The country known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ has come under fire from political commentators in the west due to the rising tensions between native Malawians and an influx of Chinese immigrants. Over the last four years the country has seen the Chinese population soar as China continues to open the doors of trade to Africa. But Malawians are complaining that the government are allowing Chinese to steal trade by undercutting the local traders and tensions are high.
Western commentators are calling on the Malawian government to take steps to ease tensions between the two factions and encourage communication by introducing Chichewa translation services and developing a dialogue between the two sides. China’s commercial and diplomatic power in Africa has grown significantly over the last four years and the current troubles are part of an increasing sense of unease between Malawians and Chinese.
There have been several incidents around Africa which have resulted in the deaths of Chinese immigrants and clashes between Chinese and African workers have taken place across the continent. In June the backlash reached Karonga, a town in the Northern part of Malawi, which prompted the government to reinstate an old law confining foreign trade to large cities. However, the law is yet to be enforced, prompting some Malawian traders to consider taking matters into their own hands.
Noel Zenengeya, a merchant in Malawi’s capital Salima, said “If they (the government) don’t do anything, we will have to fight for it.”
But according to the government, changes enforced by the new law are set to take place with more than 140 businesses being moved to the country’s three largest cities. However, it seems Malawian officials are only willing to go so far to avoid offending the country which has become one of their biggest benefactors.
Over the past three years, bilateral trade between China and Africa has doubled and in July of last year China’s President, Hu Jintao, offered Africa more than $20 billion worth of cheap loans in the next three years, demonstrating the powerful influence the country is having over Africa’s economic state. In an interview given to Reuters, Salima’s District Commissioner Ali Phiri explained that the issue was ‘politically sensitive’ due to the help given to Malawi by China, but went on to say that he anticipated ‘a lot of conflict if they don’t move’.
Political commentators are calling on the Malawian government to take steps to improve communication between Chinese and Malawians to ease tensions prior to trading laws being implemented.