"Masaa ya Waafrika yameisha,” (The time for Africans is over) a guard at a Chinese restaurant in Nairobi’s Kilimani neighbourhood tells Nation reporters when they get there at 7pm.
The restaurant, simply known as the Chinese Restaurant, and located at the junction of Galana and Lenana roads, does not admit Africans after 5pm.
Only taxi drivers or Africans accompanied by Chinese, European or Indian patrons are allowed into the compound.
But Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko and former Cabinet Minister Raphael Tuju, said to be a friend of the owners, are allowed in after sunset.
The management claimed certain “loyal” African patrons are allowed to dine in the evening.
For an African to be considered “loyal” and worthy of admission, they must spend Sh20,000 at the restaurant over a specified period, they said.
But staff, speaking privately, said the restaurant is not a members’ club and with the exception of Mr Sonko and Mr Tuju, the “no Africans” policy is strictly enforced.
LENKU, KIYIAPI BARRED FROM RESTAURANT
Among those who have been barred from the restaurant, according to the staff, are the former Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Co-ordination of National Government Joseph ole Lenku, and former Education Permanent Secretary and presidential candidate Joseph ole Kiyiapi.
Ms Esther Zhao, the relations manager, said the restaurant stands by its strict “no-African after 5pm” policy because Africans pose a security threat to its Chinese patrons.
She said the patrons feel safer and more comfortable if African patrons are locked out.
“We don’t admit Africans that we don’t know because you never know who is Al-Shabaab and who isn’t,” she said.
“It is not like it is written on somebody’s face that they are a thug armed with a gun.”
According to her, the decision to deny access to Africans was reached in 2014 after a gang posing as patrons robbed the establishment and its clients.
“Six armed men — Africans — broke into our restaurant and robbed us of Sh600,000.
“They also robbed our patrons of their possessions at gunpoint. A chef was also injured,” Ms Zhao said in an interview with the Nation.
Some workers who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs denied claims that a select group of Africans are allowed into the restaurant after 5pm.
“It is strictly a no-African policy and we have even had to turn away some prominent Kenyans who were obviously not a security threat,” said one worker.
Ms Zhao said that recently, the Chinese embassy in Nairobi issued a warning to all Chinese businesses to be vigilant due to the security threat posed by Al-Shabaab.
“The Chinese people who stay here or come to dine want to feel safe.
“They also have families back in China and they don’t want to be in harm’s way during their stay in Kenya.
“As management, it is our duty to ensure their safety,” said Ms Zhao.
The Ombudsman, Mr Otiende Amollo, said it was both illegal and unconstitutional to discriminate against an individual on the grounds of their race, gender or ethnicity.
“That amounts to racial and ethnic profiling, which is unconstitutional.
“It has in it the inherent assumption that Africans are inevitably pre-disposed to be robbers.
"Whatever measures they choose to take to maintain security must be measures that treat people equally irrespective of race, gender or colour,” Mr Amollo said.
He said there were several ways to reverse the problem.
SUE FOR DISCRIMINATION
A person who was turned away can sue for discrimination or approach the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights to take up the matter on behalf of citizens.
“The last alternative is to complain to us formally. We would not take it up with them directly because they are a private entity but we would take it up with the licensing authorities, which would include the county government,” said Mr Amollo.
He said his commission could put pressure on the county government to revoke the licences of a private company that has been accused of discrimination.
However, according to the restaurant’s management, it is unlikely that African patrons would feel comfortable dining at the restaurant anyway, because they host many Chinese parties after sunset.
At times, the party goers themselves ask the restaurant managers to lock out Africans.
“In the future, we are considering to roll out a membership scheme and give cards to some of our loyal African customers so that they can be admitted after 5pm,” Ms Zhao said.