“Shocking, outrageous, disgusting, abhorrent” are some of the descriptions used to refer to a video widely circulated on the social media showing African children chanting demeaning phrases in Mandarin. ‘’I am a black devil. I have a low IQ ‘’ were some of the phrases these children were made to chant. The video in which African children from Malawi are seen clad in Chinese outfits and a Chinese man barking instructions behind the scenes, followed by a humdrum dance, has sparked a wave of anger on social media since it was posted in mid-February 2022. It is perhaps the most debated video on the continent since the advent of social media. The video has triggered a serious social debate on racial tensions and treatment of Africans in China’s social media platforms. Berthold Ackon, also known as Wode Maya online, brought the video to the attention of many Africans. According to Ackon, “the person who made this video is exploiting African children by putting them on YouTube and Chinese social media. The children don’t understand what they are saying. This kind of video destroys trust between China and Africa. It’s scandalous.” He called upon African governments to stop exploitative practice of African children by Chinese nationals. The video has also caught the attention of the media, and the matter has since taken a life of its own with various civil society organisations and politicians condemning China for not doing enough to stop racial discrimination against Africans.
In 2017, a Chinese museum in the city of Wuhan angered Africans after it posted a racist video as part of the exhibition online juxtaposing pictures of Africans alongside wild animals. According to the local blogger and the owner of the exhibition, Yu Huiping, the ‘This is Africa exhibition’, was meant to ‘’give a sense of primitive life through the interplay of humans, animals and nature.’’ After a huge uproar on social media, the exhibition was pulled down. Another racist incident that drew outrage occurred in Shanghai, China. Shanghai based cosmetics company Leishang Cosmetics, posted an advertisement featuring an Asian woman stuffing a black man into a washing machine. The messaging had racial undertones, it suggested that even black people can turn white by using a Leishang detergent. The company blamed the Western media for over amplifying the issue; it was later forced to issue an apology.
Some Chinese believe that the rise of hate speech and growing incidences of racial slurs in China are signs of growing discontent about the increasing number of Africans working and studying in China. Sub Saharan Africans living in Guangzhou have increased exponentially over the years. China has since introduced strict immigration rules to prevent further rise of African population in Guangzhou. In recent years China has been courting African nations with tens of billions of dollars in loans and aid. China is one of Africa’s significant trading partners and continues to invest in various infrastructure including roads, airports and railways across the continent. The continual racial tensions have put the future of that investment at risk. Although China has repeatedly stressed the importance of healthy China-Africa alliances based on “mutual prosperity”, the growing numbers of racial incidences involving Africans at the hands of Chinese suggests otherwise. China’s racial animosity towards Africans is fast becoming untenable and could lead to a potential irreversible damage to partnerships between the people of these continents in business and other spheres life. Chinese government continues to downplay incidences of racial prejudices and has dismissed such incidences as “over amplification of these issues by enemies of China”.
China’s “see no evil hear no evil and money first foreign policy” in Africa is beginning to show some cracks. China’s loans and financial aid to Africa has been without normal strings for obvious reasons. Knowing the shortcomings of its population, China preempted their business dealings with Africa by insisting on a relationship that is strictly business nothing else. China has no interest in promoting and condemning human rights in Africa, it has turned a blind eye on those governments who violate basic rights; it expects similar reactions from those governments on its own track record on human rights.
However contrary to the wishes of China, calls for Chinese government to intervene in preventing the spread of racial discrimination are getting louder. The “I am a black devil. I have a low IQ” video has triggered a harsh response in Malawi, a country where the video was shot. Kenyan member of parliament Moses Kuria has taken the matter a step further; he has called for “the expulsion of all Chinese in Kenya”.
In conclusion, racial prejudices at the hands of foreign powers are still fresh in most people’s minds in Africa and are deeply deplored. The video has caused serious damage to China-Africa relations; it will take more than an apology this time to reassure Africans that China is serious about clamping down on racism including cyber racism.