Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Translation Tuesday: No Africans allowed? Suspicions about Chinese restaurant discrimination in Kenya provoke widespread anger

By Zander Rounds

Author: Yingying
Translator: Zander Rounds
Published on: 3/25/15
Source: Sohu News
Original text (in Chinese): http://star.news.sohu.com/20150325/n410267717.shtml?qq-pf-to=pcqq.group

A recent scandal involving a Chinese restaurant in Kenya that barred locals after dark made international headlines, revealing tensions surrounding Chinese businesses practices in Africa. Yingying, a Chinese entrepreneur working in the continent, draws on a large survey of ethnic Chinese opinions in Africa to illuminate why the restaurant did what it did, wrong as it was.
---- Zander Rounds

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 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, Kenya's 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 population, this is just an individual 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. Additionally, the lenses of human rights, discrimination, and colonization were consciously applied to the incident which produced 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 Chinese Restaurant, China Jiangsu Restaurant, Bangkok Chinese Restaurant, For You Chinese Restaurant, Fragrant, Spring Garden, 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 Kenyan 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 repeatedly subject to robbery. Often these cases can never be solved; the lost property rarely ever can be recovered. This is an area of dissatisfaction for many 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 do invariably arise 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 this author's 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 [China's strategy to encourage enterprises to invest overseas - Editor]. This author thinks that, while the government has encouraged industry and businesspeople to go out, the service sector 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 mechanisms for training and guidance. As more and more private enterprises enter Africa, and as private enterprises have become an important component of “going out”, it is extremely necessary for proper guidance and training. If embassies and Chinese firms in Africa do not engage in service-related groundwork, 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 among the mechanisms that touch the most locals and have the greatest influence. If embassies and overseas Chinese organizations can sufficiently utilize these restaurant and hotel spaces and engage them in organized guidance and training, using them as a resource to present Chinese culture to local and help dining locals to understand Chinese culture the right way. This could turn every Chinese restaurant into window for the transmission of Chinese culture, with the benefit of serving as a major public diplomacy success.

Chinese Online Reactions

Translator: Melody Liang and Hongxiang Huang
Published on: 3/30/15
Source: China House's WeChat
Original text (in Chinese)https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s?__biz=MzA5MTY1NDUwNA==&mid=204439795&idx=1&sn=3582053838371b491a9034396bd1c3f4&scene

Perspective 1: It was not about racial discrimination.

Mr. Yang from a Chinese restaurant said: “Over 90% of the Chinese restaurants in Nairobi had been robbed before, and many of them had been robbed more than once. The robbers always came as ordinary customers at night, then they entered the restaurant and robbed us with guns. We are just doing our small business to make ends meet, and we do want more customers. We are just simply scared. There was one night we didn’t even dare to let a customer in even though he claimed to be a senator. Who could have known if he’s telling the truth or not? Hiring securities is no use. They would work with the robbers! We can’t trust anyone.” 

“All the Chinese enterprises in Kenya were involved in this event. And this may be a warning for Chinese businessmen in Kenya, letting them know that the first thing they have to learn is to follow local laws. It is their responsibilities to receive all the licenses and follow all procedures. Don’t let local authorities have anything on them. Moreover, running business should be people-oriented. Chinese people may understand this restaurant’s choice, but local residents will consider it ‘racial discrimination’. Actually we can tackle the problems more politely.”

“I think if they are truly ‘racist’, they will not serve local people at anytime, however they serve them in the daytime. The reason they did not accept local customers at night is fear.” 

“Every time I have a meal in Chinese restaurant I can always see Kenyans enjoy their meals there harmoniously.”

“First of all, the restaurant owners is not a scholar and we cannot expect them to be knowledgeable of all the consequences of their actions. Secondly, when they faced the problem and finally made the decision they did, nobody helped them and they didn't think of consulting others. This is a real picture of Chinese people in Kenya. Thirdly, doing this is probably the restaurant owner's last choice. Blaming them cannot solve the problem and we need to think if there are any alternative solutions that can help them.”

Perspective 2: It was incredibly wrong.

“This is exactly racial discrimination.. It is more urgent for them (the restaurant owners) to apologize than to explain.”

“It is exactly racial discrimination if anyone judges a person by his or her color. I don’t want to criticize my fellow Chinese, but I understand the Kenyans because I know their feelings when I face similar situations in the U.S. I read the comments on Mosoku’s Facebook page, and some people also mentioned their stores being robbed. However, most of the people still believe that this is not an excuse to justify racial profiling.” 

“It is exactly racial discrimination if anyone judges a person by his or her color. Once I made an appointment with my Kenyan friend in the Family Restaurant at midday. My friend drove an over-sized vehicle, so they didn’t let him in. I decided to meet him in the doorway, but there was a person staring at us all the time. I understood him, but it was so stupid and abrasive. He (the restaurant owner) really does not need to dislike all the local people just because some of them hurt him. I think they owe my friend an apology, and they owe an apology to all the law-abiding Kenyans who they refused to serve.” 

Perspective 3: Chinese people could clear the air if they explained their reasons and apologize in time.

"I think only a sincere apology and changing the way that they operate their restaurant can help tackle this problem. They need to tighten up security." 

"I think at this moment, any kind of explanation is useless. The restaurant owner should be careful about his statement. It would save him a lot of trouble if he phrased his statement the following way: 'Please accept our apology for only serving Chinese customers after 5:00 pm. We want to help Chinese feel at home when they are enjoying dinner.'"

"We need to address the problem as soon as possible, make a public statement, propose an internal strategy, invite local people to Chinese restaurants, show our respect and our willingness to talk, and reject any disrespectful behavior."

Perspective 4: Some people with ulterior motives are behind this. They are pulling strings and widening the conflict. We have to protect ourselves through legal approaches.

"Some thoughts regarding the event: I stayed in Kenya for more than two years during which I have been to all the Chinese restaurants in Nairobi and some of the restaurant owners became my friends. It is very understandable why they did so, because when I was in Nairobi the robberies happened in the Chungking Restaurant and in the Sunshine Restaurant right beside the Family Restaurant. I was thinking: in addition to ‘say no’, are there any alternative solutions for this? I can’t think of other methods. Similarly, not just the catering industry, but all Chinese people in Kenya and also Chinese in all the countries in Africa are easily ‘favored’ by local robbers and local corrupt officials. However, how many local Chinese communities organized effective ways to help each other to response to robberies? What did the Japanese and the Koreans do here? Why can’t we learn from them? To be specific, it might be an improvement if some of the Chinese restaurant owners made the decision together to not accept local people after dark. Although they did not fully consider the strong reaction from society, at least they are starting to organize themselves together under a single mechanism."

"My friend kept refreshing their Facebook page since yesterday, but her voice is not loud enough. I hope Chinese people in Kenya who have opinions can communicate them and and separate truth from falsehood. Please support us on Facebook if you don’t have your own. Ms. Zhao Yang is still in jail. She is a brave and honest girl. She went to Juba during the South Sudan war as a volunteer. She also participated in Kenya’s environmental protection activity, in which she walked from Arusha, Tanzania to Kenya over eight days. She hasn't eaten meat for a long time. All of her friends who know her are fighting for her on Facebook, but their voices are not loud enough. She never said anything like Africans are not allowed to enter her restaurant. That rule was set long time ago. She and her team just took over the restaurant less than a month ago. This event was reported by an African head waiter. There are a lot of people who intend to use this event to alienate the relationship between China and Africa. Please use your voice on Facebook."

Yes, manager Xu and Zhao Yang’s mom officially took over the restaurant on March 1st. They did not even have a cook for the first week."

"It is so unfair."

Perspective 5: If there is going to be any demonstration, it will probably end up pretty ugly. 

Mr. Zhang from a Chinese restaurant explained: "Our restaurant always follows the local law, but we still worry about getting looted and vandalized. Now we are terrified."

Perspective 6: Chinese community should stick together to face this issue and provide training accordingly.

“Personally, I think there are two crucial points: first of all, this restaurant needs to be punished no matter the excuse. We can analyze the reasons ourselves in order to propose improvement in the future, but it’s not what local people care about right now. If it is real discrimination, then it needs to be punished. A determined attitude will avoid many conflicts. Secondly, we should resolutely appose any discrimination and anti-China words and behaviors. It is especially vital that the local authorities must protect legally operated restaurants and companies.”

“Actually we have Chinese associations in Africa, and they should do something to help each other to ensure security.”

“Why Chinese associations in Africa are not functioning and how can they start to function are worth discussing. Maybe this event can stimulate the growth of Chinese communities. It cannot address the problem if there are only appeals and condemnations”

Comments from China House: 

In Kenya, I learned that most Chinese people believed it was inappropriate for Chinese Restaurant to do such thing, even though their initial rationale was understandable. And we can also learn from the comments made by foreign media that the Chinese people in Africa are not aware of the information mentioned above. Many foreigners simply thought Chinese people were against them, but the truth is entirely different. Chinese people are condemning this act just like the Kenyans. Furthermore, many Chinese are gradually becoming suspicious about those who are condemning this act because they know little about mass media and how civil society functions-- instead asking is there any anti-China sentiment involved? This kind of attitude may further politicize this incident. Under those circumstances, people may focus on conspiracy theories rather than focusing on the issue itself. If the situation worsens, it would be incredibly difficult for both parties to understand and communicate with each other. Finally, I want to point out there is a huge gap between Chinese and international society. The Chinese community felt aggrieved while foreigners considered all Chinese people evil. The reason why the gap between two societies is widening is that a functional and practical communication mechanism has not been established. This leads to a situation where everyone is talking but nobody is listening. If both sides have preconceived ideas against each other, it would be much more difficult to mediate disputes.

Summarized by: Hongxiang Huang (China House)
Email: syohuanghongxiang@gmail.com
Website: www.chinagoingout.org
Translated by: Melody Liang (ECHO)
Email: echotranslationus@gmail.com
Website: echo-international.org


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