Years of growing animosity at Chinese traders turned into a protest by hundreds in Uganda’s capital yesterday against what local businesses called unfair competition, while the mayor warned against the tensions turning into xenophobic attacks.
Hundreds of Ugandan traders protested in Kampala, some carrying placards urging Chinese traders to leave. Many Ugandans accuse Chinese traders of moving to this East African country as serious investors but then setting up businesses in small trade. Many Ugandan merchants want the Chinese restricted to large business ventures.
Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago, who supported the protest, said the government must protect local traders to prevent the protests from escalating into attacks against foreign traders.
“We are likely to have xenophobia here. That’s where we are heading, unless they come up with measures to protect indigenous traders,” the mayor said.
Inexpensive Chinese goods have long been popular in Africa, and in the last decade Chinese merchants have started eliminating the middleman and setting up retail outlets of their own, much to local merchants’ chagrin.
Calls to the Chinese embassy rang unanswered.
Ugandan police spokesman Asan Kasingye called Wednesday’s street protest illegal and “should not be accepted by law-abiding people,” because it targeted a specific group of foreigners. Chinese merchants operating with valid papers will be protected, Kasingye said.
Ugandan immigration officials routinely deport groups of Chinese found operating without valid work permits. Many others operate legally across the country.
Perspective foreign investors in Uganda must provide evidence of US $100,000 in planned investment and obtain the necessary trade licenses, according to official guidelines.
In 2011, riots in Kampala largely targeted foreign merchants, echoing the 1972 expulsion of the country’s Indian middle class by dictator Idi Amin.