Pressure mounts on Chinese nationals in Malawi

By Rebecca Chimjeka

Vendors in Malawi seem to be fed up with the Chinese nationals’ who have taken over the small-scale business from the natives in the name of ‘investors.’

This follows the petition by Malawi’s Northern district Kalonga based vendors to the District Commissioner (DC) who wants the investors to leave districts market as soon as possible.

The petition which was delivered on Wednesday, says ever since the Chinese nationals started plying their trade in the country, they have taken over from Malawians by selling very cheap goods.

“We are angry because this was our main source of living. A lot of vendors have closed down their shops because they are no longer making profits. All we want is that these Chinese nationals should leave the district and do their business in the cities,” Jilly Simwaka, one of the 33 vendors who signed the petition on behalf of the others said.

Kalonga DC Steve Chima said he could not act on the petition since it involves bilateral agreement.

The Chinese ambassador to Malawi Pan Hejun recently was quoted in the media as directing the government to arrest all investors who are doing small-scale business in the country.

“Apart from that, we are also conducting our own investigations to make sure that Chinese nationals are not taking over from indigenous people. We will take unspecified action against anyone who will be found doing so,” he said.

However, according to the Study on Chinese Investments in Africa: the case of Malawi by Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU), the number of Chinese investors in Malawi has been increasing within the past five years prior to the birth of Malawi-China diplomatic relations.

The establishment of diplomatic ties between Malawi and mainland China has seen relatively more people from mainland China migrating to Malawi than ever before for both government and private business (as traders and investors).

However, the jobs that are being created by the Chinese investors are mostly ‘casual’ jobs which can very well be described as cheap labour. Just like other foreign investors, to a greater extent the Chinese employers flout the labour laws and most often go away with it.

The increase in imports from mainland China since 2000 has resulted into the influx of low cost consumer goods from mainland China in the economy. This phenomenon in the long run may potentially muzzle infant industries in Malawi and displace substituting imports from the other trading partners of Malawi.

“According to official statistics available, interns of amounts involved relatively more investments to Malawi have come from the west than from mainland China alone. Similarly as far as trade is concerned, Malawi trades more with the west as compared to mainland China alone.

“When it comes to investments, there are no conditions attached regardless of whether the investment is from the west or mainland China. However conditions are spelt out in the respective trade agreements that Malawi signed with the individual western countries and the MOU which Malawi recently signed with mainland China. Private and public sources characterize the investments that come from the west,” reads part of the report.

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