Sitting here on this Nigerian flight from Lagos to Abuja, I’m surprised to be the only “white” guy on the jet plane. That the majority of passengers are black Africans is not surprising of course, but its the other ethnicity present that shocks – Chinese.
And I do not mean a Chinese here or there. I would say that about a third of the flight is Chinese – not Asian, not Japanese, not Thai, Cambodian or Indonesian. Not even “Overseas Chinese” from Singapore or Hong Kong, but full on mainland Chinese who very much look the part.
Chattering away in putonghua, with the mannerisms and dress of middling businessmen, they are an uninspiring lot at first glance. But by the second or third take, I start to wonder what they’re doing in deepest Africa.
They don’t seem to speak a word of English or have a clue to what’s going on around them, but they do seem driven. They are not in Nigeria for the fun or the glamour. They are here to make money, and from the China Southern Airways jet parked at Murtala Muhammed International Airport to the Kenya Airways connection to Hong Kong, there are more arriving every day.
But where do they go? Outside communal transportation environments, I don’t see Chinese on the streets of Abuja, Lagos, or Nairobi. I’ve not seen too many in the businesses I frequent. They sure aren’t in the NGO and development circles. And there can’t be that many Chinese restaurants.
Yet trade numbers suggest they are doing well. Chinese-Nigerian trade is now over $10 billion, with much of that Nigerian oil to China and Chinese products to Nigeria. Or to put it another way, the Nigerian state and individual Chinese traders are doing well.
I just wish I could find these Chinese traders. From my conversations with Nigerians, the Chinese are as invisible to Africans as they are to me.