Hundreds of traders in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, took to the streets to protest the presence of Chinese traders who they said were taking over the businesses of local residents. The demonstration on Tuesday, 28 February 2023, led to clashes between the demonstrators and the police who tried to disperse them.
Merchants coming from various markets in Nairobi, including Dubois Street, Gikomba and Nyamakima, walked towards Vice President Rigathi Gachagua’s office blowing whistles and trumpets and chanting anti-China traffickers slogans.
“What we want is some sanity in the business. China has flooded the market, selling products cheaper, some of which are even substandard,” a Purity Njeri trader told Anadolu.
Njeri added that they currently have no business to work on.
In recent years, the Government of Kenya has worked closely with China to increase trade and investment between the two countries.
However, the flow of Chinese traders to the Kenyan market is contentious, with local traders feeling abandoned and marginalized.
The traders said they would continue to protest until their concerns were voiced and their businesses protected again.
Samuel Murethi, another trader, complains that most of them are small-scale traders who cannot compete with Chinese companies.
“We are small traders with small shops…they have big shops where they have invested money. This kind of competition is unfair,” said Murethi.
According to Murethi, it’s like comparing a rat to an elephant.
Traders claim Chinese traders have infiltrated the Kenyan market, causing local traders to lose business. They accuse Chinese traders of selling goods at lower prices, below those of local traders, making it difficult for them to compete.
The protest by Kenyan traders caused traffic jam on the busy Harambee highway outside the vice president’s building.
The traders demanded to meet with the vice president to air their grievances and seek protection for their business.
The Kenyan government has finally promised to address traders’ concerns and on Wednesday, the vice president will meet with traders’ representatives.
Traders in Kenya and other fast-growing economies in Africa have protested periodically against their Chinese competitors. China is Africa’s main trading partner and more than 1 million Chinese are estimated to live on the continent.
Kenya’s relationship with China was in focus during last year’s presidential election, which was won by William Ruto. Ruto promised to issue government contracts with China agreed under his predecessor and deport Chinese nationals working illegally.
Kenyan traders were angered by the newly opened retail store China Square in a suburb of Nairobi, where everyday items such as curtains imported from China were on average 50% cheaper than those sold by local merchants.
Dressed in the dust suits used in their retail outlets, the traders marched to the vice president’s office and to parliament to petition against the Chinese retailer.
“The Chinese cannot be importers, retailers, wholesalers and hawkers,” read one placard held aloft during the protests. Some shouted “The Chinese must go!”
Commerce Minister Moses Kuria has offered to take over the lease for China Square from its Chinese owner and hand it over to local traders, but Korir Sing’oei, chief secretary at Kenya’s foreign ministry, stressed on Twitter that all investors are welcome, regardless of their nationality.
Wu Peng, the top African official at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, welcomed Sing’oei’s assurances on Twitter.
China Square owner Lei Cheng told local newspapers he was inspired to open the shop after finding prices in Nairobi supermarkets too high.
Ruto followed up in November on a campaign promise to publish documents relating to a controversial $3 billion loan for Chinese railways built by his predecessor.
Analysts say the move could strain ties with China, Kenya’s biggest bilateral creditor, as such deals are generally kept secret. Chinese officials did not comment on Ruto’s actions.