Popular China-linked store stirs debate amid Kenya inflation

Feb 28, 2023, 8:11 AM | Updated: 8:15 am

Small and medium business traders and other demonstrators carry banners as they protest asking the ...

Small and medium business traders and other demonstrators carry banners as they protest asking the government to chase Chinese traders away, in Nairobi, Kenya, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. The traders carried banners with Anti-Chinese messages and chanted 'Chinese must go', claiming Chinese businesspeople have flooded the city with counterfeit and cheap products, killing Kenyan businesses. (AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Hundreds of Kenyan traders protested Tuesday in the capital, Nairobi, over a popular new Chinese-affiliated shop selling goods they say undercut their businesses. But some people pinched by inflation accused the locals of offering the same goods at higher prices.

There have been tensions from time to time in Kenya, East Africa’s economic hub, over China-linked investments and business dealings. The latest incident involving the China Square store drew opposing statements from members of President William Ruto’s Cabinet.

The trade and investment minister, Moses Kuria, said last week that Chinese investors are welcomed but as manufacturers, not traders. He also wanted the store’s lease bought out and given to local traders.

But Kenya’s foreign affairs permanent secretary, Korir Sing’oei, sought to reassure all investors, “no matter their nationality” — a sentiment welcomed in a tweet by China’s top diplomat for African affairs, Wu Peng. The diplomat added that back home, “international supermarkets, chain stores can be seen everywhere in China and we welcome more to come.”

The China Square store, meanwhile, has said it will close “until further notice.” One of the owners, Lei Cheng, told local media that he believed the pressure was political.

The store’s closure has been debated by Kenyans who have been stung by high inflation hitting worldwide after the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“In short, (Lei) is being fought for lowering the cost of living,” comedian Felix Omondi tweeted.

Kenya ranks among the world’s most corrupt countries, listed 123rd among 180 nations in Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index.

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Popular China-linked store stirs debate amid Kenya inflation