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Posted on Monday, 16 February 2015 12:26

Africa-China: Obstacles surmounted from generation to generation

By Benno Muchler and Yiting Sun in Guangzhou, Zhuji, Shanghai

Photo©Courtesy of Barry SultaneBarry Sultane, a 60-year-old Guinean, settled in China 12 years ago. He trades in machinery and chemicals, with customers in Africa and the US. He lives with his wife and three children in Guangzhou.

Sultane went to China for the first time in 1988 as an adviser to the Guinea Chamber of Commerce.

The early days were trying, he explains.

"It was difficult at the beginning to stay here because Chinese don't know Africans practically. It's not easy in that way. And we did not understand the language."

Cultural differences were also an obstacle.

The Chinese have planned for the next 10 years, for the next 15 years, for the next 50 years. In Africa, we often go on a day-by-day basis

"The Chinese are a completely different culture. They are very different from us Africans, where people are warmer. My children were surprised they did not make friends at school.

"They could make friends with other foreigners, but they could not make friends with the Chinese. You know this kind of thing is not common in Africa. People make friends very easily."

Sultane says the two communities do not mix much.

"I have a few Chinese friends, some of whom I do business with. Living with the African community, you don't have a problem.

"Africans, we cook our own food at home or there are some African restaurants around. So we don't have much of a problem with that, even though I don't mind Chinese food," he explains.

The second generation does not face the same obstacles as the first.

"Since my kids speak Chinese fluently – they read and write Chinese – I sometimes use them as interpreters. A lot of the people I work with have a working knowledge of English, so I did not improve my Mandarin."

Sultane argues that China has much to offer Africa: "When I look at what China has achieved, this is something from which Africa can learn.

"The Chinese have planned for the next 10 years, for the next 15 years, for the next 50 years. In Africa, we often go on a day-by-day basis. And it doesn't work, it doesn't work at all." ●

B.M. and Y.S.



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