Police in Kenya arrested four Chinese nationals, local media reported on Sunday, after a shocking video began circulating of one of them publicly flogging one of his employees, a Kenyan national, for allegedly being late to work.
The man whipping the Kenyan, a chief identified as Deng Hailan, was working in Kenya illegally; he possessed only a tourism visa to be allowed in the country. Deng was working as a chef in a hotel. Simon Oseko, the man being whipped in the video, told local media he felt he had no choice but to accept the abuse as he needed money from the job.
The case has outraged Kenya, already reeling from a growing list of incidents of Chinese nationals being abusive and racist against their Kenyan peers. China has embedded itself deeply in the Kenyan economy through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), offering Nairobi millions of dollars in predatory loans the country is ill-equipped to pay back. Chinese Belt and Road workers have stood accused of building an “apartheid” system at construction sites for development projects, beating Kenyan workers and banning Kenyan engineers from any skilled jobs.
China has also poured at least hundreds of its citizens into Kenya to do work that Beijing promised would go to locals and enrich Kenyan communities. Many of these Chinese citizens have overwhelmed the Kenyan immigration system by applying for tourist visas and using their time in Kenya to work illegally.
Deng, who police believe had done just that, was arrested alongside Chang Yueping, Ou Qiang and Yu Ling, three others working at the Chez Wou Restaurant at a hotel in Kileleshwa, a Nairobi suburb. Deng is believed to have been illegally working as a chef despite having a tourist visa. Chang and Ou were present in Kenya illegally, as their visas had expired. The fourth suspect, Yu, was also working at the restaurant with a visitors’ permit, violating the law, according to Kenya’s The Nation. A local officer told The Nation that the four Chinese will likely face charges of assault as well as illegally working in the country. The officer handling the case described them as “flight risks” and so should not be granted bail.
Deng caught the police’s attention through a video circulating on social media of a man believed to be him whipping Oseko, the waiter. Oseko pressed charges against Deng and claimed the assault occurred on February 2. He told police that Deng fired him after whipping him, without paying for the hours he had worked.
The video shows an Asian man urging the man identified as Oseko to bend over before whipping him, causing audible pain. Others can be heard laughing at the violence off-camera.
“He gave me two strokes. It was so painful because I could not sit down,” he said. His boss then expected him to continue working.
The newspaper noted that remarks on social media indicated that many Kenyans wished to see the Chinese immediately deported, not punished within the Kenyan legal system at taxpayers’ expense. Police reportedly stated, however, that those arrested would, if found guilty, have to face Kenyan justice.
The case is the latest in a string of increasingly outrageous incidents of Chinese citizens violating Kenyan law, often through engaging in openly racist behavior. The large numbers of Chinese entering Kenya began traveling there after Nairobi signed onto the BRI and China offered to build the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), an extensive rail line that would connect Nairobi to Mombasa, a port city on the Indian Ocean, and eventually connect Kenya to Rwanda, Uganda, and other neighbors. The first corridor of the SGR opened in July, over a year after reports began surfacing in The Standard and elsewhere of the Chinese workers creating an “apartheid” system at work sites.
The Standard published images in 2018 of Chinese workers banning Kenyans from sitting in the same eating spaces as the Chinese, banning them from sitting in the same transportation vehicles en route to work sites, and forcing Kenyan engineers with specialized degrees to perform unskilled labor. Chinese workers also refused to translate any instructions that come with equipment for building the railroad or controlling the rail line once it is built, ensuring that Kenya will need to constantly pay Chinese “experts” to keep the line running.
Reports of physical abuse of Kenyan workers at the sites also surfaced regularly, as did reports that a Chinese worker made a salary four times larger than a Kenyan for doing the same job. Those Chinese workers were conducting labor operations in Kenya illegally in many instances, officials later revealed.
“Insiders said besides the official numbers that have applied for work permits, there are hundreds of others behind the walls working using tourist visas who fly back home every six months for a short break, before jetting back in to pick up where they left,” The Standard wrote in 2018, two years before police arrested the four Chinese workers at the hotel restaurant this week for violating the terms of their permit.
In response to the scandal, the Kenyan government accused its own citizens of having insufficient “work ethic” and urged them to be more like the Chinese.
“Even as we talk about the [railway] and the racism and all that, it might be necessary for us as a country to change our work ethic,” government spokesman Eric Kiraithe said in 2018. “What we are expecting those Kenyans to do, those with an opportunity, is to shift the focus on the challenge at hand.”
Problems have persisted since the railway opened. In May 2019, police arrested four Chinese railway workers after video surfaced of the Chinese gang beating a Kenyan government inspector who had visited their site to ensure compliance with the law. The Chinese workers first reportedly allowed the engineer on their site. When the engineer discovered they were using substandard building materials, the Chinese allegedly tried to bribe him, then beat him when that failed.
Outside of the railway work, Chinese businessmen traveling to the country have been involved in racist spectacles that have triggered public outrage. Among the most prominent was a rant by businessman Liu Jiaqi, a motorcycle dealer, who a Kenyan employee recorded calling President Uhuru Kenyatta a “monkey” and demanding Kenyans be “like white people.”
“Every one, every Kenyan … like a monkey, even [Kenyan President] Uhuru Kenyatta. All of them,” Liu tells his employee’s camera. “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?”