Chinese in Kenya have to contend with horror stares, suspicion

Wednesday March 18 2020

Chinese Overseas Construction Company workers in Budalang’i, Busia County, in 2018. Dozens of Chinese workers live in different parts of the country. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Drama ensued in Nairobi last Thursday when a youthful Chinese man working at a road construction site on Waiyaki Way sneezed, suddenly alarming some bystanders looking at a bulldozer at work.

Acting on instinct, the bystanders scampered for safety, some jumping over deep trenches.
What followed was an awkward silence before some of them burst into laughter after it emerged that they had acted for fear of coronavirus.

“The Chinese did not know how to react. He just busied himself to allow things to return to normal,” said Ms Mercy Njeri, a hairdresser who witnessed the drama unfold.

This is just one of several incidents that demonstrate how the fear of coronavirus has developed into fear of the Chinese.

Asian nationals in the country are now finding themselves in an awkward position as the fear spreads.

Still in Nairobi, a Chinese couple walked into a restaurant and were making their way to an empty table when everybody, including cashiers and waiters, turned to look at them, horror written all over their faces. The couple, reading the mood, grinned and exited.


Yesterday, fear gripped residents of Narok East after authorities confirmed their suspicions that some Chinese who returned to the country recently were undergoing a 14-day quarantine at one of the Standard Gauge Railway construction sites in Duka Moja trading centre on the Narok-Maimahiu road.

They accused the government and the Chinese contractor of letting in the foreigners and ferrying them to the area despite anxieties about the illness.


Resident Daniel Mutua said the railway workers flew into the country on February 22 and are holed up at the facility wearing masks with minimal movement.
Another incident happened in Kakamega last month when the sight of a Chinese man bleeding from his prompted some locals to take to their heels, leaving him bewildered.

This had been preceded by another one in Makindu. That medics, who should know better about ailments, scampered for safety after several Chinese were brought into the facility is telling. But, on a positive note, a team of doctors at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport armed themselves to test passengers for coronavirus.


The bold team in their typical gear — a mask, overall and the gun-like test kit — observed every traveller. But that was until the Chinese emerged from China Southern Airlines plane that was controversially allowed to land, sparking uproar among Kenyans. They are said to have abandoned their gear and dashed to the exit.

One would understand their predicament considering that Peng Yinhua, the famed Wuhan doctor who broke the news about the epidemic and got a lashing from the government, later died from it.