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Because China // episode 3

Can China convince Africa to like it?

Member exclusive by Nikhil Sonnad

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This story is part of an ongoing series on how China is reshaping our world.

China’s dramatic rise on the world stage has some people worried about its motives, and China wants to fix that. It’s putting vast amounts of money and resources toward the goal of improving its image. This can be seen in one major hotspot, Africa, where China is anxious to assure Africans that the goals of its investments there are benign.

It will take some convincing. In Africa, China often comes off as “unattractive” and “kinda racist.” A “This is Africa” exhibit at one Chinese museum compared Africans to animals. A skit during the widely watched Lunar New Year gala, aired on state TV, featured Chinese actors in blackface, depicting Kenyans.

Kenya itself has been the site of serious accusations of racism and discrimination from China. There, a Chinese contractor has been working on an ambitious railway project connecting the country’s two major cities, Nairobi and Mombasa. But a recent, explosive investigation by local media found Kenyans working on the project who claim that they are segregated from their Chinese colleagues, forced to do menial jobs despite their qualifications, and given fewer privileges. The company’s Kenyan workers have since been forced to sign non-disclosure contracts that make it much more difficult to talk to the media (and it did not respond to our requests for comment).

Quartz went to Nairobi last year. We spoke to a Kenyan who works on the railway, a Chinese national who is trying to improve how his compatriots integrate, and many others. We wanted to find out if China’s soft power is pulling countries in or pushing them away. The answer is complicated.

A version of this film was first published on August 30, 2018.

This story was published .