They pawn every imaginable consumable from electronic gadgetry to vegetables. And the spatial location of these Chinese merchants seems to be extending to other cities in Ghana including Tema. The lure of Ghana’s gold has also attracted the Chinese to the illegal section of the mining industry known as “galamsey” with almost revolutionary zeal. Chinese galamsey operators have been sighted in Ghana’s deep forests in the south and on the savannah belt of our Republic’s Northern extremities. In May, Ghana’s media reported the arrest of scores of illegal Chinese miners in Obuasi and the rumpus between indigenes and a legitimate Chinese mining concern over the construction of the Gbane bridge in the Talensi Nabdam District in the Upper East Region.
The Ghana United Traders Association(GUTA) has been loud in its protestations over the brazen incursions of Chinese traders in Ghana’s retail sector in the face of laws (Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Law, Act 478, Clause 18) excluding any foreigners from that sector. GUTA’s vexation is understandable given that the Chinese traders with their intimate knowledge of their country’s market will ultimately muscle out their Ghanaian competitors from the supply concourses of very highly demanded China made goods and also offer direct on shore competition as well for the purchasing power of Ghanaian consumers. The Government of Ghana has had to respond by issuing a June 30, 2012 ultimatum for Chinese and other foreign retail traders to close shop. Ghana’s Minister of Interior Mr. William Aboah has pitched in by pointing out the security implications of this growing phenomenon. To be certain, Ghana is not the only country battling illegal Chinese retail traders. In other African countries small scale Chinese merchants are drawing the ire of locals. In Bab Ezzouar, an eastern suburb of Algiers, violent confrontations erupted between local and Chinese shopkeepers in August 2009; in neighbouring Boushaki, Chinese shops were vandalized. In Derb Omar in Casablanca the Chinese have reportedly set up about a 100 shops. The Union Nationale des Commercants et Industriels du Senegal, like GUTA, has accused Chinese merchants of operating illegally in the country with the tacit support of the Senegalese government. Other African countries such as Nigeria, Cameroun, Zambia, Namibia, Mauretania, Equatorial Guinea, Malawi, Lesotho and Zimbabwe are also grappling with this same matter.
At the core of this challenge lies the increasing financial, economic, trade, diplomatic and political engagement between Africa and China in the last two decades. Clearly the downside of this interaction is beginning to materialize and territorially so for African countries. There is also a reverse process in which African traders have also become a visible presence in Chinese cities like Guangzhou leading to confrontations with the authorities and some resentment from locals. In other words at stake is a delicate, sensitive and complicated policy question that requires sobriety and mutual engagement among the parties if a well thought through resolution is to be reached. On the African side a “yellow peril” approach will constitute a lazy, hysterical, knee-jerk reaction that will raise needless suspicion in the mind of key players in China’s public and private sectors and potentially constrict a useful development frontier that is opening up. Ghana, like other African countries needs to consider current spats over the Chinese mercantile presence as a very useful policy window for responding inventively, consciously, methodically and holistically to the inevitable attraction of Africa to the Chinese in the coming decades and vice versa. The response to this then is not a simple matter of moral blandishments and periodic public outbursts of concern by officials of state. What is required is a framework of action that is anchored on collaboration between state institutions such as the Ghana Immigration Service, the Ghana Police Service, the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, the Bureau of National Investigations (these institutions will also have to engage their Chinese counterparts as well) among others and the general citizenry.
This writer’s experience in China should underscore the point. There is no way one can enter China’s territory and live – let alone work – there with the inappropriate visa requirements. Bank teller operators and hotel front desk officers are trained to gather information on your visa status before rendering critical services. Any aberrations are passed on to the appropriate authorities through a national database. There are fines (per day) for the total number of days one’s visa has expired that the visitor will have to pay; you cannot leave the country without settling such a fine.
As the Chinese say “qi hu, nan xia” to wit if you ride a tiger dismounting is well nigh impossible. Such is the nature of the challenges Africa-China relations present given the increasing interlocking interests between the parties. African governments need to recognize this and show their mettle.