In a development that may underscore a growing resentment of Asian business acumen on the African continent, authorities in Tanzania recently ordered foreign traders doing business in a key market in the capital city of Dar es Salaam to close up shop and depart the country within thirty days or risk arrest and prosecution.
Lazaro Nyalandu, the government’s Deputy of Industry and Trade Minister also warned that native Tanzanians who helped foreigners run trading businesses in the streets and markets of the city could also be prosecuted.
“These people have invaded our markets, he said. They are so many from all corners of Africa and the world. They operate without licenses. Any foreigner who operates without a license has to be prepared to face the law and deportation.”
While Nyalandu did not specifically mention any foreign nationality, the target of his wrath is widely assumed to be the Chinese traders who in recent years have arrived in large numbers in Tanzanian towns to operate small businesses, which often directly compete against local traders. Tanzanian businessmen complain that these foreign traders often play unfair by offering cut-rate prices on various goods.
“Although some of them [foreign traders] originate from countries that have close friendship with Tanzania, there is no friendship before the law and no one will be spared,” Nyalandu said. “Every country has its own set of laws which must be respected.
Tanzania's Citizen newspaper quoted Nyalandu as saying that these trading jobs should be “carried out by locals.”
Nyalandu made these comments while touring the teeming Kariakoo market, which the government wants to turn into a key export hub.
The problem of dealing with foreign (mostly Asian) traders in Tanzania has broader implications and also harkens back to some dark history.
For one thing, China is becoming the dominant trading partner with Africa as Beijing seeks to exploit the continent’s vast natural resources in exchange for helping African countries modernize their economies. Thus, many African countries need Chinese goodwill.
However, resentment of Chinese and other foreigners in Africa has clearly been rising.
There is precedence for this scenario, but it involves another Asian people, Indians.
African resentment of Indian financial success and business practices reached a crisis point in the early 1970s when President Idi Amin of Uganda ordered the expulsion of all Indians from the country. There have been other similar conflicts between Indians and Africans in nations such as Kenya and South Africa, among others.
Now, Tanzania (and many other African nations) will have to tread a fine line between maintaining solid diplomatic/trade relations with rising Asian powers like China; while at the same time making sure that African peoples’ well-being and financial security are not compromised in any way.