"We Want China Square Out!" - Interrogating the Xenophobic Undertones of the China Square Protests

For the cartels, this was unacceptable. How dare the Chinese come to interfere and steal their captured market?

"We Want China Square Out!" - Interrogating the Xenophobic Undertones of the China Square Protests
The now-closed doors of China Square. Source: K2Four.

"We Want China Square Out!", a protestor shouts. "The Chinese should only be in Kenya as manufacturers, not as Traders and hawkers!", another protestor adds. Things have been heated the last few weeks leading a number of traders from Kamukunji, Nyamakima, and Gikomba to protest against the newly opened Chinese mall by the name 'China Square'. Let's investigate really why all of a sudden the mall has become an issue and more importantly what are the causes of the xenophobic calls for it to be closed.

What is China Square?

Perhaps God's gift to Kenyans, China Square is a Chinese mall that is housed at the UniCity Mall which is owned by Kenyatta University. The mall is just beside the university on the Thika Super Highway. China Square is a huge huge retail and wholesale store that has recently become an internet sensation thanks to its affordable pricing, variety, and high quality of goods available there. China Square is such a hit that its C.E.O Lei Cheng said that they sold Ksh 20 million in the first week and on a bad day, they would sell Ksh 10 million.

The packed entry to China Square where people are crowded as they flock to the store in huge numbers
The packed entry to China Square where people are crowded as they flock to the store in huge numbers. Source: SCMP.

If China Square is Such a Hit, Why then the Protests and Opposition Against the Chinese Mall?  

Well, as with all things in this country, the monopolization of industry is very rife with a few cronies, crooks, and cartels wanting to establish and maintain monopolies in several sectors.

The Monopolization of the Importation of Goods from China

The importation of goods from China is such an industry where a few biggies and bosses have captured the market and monopolized it so that they are the ones to benefit. What these crooks do is ensure that they are only the ones who have access to the importation of goods from China, at a low price, and then sell the goods here in Kenya at a premium.

How Gikomba, Kamukunji, and Nyamakima Traders All Source their Goods from a Few Cronies

Insiders say that these cartels are the main source of goods found in Gikomba, Nyamakima, Dubois, and Kamukunji among other shopping centers. All the traders get their goods from a few cronies, who sell to them at a steep price, despite buying the goods cheaply in China. Consequently, this forces the traders to also sell the goods at a premium.

Gikomba, Kamukunji, and Nyamakima traders protesting against China Square
Gikomba, Kamukunji, and Nyamakima traders protest against what they call the "China Invasion". Source: AN.

The Realization of Opportunity and the Genius Idea Behind the Creation of China Square

In comes China Square, a Chinese store that invigorates buyers with its variety of high-quality goods and its affordable pricing. Mr. Lei Cheng, the store's CEO said that he'd visited Kenya before and noted that the products that people buy cheaply back at home in China were being sold at a huge premium here in Kenya. Mr. Lei saw an opportunity and established China Square. The store was opened just a month ago on 23rd January 2023 and was immediately a huge hit.

The Cartels Push Back

The Chinese imports cartels quickly took notice of the Chinese mall's popularity. China Square quickly became very popular that the once inactive and deserted UniCity Mall was now full to the brim. Even on weekdays, you could find cars lined up beside the road outside the mall, all waiting for a chance to go in. For the cartels, this was unacceptable. How dare the Chinese come to interfere and steal their captured market? In came Xenophobia.

The Use of Xenophobia as a Way to Propagate Hate and Depopularize China Square

The Dwanzi President Weighs In

The cartels thought fast of how to depopularize China Square and remove the threat against their established monopolies. They even met Kenya Kwisha government officials including Dwanzi President, DP Rigathi Gachagua who I'm sure promised them something like "Tutamaliza hii wachinese. Hii Kenya si ya mama yao bwana!" (Translates to: "We'll finish these Chinese. This Kenya is not their mother's").

Disclaimer: Dwanzi or 'Mug' and Swindler are not intentionally intended to irk but are the author's way of bringing the point home.

Trade CS Moses Kuria Comes to the Rescue of the Cartels

With the blessing of the Dwanzi President, the cartels then went to Cabinet Swindler, CS for trade Moses Kuria who on his part definitely was like "Hii watu ya China hata hawaletei mimi kitu kidogo. Nitafukuza yote. Lazima mimi nipewe yangu ama hakuna mali itaingia hii nchi!" (Translates to: "These people of China are not even bringing me something small [bribe]. I will chase them all. I must be given mine or there are no shipments that will enter this country").

A screenshot of the distasteful tweet that Trade CS Moses Kuria tweeted directly attacking China Square owner Lei Cheng
A screenshot of the distasteful tweet that Trade CS Moses Kuria tweeted directly attacking China Square owner Lei Cheng. Source: Twitter

Corruption and Bribery as Fuel to the 'China Square Out' Sentiment

Obviously, the cartels most definitely lined the Dwanzi President's and the Cabinet Swindlers' pockets with a few million Kenya shillings. Nothing is for free buana! (Translation: Buana! is like saying man! [Example: Niko njaa buana! translates to I'm hungry man!]) After the DP and CS were roped in on the agenda, they started deploying their corrupt minds to the issue. The DP would first call a meeting with the 'traders' to try and avert a protest. The CS, on his part, would directly attack China Square and its CEO Lei Cheng.

CS Moses Kuria's Tasteless Attacks on China Square and its CEO Lei Cheng

Moses Kuria went straight for the head of the mall, Mr. Lei Cheng who is its CEO and founder. He first offered to buy out the lease of China Square from Kenyatta University's Vice Chancellor, saying that he'll buy it out and give it to the Gikomba, Kamukunji, and Nyamakima traders. So dumb if you ask me.

A photo of China Square CEO and Founder, Lei Cheng
China Square CEO and Founder, Lei Cheng. Source: Nation.

As if that was not enough, Moses Kuria went for Mr. Lei Cheng personally and posted his passport details, including personally identifiable information, on his Twitter. This obviously brought some heat and Moses Kuria took them down. He, however, was unrelenting that China Square must go saying that we must protect local businesses.

The Lie Behind Protecting Local Businesses

Truth be told, 'local business' in Kenya is only protected because it serves a few 'billionaires' at the top. There are corrupt individuals that control entire industries in this country. These are upper echelons who are descendants of old money, or have grabbed some wealth from the country's coffers and are mostly very well connected politically, if not politicians themselves. They control everything. They have an interest in Milk, Eggs, Petrol, LPG gas, etc. They own this country and will not let anyone come in and present a threat to their business empires.

As we say, "Kenya is the land of corruptunity".

Propaganda Campaigns and Forceful Takeovers as Tools to Stomp Competition

Therefore, these individuals will try to stomp competition with an iron fist. They'll use their political connectedness to launch propaganda campaigns and legal suits against their competitors. They'll forcefully buy companies from young Kenyans who have impecabble life changing ideas; like how the M-Pesa idea was stolen from a JKUAT student, Anyona Nyagaka Ouko. They'll do everything possible to make sure they keep hold of their monopolies, including propagating hate and xenophobia as is the case with China Square. Obviously, this will be done under the guise of 'protecting local businesses'.

The Virtue Signalling Taking Place in the Intentional Stifling of China Square and the Competition it Brings

The cartels are very clever people. They will do what is called virtue signalling, which is coming out in suppport of a moral cause, with the sole intent of showing one's positive qualities. They'll virtue signal and come out and say that they are protecting local business and protecting local traders and their businesses against the "Chinese invasion". They'll portray themselves as the champions of Small and Micro Enterprises, SMEs, and fight China Square under the guise of doing so.

The Real Reason Why China Square is Being Fought So Hard

We, however, know that they are actually fighting China Square to end it and the competition it brings to their monopolies, and not necessarily to protect local businesses, traders or SMEs. They are fighting China Square for the sole purpose of killing it and not for the benefit of the whole country or its business people but for their own benefit. They are ruthless and will even employ xenphobic sentiment and the 'us vs them' mentality, in regards to the Chinese, to see that their selfish ends are met.

A newspaper article detailing China Square's ordeal from the Nation Newspaper
A newspaper article detailing China Square's ordeal from the Nation Newspaper. Source: Twitter/Nation.

What Next for China Square?

Following the heat and the unfair targeting of the mall, a mall that actually brought much needed sanity and affordability to the Kenyan market, China Square was forced to close its doors on Sunday, 27th February 2023. The management of the mall had said that it will only close for a day as they restrategize, but later came out with a statement saying that they would close "until further notice".

Is China Square Permanently Closed?

Not yet. And we say that with a lot of pain since we know that the chances that China Square has of existing in a country ran by cartels and corrupt government officials, such as Kenya, are next to zero. The probability then is that China Square will be permanently closed.

Why China Square is Most Likely to be Permanently Closed

The reason why China Square is most likely to be permanently closed is that there are some very powerful and corrupt people who it's in their best interest that the mall is permanently closed. These are people who have monopolized the Chinese imports market and will do anything to protect their monopolies. They'll even propagate Xenophobia against the Chinese and bribe government officials to see to it that they continue exploiting Kenyans. As we say, "Kenya is the land of corruptunity".

Disclaimer: This article expresses the personal view of the author and is not meant to defame, insult or embarrass anyone. All views expressed therein are with good intent and geared to deliver the opinion of the author as candidly as possible. If you find that the author has crossed a line, please feel free to reach out to us with the specific writing that you may find unacceptable. Our editorial team will consider removing the particular tenets or pull down the article, as per your concerns and our policies.