While Africans are known to be discriminated against in China, people from Kenya are facing the rude shock of being discriminated against in their own country by Chinese workers and employers. Unfortunately, the Kenyan economy is so desperate for growth that many locals are bitterly tolerating the racist attitudes.
Tensions between Kenyans and Chinese became a hot topic after local Africans working on Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) reported horrific tales of racism and neglect. “You cannot board a van that drops us in the evening even if there’s only one Chinese on board. You will have to wait… We do not have washrooms in the driver’s cab, so some relieve themselves on the track lines,” a Kenyan assistant locomotive driver said to Standard Media.
Chinese workers never sit at the same restaurant table as their Kenyan counterparts. Chinese employees also break many rules while on duty. For instance, they smoke and use mobiles on the train. If Kenyan workers were to do this, they would be fired. While Chinese employees are paid Sh100,000 (US$172) for their work, Kenyans are paid just Sh30,000 (US$51) for the same task even with similar qualifications and experience.
When the Kenyan workers complained to the government, the authorities took the side of the Chinese contractors operating SGR by claiming that Kenyan workers had a low work ethic. ”I am not saying any worker should be discriminated and humiliated in the workplace, but we must all appreciate that the operation of a modern train is a profession that calls for military standard discipline. Inward-looking, haki yetu [“our rights” in Swahili] centered personalities have no place in this kind of profession, not now or in the future,” said government spokesman Eric Kiraithe (Breitbart).
When it comes to Chinese employers, the situation gets even worse. Some Chinese managers have reportedly beaten their Kenyan co-workers for minor mistakes. One manager is said to have asked local employees to unclog a urinal of cigarette butts. What is infuriating is that only Chinese employees used to smoke inside the restroom.
Any Kenyan working with or under the Chinese have some story of discrimination to share, either encountered by them or someone they know. But given the poor state of the economy, Kenyans are forced to suffer through the racism as they do not want to “displease” and block investments coming in from China.
Fears of being colonized by China is also rampant among Kenyans. Beijing is reportedly trying to impose Chinese culture and values on the local populace. Kenyans are not at all happy with it. “We are not interested in [Chinese] culture… We brought these people here for their technology. So they should just bring us the technology. They can just remain with their own culture,” a Kenyan lawyer said to KPBS.
At the entrance of every single rail car of SGR, a Kenyan flag is paired with a Chinese flag. And since Kenya has borrowed so much money from China, the locals know that the government will remain silent on such incidents.
Kenyans were also furious when they discovered that a Chinese language billboard was put up in Nairobi. The locals vandalized it and many in the media questioned the logic of putting up a Chinese language billboard in Kenya where people mainly speak English and Kiswahili.