Xenophobia against Chinese in Malawi Parliament

I find the contents of (22nd February 2012) Daily  Times Page 3, entitled, “MP blames forex woes on Chinese” rather disturbing.

Let me start by saying the following; the Chinese, apart  from their home land, the People’s Republic of China, also  live in almost every other country on this planet. They live  and work in these “2nd homes” and those other countries  do not experience forex shortages as Malawi is currently  going through. Why is Malawi experiencing forex  shortages? You know the answer is not Chinese people.

Let us not use the Chinese as a scapegoat.

My good friend, Leader of the House, Honourable George  Chaponda’s (not at the moment though! We have not spoken to each other since 2009) response was, in my opinion, lukewarm. Considering the cordial diplomatic relations currently obtaining between the two countries, one would expect a much more robust response from the Leader of the House who represents the President in  Parliament. Alas!  It ought not to have been! When one particular race is picked upon as causing problems on a foreign land, xenophobia is sometimes ignited in the minds of the general public; a sentiment the government should always be seen to guard against!

As economic ties between China and Africa deepen, hundreds of thousands of Chinese migrants, like this store owner in Lilongwe, Malawi, are discovering the continent. Photo: Benedicte Kurzen for The New York Times

Honourable George Chaponda’s comparison of what the MP had said to the events of 1992 when many companies folded due to what he described as “poor economic climate” sounded like he was in agreement with the MP – although, from what I recall, Malawi did not have more than 2 or 3 Chinese nationals from PRC. Who was behind  this calamity then?

It is not too far back when a few of our own people lost their lives and others had to be evacuated from South Africa because of sentiments like the ones expressed by the Member of Parliament for Nchinji North, Rachel Mazombwe Zulu.

The accusations against Malawians were not dissimilar to what Honourable Rachel had said, “Malawians (foreigners) are taking our jobs away…..”  The question we have to ask ourselves is this, whatever businesses the Chinese are doing, which one of them is against the law? The foreign exchange used is paid to companies abroad using legal provisions through our banks; nothing illegal there!

The MP is apparently quoted as  saying, “Chinese vendors who have invaded rural trading centres, operating restaurants, groceries and hawkers” She  is also quoted as saying, “What are we doing as  Malawians? Everything is being taken away by the Chinese. Malawians are suffering because of these people that have invaded our country”. Really? She apparently blamed the Chinese from over-importing (tooth picks, plastic shoes etc).

Suzgo Khunga (the author of the Daily  Times article) also adds that President Bingu wa Mutharika  has on several occasions blamed Asian traders in the country from externalising forex. If the President is right,  what has his government done to arrest the problem? It would not be too hard to catch them since Malawi does not have tens of thousands of them! Or, should we start to  doubt the competence of the Nation’s fiscal police? I think not! Then, where should the blame lie?

The DPP administration through their 2009 Party Manifesto spoke a lot about “ turning Malawi from being a predominantly producing and consuming country, to a producing and exporting country” The President himself in his utterances has, on many occasions repeated this point. I am sure that in seven years of being in government the people of Malawi should be updated as to how much
Malawi is currently exporting and not just figures from Kayerekera Uranium mine. I am sure if we had done well  in this area, the cutting of aid by Western governments would not have had the huge debilitating impact it is presently having on all of us.

Surely, Malawi would be in a very comfortable economic situation had Britain and other countries not been “forced” to take the punitive actions they took against Malawi. Why did the honourable member miss this open goal; surely, she, as an opposition member in the august house; knows why we are having these problems, forex shortages, fuel shortages, drugs’ shortages  in our hospitals and there is no Chinese person in sight!

Whilst I agree there seems to be no deliberate policy to deal with situation obtaining in the rural areas; finger pointing at a particular race in the manner done by Honourable Rachel Zulu is not the way we are going have  solutions to the problem.

Laws are required if Malawians  are uncomfortable with other races, Chinese, to be specific, trading in rural areas. MP Rachel Zulu is in Parliament and that is where laws are made. She should not simply point fingers at innocent people who are in this country to do honest business within our laws. It is the responsibility of the government of Malawi to formulate laws that would empower our traders fairly and at the same making sure no foreigner is inequitably disadvantaged.

Remember; not all Malawians live in Malawi! And, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you! The question the MP raises, “What are we doing as Malawians?” It is also chilling when one looks deep into this question and its possible ramifications.

The Leader of the House should have said more in his response! That he did not; perhaps the Speaker himself (herself) should have said something against this kind of careless statements by Members of Parliament.
*The author of the report is Davies Chester Katsonga; Chairman: China Malawi Cultural & Social Links (China  Enculturation Association), Distinguished Advisor: Chinese  Africa Overseas Chamber of Trade & Commerce,  Partner: Dondo General Markets ….and  Malawi’s Former:  Speaker of Parliament, Minister of Mines, Energy & Natural Resources, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Presidential & Parliamentary Affairs, Minister of Defense, Minister of Labour

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