Kenyan police arrested a Chinese motorcycle dealer operating in the country this week after an employee recorded the man berating his native Kenyan employees, calling them “monkey people” and referring to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta as a “monkey.”
The dealer, identified as Liu Jiaqi, reportedly erupted after a business dispute with a Kenyan Uber driver, though the employee who recorded the video told local media that such racist abuse against Kenyans was not uncommon in the motorcycle shop Liu ran.
The Chinese government has responded by distancing itself from the comments and accepting Liu’s return to China once he is deported. The timing of this scandal could not have been worse for Beijing, as Kenyatta completed a visit to China on Wednesday for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. Kenya is a pivotal partner in China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) infrastructure initiative, seeking to give China control of the major roads, harbors, and railways connecting everything in between Beijing and western Europe.
OBOR has increased China’s unpopularity in Kenya following the revelation that Chinese workers on Belt and Road projects have imposed racist policies at work sites, including forcing native Kenyan workers to take different buses and use different lunch facilities than the imported Chinese workers. China has also used OBOR to flood the Kenyan immigration system with visa applications, bringing workers in on tourist visas to take jobs that China’s communist regime had promised would go to Kenyan workers.
The South China Morning Post noted on Wednesday that a video in which Liu is calling Kenyans “monkey people” in an English-language tirade against an employee rapidly became national news. Liu appears at his desk, fuming that he hates being in Kenya and suggesting that Kenyans be “like white people, like the Americans.”
“Every one, every Kenyan … like a monkey, even [Kenyan President] Uhuru Kenyatta. All of them,” Liu says on camera. When his employee asks him why he does not return to China instead of living in Kenya, Liu says, “I don’t belong to [sic] here. I don’t like here, like monkey people, I don’t like talk with them [sic], it smells bad, and poor, and foolish, and black. I don’t like them. Why not [like] the white people, like the American?”
Liu implies that he cannot afford life in China, and has thus chosen to move to Africa.
The employee who recorded the video told Kenya’s the Standard, which did not reveal the man’s name, that Liu was upset because of a business dispute with a Kenyan Uber driver, who reportedly did not leave Liu at the destination he had paid to go to.
“The Chinese was not happy. He was angry that the Kenyan on the trip was not helpful. When he arrived in the office he reported the matter to other Chinese managers here and asked that the Kenyan is fined,” the employee said. “He wanted to fine him Sh2000 [$19.86] or give him a warning letter and that is when the matter escalated and he started insulting us saying we look like monkeys and are poor.”
The employee noted that the sort of racism that Liu exhibited was not unusual at Sonlink (K) Limited, the motorcycle company where they worked.
“The company has about 8 Chinese and 12 Kenyans and all the Chinese here are our bosses and we do not know who is the overall boss. Insults here are a common occurrence and we just persevere to keep our jobs,” he noted.
Kenya’s immigration authorities confirmed that Liu was under arrest and “will be deported on racism grounds,” triggering some outrage on social media that he would not serve a prison sentence in Kenya.
China’s embassy in Kenya responded rapidly to the news, issuing a statement asserting that “the personal talk and personal feeling of this young man does not represent the views of the vast majority of Chinese people.”
“The Chinese Embassy always requires the Chinese companies and individuals to abide by the local law, stay and work legally in Kenya, making positive contribution[s] to the friendship and cooperation between China and Kenya,” embassy spokesperson Zhang Gang said. Zhang claimed the clip had been recorded in June and Liu had already been reprimanded by his Chinese superiors at the company, though the video of his tirade only made headlines this week.
The incident has done little to diminish concerns growing for years in Kenya that China is attempting to colonize the nation, treating its native citizens with little regard. A national Ipsos poll released Wednesday found that only 25 percent of Kenyans support good relations with China, a drop from 34 percent early this year. The turning point in trusting China appears to be the publication of a series of exposes on the way Chinese officials have managed construction for the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), a massive train construction project that is part of OBOR.
According to reports in Kenyan media, China imports Chinese citizens to work on the technical aspects of construction and bans Kenyans from taking any skilled jobs on the project, ensuring that Kenya will always have to pay China to run to railway after it is built. Workers also noted that Kenyans are not allowed to sit at the same tables as Chinese workers when taking their meals or use the same buses to reach work sites, essentially imposing an apartheid system. To keep the flow of Chinese workers on the project steady, China has had to override limits on work visas that Kenya keeps to protect its workers, making workers apply for tourist visas and working through the upper limit of how long those visas allow them to stay before heading back to China and applying for a new one.
Reports from work sites also accuse Chinese managers of the project of killing endangered species and posing a threat to the Kenyan ecosystem, constructing without regard for the environment through a national park.
In response to these accusations, the Kenyan government accused Kenyan nationals of being lazier workers than the Chinese and urged them to “change our work ethic,” triggering more outrage.
“I am not saying any worker should be discriminated and humiliated in the workplace but we must all appreciate that the operations of a modern train is a profession that calls for military standard discipline,” government spokesman Eric Kiraithe said in response to the SGR reports.
Kenyatta spent most of this week in Beijing securing more debts for his country, alarming international financial observers. China is already Kenya’s second-largest debtor, offering large amounts of money at high interest rates that Nairobi may not be able to pay back. China has placed heavy emphasis on loans to Africa as part of its OBOR program, beginning the new year with a skit celebrating ties with Africa using actors in blackface, prompting outrage throughout the African continent.<
In other nations where China has adopted this policy, most notably Sri Lanka, Beijing has requested ownership of the OBOR projects the debts were meant to pay for, granting China extraterritorial control of key transport hubs.