Guangzhou: Largest African Community in China


Actually, China is considered a classic emigration country – but the economic rise of the country has also triggered a movement in the opposite direction. In Guangzhou, the capital of the highly industrialized province of Guangdong, 15,000 Africans live today according to official figures.

In fact, their number should be significantly higher. One thing is certain: No Chinese city has a larger African community. Many of the immigrants earn their living by exporting Chinese consumer goods.

This is how the businessman Arnold Masembe started. To buy jeans for his native Uganda, he came regularly from 2008 to the city. Three years later, he founded his own logistics company here, which he has been running ever since.

His compatriots in Guangzhou have voted the 41-year-old chairman of the Uganda Community in China Association, supporting Ugandans in distress and acting as a bridge to the Chinese authorities. That's necessary, because even in China, many migrants face complicated bureaucracy, money worries or racism.

Arnold Masembe, Chairman of the

Georg Fahrion / DER SPIEGEL
Arnold Masembe, Chairman of the "Uganda Community in China"

On the desk in his modest office on the 14th floor of a high-rise is a stand with pennants of both countries. Masembe says he's fine in China, he earns decent money here. He still does not want to get old.

Here Arnold Masembe reports on his experiences:

"In Guangzhou, basically, there are three categories of Africans: people like me who started businesses here and are legally secured, then traders who are in China with a business visa and have to cross the border every 30 days to get it And finally, those who have covered their visa and gone underground.

This year, the Chinese government has announced it will clean up the situation. She has already tried that before, but it is said, this time it will be really serious. A four-month amnesty is currently underway: anyone who has overdrawn their visa should register and voluntarily go back; those who get involved do not have to go to jail.

It usually means 90 days imprisonment and up to 10,000 yuan fine if the authorities pick up someone who is illegally here or working without permission. Officers from the Public Security Bureau are patrolling the streets demanding passers-by to identify themselves. Once the amnesty expires, they will probably tighten their controls.

photo gallery

In China's "Little Africa"

At least five Ugandans have contacted me in recent months. In part, their visas had been overdrawn for five or six years. Some had even started families here. But without legal status this is not life. Then you live in constant fear. No matter how much money you have saved, in the end you could lose everything.

And apart from the uncertainty, of course, there is home on the other side. It can never be the same here as at home. More than one said to me, 'Look, I'm done here. It's time to go home. '

I have not yet seen a poster in China that says 'No to racism' in Chinese. You can not find something like that here. It may happen that one gets up in the subway and walks when you sit next to him. It also happens that women hold their noses when they pass by. I have already seen children doing that. That bothers me the most. Someone taught them that. Of course it hurts me. But then I hold back instead of confronting the people.

Basically, I would still say that racism in Guangzhou has become less over the years. Certainly above all because we do business for Africans and bring money to the city. Some of us have married Chinese women. That we are here is gradually being accepted as reality. Nevertheless, 80 percent of my friends and acquaintances here are Africans or other foreigners.

I just want to work and earn money in China. Even if the business did not make big leaps in the past year, things are going well: I recently bought a new house in a suburb of Kampala, the Ugandan capital. But I miss my family. My wife, two daughters and my son are in Uganda; the schools and living there is cheaper. I only see them when I fly home every half year for a few weeks.

There is so much I want to teach my son. That's not possible over the phone. That's why I want to return to Uganda at some point. Before that, I just want to earn so much money in China that I can buy machinery and build a home-based production, I think about bottling drinks. I do not aspire to Chinese citizenship. "

This article is part of the project Global Society, for which our reporters report from four continents. The project is long-term and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

What is the project Global Society?

Under the title Global Society, reporters turn out Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe Report on inequities in a globalized world, socio-political challenges and sustainable development. The reportages, analyzes, photo galleries, videos and podcasts appear in the Politics Department of SPIEGEL. The project is long-term and will be supported over three years by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

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Yes. The editorial content is created without the influence of the Gates Foundation.

Do other media have similar projects?

Yes. Major European media such as "The Guardian" and "El Pais" have created similar sections on their news pages with "Global Development" or "Planeta Futuro" with the support of the Gates Foundation.

Was there already similar projects at SPIEGEL ONLINE?

SPIEGEL ONLINE has already implemented two projects in recent years with the European Journalism Center (EJC) and the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: The "Expedition The Day After tomorrow" on Global Sustainability Goals and the journalistic refugee project "The New Arrivals" Several award-winning multimedia reports on the topics of migration and escape have emerged.

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