China's rising role in Africa is a subject of fevered discussion. Welcomed at the macro level, at the local level many African businesspeople are also deeply resentful at the competition by Chinese at even low levels of business in rural areas.
The goods that African traders sell are increasingly from China anyway. It is one thing for African traders to travel to China to buy goods for resell back home. But it is quite something else when the Chinese themselves come from their country with the goods to sell directly to African consumers. They obviously have many automatic advantages over local traders selling the same goods. Many African traders find themselves simply unable to compete with their Chinese counterparts.
This is one aspect of what drives ill-feelings against Chinese people in many African countries. The Chinese are often considered to be competing in sectors and at levels which it is widely thought (and sometimes legislated) should be the preserve of locals.
While this discussion is taking place in every African country where Chinese traders have developed a presence in recent years, Malawian traders have taken their feelings a step further than those in most other countries. They put pressure on the government to pass The Investment and Export Promotion Act, which from July 31 has confined foreign traders to the country's four biggest urban centers - Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba.
“The new law clearly outlines what kind of businesses foreign investors will be allowed to get involved in. We will not accept foreigners to come all the way from places like China and open small businesses and shops in the rural areas of this country and compete with local traders,” Trade minister John Bande said.
An IPS report says the effect of this drastic measure has been the closing down by Chinese traders of their businesses in several districts. That is exactly as the Malawian businesspeople may have intended, but in a globalized world it is almost certain that this is not the last that has been heard about this. Civic society organizations have also warned that the measure was discriminatory and may feed xenophobia.