Guangzhou, China – African migrants have been arriving in Guangzhou, China’s third largest city ever since the Chinese economic boom began in the late 1990s.
Current estimates put their numbers anywhere from 20,000 to 200,000. The latter figure would place their population at almost two percent of Guangzhou’s 13 million residents. In any event, Guangzhou’s Africans constitute Asia’s largest African community. The majority of them reside in a 10 square kilometre area in the central districts of Yuexiu and Baiyun locally known as “Chocolate City”.
Many of Guangzhou’s Africans are short term residents who arrive by plane on 30-day tourist visas with little more than the clothes on their backs and as much Chinese yuan as they and their families can cobble together. Their plan is to purchase cheap goods to sell back home, which may be anywhere from Lagos, Nigeria, to Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Abubakkar Barrie, 32, an MBA student from Sierra Leone, manages other traders’ shipping by selling space in shipping containers. “I came to China because it is the centre of international business,” he says.
Although he is excited by the opportunities available in Guangzhou, Barrie admits that there are cultural barriers for Africans in Guangzhou. “Although I work with many Chinese, I have never once been invited to their homes.”
Barrie’s friend Bah Umaru Alpha, 26, is worried about the Ebola outbreak in his home town of Kerema, but with his own business to run, a wife and a nine-month-old child, returning home is out of the question.
Unlike African migrants who have children with Chinese nationals, African couples in China have no access to state healthcare and education. “As my son gets older, I’m worried about him being allowed to go to school. He was born here, but he doesn’t have the same rights as Chinese children,” Alpha said.