatriots because he believes Guangzhou is a special place for Africans. Referring to the Chinese saying, “Until you reach the Great Wall you are not a proper person”, Fēnní said, Until you get to Guangzhou’s Xiǎo Běi Road, you can’t say you’ve been to China.