Neil Nelson, founder and CEO of Atlantablackstar.com, launched a humanitarian mission in collaboration with Ugandan Member of Parliament Bobi Wine to evacuate Black people from Guangzhou in southern China where many Africans have settled.
African leaders, too, have taken action in formal complaints to Chinese authorities on reports of mistreatment of their citizens by Guangzhou authorities in measures to stem the spread of “imported” coronavirus cases. Forms of mistreatment include refusal to serve Black customers at commercial establishments, physical abuse, eviction from hotels, and forceful testing and quarantining for the virus.
The developments in Guangzhou are adding fuel to longstanding concerns among African citizens about China’s overwhelming, and still growing, presence on the continent and the behavior of some Chinese investors. African youth in particular, notably in Nigeria where young people burned down a Chinese company, have taken an aggressive stand against Chinese mistreatment of Africans, both in China and in Africa itself.
Nelson’s mission, called “Saving Our Own Souls” (hashtags #savingourownsouls; #SOOS) was launched on April 20. Incidents of alleged abuse have gone viral on social media, such as a video of a Black man on the ground being beaten with metal batons by uniformed Chinese men. Most recently, McDonalds China apologized after one of its restaurants in Guangzhou refused to serve black customers. Bloomberg News reports that McDonalds China closed the restaurant for a half day of diversity and inclusion training.
Nelson, whose digital platform publishes “empowering narratives for all people of African descent and everyone who adheres to our culture,” said in a formal statement that he enlisted the support of Bobi Wine “to secure an African nation to meet us half way and receive our brothers and sisters who are being racially abused in China.”
The statement said the two leaders have built a growing team of volunteers and contractors to help airlift Africans and African-Americans out of China.
“Our contacts on the ground in Guangzhou can confirm nearly 200 of those directly impacted by this inhuman treatment are ready to leave. Our mission is to get the first wave of African evacuees out of the Guangzhou area of China into the Saving Our Own Souls charter plane,” it said.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union Commission, summoned China’s Ambassador to the AU in Addis Ababa, Liu Yuxi, to provide an explanation of the reported ill treatment of Blacks in Guangzhou and to express the African Union’s “extreme concern” about the situation. South Africa, current chair of the Africa Union, followed with a formal statement from its Department of International Relations and Cooperation, urging “the relevant Chinese authorities to investigate these reports and take appropriate remedial measures.”
The Nigerian government also summoned the Chinese ambassador in Abuja and the foreign ministries of Ghana and Uganda wrote separately to the Chinese ambassadors in their countries to protest the developments in Guangzhou.
The AU Commission chair subsequently tweeted that the group was engaging with the Chinese government in Beijing.
In the U.S. meanwhile, a State Department spokesman said on April 11 that “the abuse and mistreatment of Africans living and working in China is a sad reminder of how hollow the PRC-Africa partnership really is,” a reference to the People’s Republic of China.
The U.S. and China are bitter rivals for commercial and political influence in China. The administration says the racist attacks on African nationals in China target African-Americans as well.
Responding to the complaints, Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong on April 13 told more than 20 ambassadors from African countries that authorities in Guangdong would ease “health management” measures—an apparent reference to quarantines—of Africans, Bloomberg reports. A statement on the ministry’s website says Guangzhou plans to gradually remove the restrictions, except for confirmed patients, suspected patients and others with close contacts.
And in his meeting with the AU Commission on April 13, Ambassador Liu sought to assure African leaders that Guangdong authorities “attach great importance to African side’s reasonable concerns and legitimate appeals, and are working promptly to improve their working method.” He said the measures include providing health management services without differentiation; setting up effective communication mechanism with foreign consulates-general in Guangzhou; and rejecting all racist and discriminatory remarks.
Nelson and Wine are calling on the Trump administration and other world leaders to do more to get the Chinese government to immediately stop xenophobic attacks on Black people in China.
“History has taught us that the interest and security of African people are interconnected. And what happens to one group today will likely happen to the next tomorrow if we fail to act on the first occasion,” Nelson said.