KAMPALA, (Reuters) – Ugandan shopkeepers, who shuttered shops for two days this week to protest over the cost of doing business, have complained about an influx of Chinese, prompting the government to promise a headcount of immigrants.
Ugandan traders accused the Chinese of hoarding large amounts of dollars and then taking them out of the east African country, which has seen its currency plunge recently because of tight dollar supply, increasing costs for the merchants.
Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde pledged to count foreign business owners in the country with a view to ensuring that they have residency permits and trading licenses.
“There is an influx of immigrants,” she told a news conference. “Some come in as tourists but end up trading and engaging in unfair competition with Ugandans.”
Kyambadde mentioned the Chinese traders specifically.
The influx of Chinese has met with a mixed reception in many African countries, where people both admire and resent the hard-working newcomers’ pursuit of wealth.
The issue could be particularly sensitive in Uganda, where the late dictator Idi Amin in 1972 expelled some 40,000 Asians — descendants of migrants from the British empire in India — saying God told him to turn Uganda into “a black man’s country”.
Traders say they had no major problems with the Indian community, many of whom trickled back after Amin was toppled, but some object to the Chinese.
“The problem is that on top of dealing in predominantly shoddy items these people have continued to cause problems with the way the country develops,” Issa Ssekito, spokesman for the Kampala City Traders Association and owner of three shops, told Reuters.
“They come here with little stock and, after a short period you find they have amassed a lot of money,” Ssekito said. “This is evidenced in banks, where dollars are disappearing.”
Analysts say that if such resentment grows, it could threaten China’s strategy to win hearts and minds on the continent — one of its key foreign policy aims and a push that has worried Africa’s traditional trading partners in the West.
China has overtaken the United States as Africa’s top business partner, now doing $107 billion of trade with the continent a year.
The traders’ protest was held on Wednesday and Thursday, almost entirely closing the capital Kampala’s central business district. It was staged in response to a weakened currency and runaway inflation, the traders association said.
Shopkeepers expressed mixed reactions to the Chinese, some saying that as long as they were properly regulated, they could help develop markets in Uganda, while others disagreed.
Most Chinese traders declined to talk, some saying they spoke no English.