KAMPALA TRADERS PROTEST AGAINST INFLUX OF CHINESE MERCHANTS
April 19, 2017 | Uhuruspirit
In this Tuesday, June 23, 2015 file photo of Chinese national Wei Kun as he adjusts a display as he waits for customers at his shoe shop in Kampala, Uganda. Years of growing animosity at Chinese traders turned into a protest by hundreds in Uganda's capital on Wednesday April 19, 2017 against what local businesses called unfair competition, while the mayor warned against the tensions turning into xenophobic attacks. (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera-File)
Tempers are flaring in down town Kampala where traders are protesting the influx of Chinese traders flooding the Ugandan market with cheap retail products. They argue that such traders pose a threat to local businesses in Kampala.
A number of arcades, along Nakasero, Sikh Street, Market square and Dastur Street in Kampala have been closed off. The area has a high concentration of Chinese and Indian nationals running retail outlets.
Ugandan traders are standing by the roadside displaying placards against Chinese dominance of retail businesses urging that the Chinese traders are running ventures that contravene the restrictions of their visas. The businessmen are calling for government intervention to kick Chinese investors out of petty trade.
"We are concerned that some of these people come as investors, they are given tax holidays but they are running the same businesses like Ugandans. We are continuing to strike until government intervenes," one of the traders told URN.
Although there is no official record on the number of Chinese traders in Kampala, it is estimated that there are between 10,000 and 50,000 small time Chinese traders who have traveled thousands of miles from China in search for greener pastures in Uganda.
In November, 2016, members of the Trade Committee of Parliament issued a three months ultimatum to foreigners in retail businesses to either invest in bigger projects or voluntarily return to their countries. The decision followed a petition submitted to parliament by Uganda traders under the umbrella Kampala City Traders Association-KACITA.
Committee members then observed that although foreigners come to Uganda as investors, a number of them majority have flooded traditional Uganda outlets like Kikuubo where they are running retail outlets.
However, the ultimatum elapsed without action against the traders.
Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago, who supported the protest, said the government must protect local traders to prevent the protests from escalating into attacks against foreign traders.
"We are likely to have xenophobia here. That's where we are heading, unless they come up with measures to protect indigenous traders," the mayor said.
Inexpensive Chinese goods have long been popular in Africa, and in the last decade Chinese merchants have started eliminating the middleman and setting up retail outlets of their own, much to local merchants' chagrin.
Ugandan police spokesman Asan Kasingye called Wednesday's street protest illegal and "should not be accepted by law-abiding people," because it targeted a specific group of foreigners. Chinese merchants operating with valid papers will be protected, Kasingye said.
Ugandan immigration officials routinely deport groups of Chinese found operating without valid work permits. Many others operate legally across the country.
Perspective foreign investors in Uganda must provide evidence of $100,000 in planned investment and obtain the necessary trade licenses, according to official guidelines.
In 2011, riots in Kampala largely targeted foreign merchants, echoing the 1972 expulsion of the country's Indian middle class by dictator Idi Amin.
- with URN/AP
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