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A bridge between Africa and China

Updated: 2015-05-03 13:23
By Li Lianxing (China Daily Africa)

Adams Bodomo thinks that Africans in Guangzhou are a significant community and one worth researching in terms of its influence on future immigration policies in China and African development. He also thinks that this community contributes in various ways to the booming China-Africa relationship.

He published a study on the topic in 2013, called Africans in China: A socio-cultural study and its implications on Africa-China relations. It investigates the everyday life of Africans in major Chinese cities and is based on his interaction with more than 800 people. He says it is vital to understand that Africans are agents that mediate relations between Africa and China.

"The metaphor that I used in my book is to say they are socio-economic, socio-political, and socio-cultural bridge builders," says Bodomo, who was previously head of the African Studies program at Hong Kong University and is now teaching African linguistics at the University of Vienna.

People in China often neglect to think about the networks and influence of Africans in their home countries, which could have a huge impact on bilateral relations. He says many Africans in China are influential members of their community and are sure to disseminate and talk about Chinese values when they go back.

According to his contacts, the Guinean community's leader in China served as a national politician in his home country. Some Africans return to their home countries to stand for public office.

African communities in China are mainly business focused, but their impact on China-Africa relations is multifaceted.

Bodomo says it is clear to see that they are mediators of economic relations between Africa and China, given that many Chinese-made goods in Africa have to go through the hands of Africans in Guangzhou.

As the size of the community grows, its leaders also play political roles in promoting cordial relations between Africans and Chinese, such as mediating conflicts between their community members and Chinese businesspeople or even Chinese law enforcement officials.

"African diplomats also sometimes find it necessary to contact Africans in Guangzhou to understand the socio-economic, socio-political, and socio-cultural nitty-gritty of Guangzhou between Africa and China," he says.

According to Bodomo, there were about 100,000 Africans in Guangzhou as of 2012 and the number could be higher now. But he admits the number is changeable as many of them come and go frequently, while others do overstay on their visas and get into trouble as undocumented immigrants.

He says the composition of the community is mixed, but the majority come to take part in the brisk Africa-China business ongoing in Guangzhou: buying goods from China and reselling them in Africa for a profit.

"Others come to study, and a few still come as English teachers, artists, preachers (especially in Hong Kong), footballers as well as other kinds of sportsmen," he says.

The growing African community in Guangzhou has led to some social challenges for local authorities. Guangzhou for years has hosted a large number of Africans. Misunderstandings - and sometimes confrontations - occur in the community or between the community and the local authorities.

Bodomo is optimistic about China's immigration policy, but he thinks the effectiveness of the national immigration policy remains a big challenge.

He advises the government to enact a policy that reflects China's status as a country that hosts international migrants. "You cannot be the second-biggest or even soon the biggest economy and expect not to be an attraction for migration and diasporas. China needs to enact a clear path to permanent residence and even citizenship," he says.

Compared with Chinese communities in Africa, which are regarded as more losed, with the Chinese staying close to each other or even developing Chinatowns, Africans in China do not usually have African towns in terms of living together. They only have "Africa towns" in terms of trading together.

Understanding each other from many aspects becomes important for future interaction, Bodomo says.

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