Saturday, June 22, 2024

Why are we overwhelmed by the presence of Chinese colleagues?


Chinese delegates arrive at parliament building for eagerly-anticipated 2019 national budget in Lusaka.
Chinese delegates arrive at parliament building for
eagerly-anticipated 2019 national budget in Lusaka.

By Kumbukilani Phiri

Growing up, I used to like Chinese Kungfu movies more especially the Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jack Chan ones. It was also common for us to imitate the actors by organising some karate fights by the street. Therefore, during my childhood days, the only thing I knew about China was Kungfu. To me the Chinese were only good at fighting and nothing else. Sometimes, when I saw a Chinese person walking on the street, I would get scared that he may randomly start kicking people around.

It wasn’t until I finished my High School and got awarded a scholarship to go and study in China that my entire perceptive changed. Well, when we arrived in China in the early 2000, China was undergoing unprecedented development in all sectors of the economy. One thing that struck me was their hard work. It was always common to see the Chinese working even in the middle of the night. Today, you would wake up and find a Chinese company moving on site to construct some building, before you even realise it, a multi storey building is already finished. The workers looked tireless and purposeful. I couldn’t understand their motivation. It was just amazing. One day after school, I decided to ask one of my Chinese friends about why the Chinese people worked so hard with so much energy. His response has left a very big impact on me, he said, “Phiri, China has a population of 1.5 billion people, the competition for everyone here is very fierce because we compete for everything, so for one to survive he or she needs to be exceptional and hardworking”. He also reminded me that, just a few years back, the Chinese were very poor and most families could not afford a decent meal. As late as the 70s, the Chinese were still rationing food as there was a serious feminine caused by Chairman Mao’s socialist policies. It is believed that the feminine left over 40 million people dead from malnutrition related diseases. History also shows that, when China was sending her people to come and help us build the Tazara railway in the 70s, an average Zambian was well off compared to their Chinese counterparts. Therefore, that troubled past of the Chinese and the competition that has been brought about by their big population has been the motivation for most of them to work hard. This is reason why we have seen them take over almost every sector of the world economy.

Coming back to ourselves, we are like a team that lacks talent, stamina, preparation, strategy and ambition, and then all of a sudden we are asked to play with a team (China) that has been grilled for years, is well prepared, well connected, has money and has a very clear strategy on how to outdo us. Within a few minutes into the game we are already overwhelmed and failing to cope. Almost our entire team is raising hands trying to ask the referee to stop the game and punish the other team for being either too good at the game or being too hard on us.

Now, here is the thing, currently the Chinese belong to one of the most hardworking and productive people and their country is the second largest economy in the world, which means they have a lot of resources (finances) at their disposal. They are able to work for long hours and have a strong affinity for success. When a Chinese leaves his/her home to work in another town or country, it is almost a taboo for him/her to go back home empty handed. They make sure that they succeed at whatever they are doing so that they can carry something back home. Therefore, when they come here, they don’t come for jokes, they are here for serious business. Give them land and they will start producing more food than us within a very short period of time. A Chinese farmer works in the field every day from morning to evening, yet for most of us locals we only work in our fields during the rain season after which we abandon our fields. The Chinese will ensure that they create water reservoirs, so that they can grow crops even during the dry season. For them, the weather is never a limit to producing a bumper harvest.

For example, Zambians have been rearing chickens for many years; however, the coming in of the Chinese has brought a lot of problems. Many Zambian farmers have already cried foul that their industry is being taken over by the Chinese. We can also talk of other industries like trading, construction, manufacturing, etc. The Chinese have almost taken over. Of course many of us will argue that they succeed because of having access to cheap financing and large networks in China. However, one can still argue that without their hard work and resilience, they could not have easily succeeded because we have more advantages than them. For instance, most Chinese can hardly speak or write in English, they lack prior market understanding, have no local networks and connections. Therefore, the critical problem that we have as a people is the lack of preparedness, lack of strategy; lack of ambition, a bad work culture and attitude. Most of us easily get satisfied with simple things. We do not invest back into our businesses to improve our production processes and quality. We would rather buy the next fancy phone or car. This is different from our friends.

The good news is that, the government has heard our cries. Last year; the President signed an SI No. 1 of 2017 that is called ‘The Citizen Economic Empowerment (Reservation Scheme) Regulations, 2017 which is aimed at prescribing reserved schemes and businesses exclusively for Zambians. In as much as this SI is good for us as locals, its purpose will not be attained if we do not change our culture and attitude towards work. If we do not work hard and if we do not improve both our production levels and quality, we will still fail to compete in the global business environment. Remember Zambia is still a signatory to a number of trade treaties within the region and internationally. We will not be surprised that it will become cheaper to import chickens from China than to buy them locally because our farmers will fail to produce chickens cheaply.

In as much as our Chinese comrades are our serious competition now, we still have a lot to learn from them. Let us learn their simplicity, hard work, resilience and hunger for high production and success. This is the only way we will be able to improve our own production and contribute more to the GDP of our country.


  1. You have not explained how you had to behave in their country. As quiet as a mouse, ka? There is never a day without a report that a Zambian soul has been run down, beaten or killed by “your” colleagues. Take a walk and see how they treat their “local” colleagues. The worst thing is that it is condoned by the powers that be.

    • Thank you so much for writing the article…you have inspired me to work hard and be good at everything I do.
      Great Day!

    • Whoever is giving visas to Chinese to come & rear chickens & open shops needs to be arrested.
      Govt has collapsed formal employment sector & citizens have resorted to informal sector e.g. trading & chicken farming to make ends meet.
      Now when u take that away from them & give it to Rwandese, Chinese, where do u want them to resort to? Crime, prostitution?

    • Very nice article. Earnest. Clear introspection is the start of solving problems.

      Ignorants who pander Chinese Xhenophia should know there is a black Zambian millionaire in China in their textiles industry. Many Nigerian & Ethiopian millionaires as well as usual who many Zambians hate too.

      The work culture of many black Zambians is dismal and sickening. Take the Civil Service, are the Chinese to blame? Why is that condoned by Zambians yet they hyperventilate every time a Chinese disciplines a lazy black Zambian worker? Zambians ignorance is their worst enemy.

    • This is a cheap article comparing apples and oranges here. You are busy justifying the uneven balance between a population of 1.6 billion to 13 million. An economy of close to 1.9 trillion to one which is only a few 100 billions. Governments all over the world are in place to protect thereon and not the foreigners. Look to USA, and how they are busy from protecting themselves from China, so is Europe. If you travel is limited to China, please stop misleading Zambians.

  2. Truth be told ,the increasing Chinese presence hasn’t been all positive. Recently in Zed there’s been shootings and in Kenya they’ve even openly called the president “a monkey” and segregated themselves in “special buses” free of black people.

  3. What is your email address? I would like to share our own story, how many hard working Zambians work hard to put food on the table, how my own mother did charcoal burning just to let me get educated! The blanket characterization of Zambians being lazy may not be entirely correct. Not every Chinese is successful and most are still not making it, just like may be the case for Zambians.
    Did you see while in China other nationals selling salaula, keeping chickens, or owning a shop?

    • Lots of them. Just go online and see foreign nationals making it in China after starting from the low end like those Chinese seeking opportunities in new lands are doing. The Chinese success story is a long history of assimilating other nationals. No single group can achieve such success without embracing others.

      Don’t sink into this ignorance. One big problem with black Zambians is the lack of desire to travel, migrate and live in foreign lands. Hence, they don’t learn the global skills. Now complaining about Rwandese traders and farmers as well. It’s just pathetic this laziness.

    • Yes …let this Kumbukilani Phiri walk the streets of those provincial towns in rural China…then he should write another article..only in Africa do you call foreigners outbidding locals competition!!

  4. Fortunately those exposed and rational know that stereotyping is not based on fact but prejudice. Unfortunately for you, your prejudice is against your own. Walk the streets of Zambia and see the hardwork of ordinary Zambians with Children in their backs toiling to earn a little Kwacha to survive. When I am in Zambia I bleed for my brothers, sisters, they are being short changed by politicians and the prejudiced brain washed of your ilk.

  5. Chinese aren’t hard working ,they’re just good at copy & imitate to make cheap knock-offs .The many western factories inset up in cheap labour China also helped greatly.

  6. I’m not sure about the logic of this article. You could use the same logic to say slaves should not complain but instead learn from their masters… Or that Afrikaners are strong intelligent leaders so apartheid was OK. Think about it

  7. The Chinese entering the informal economy are not even paying tax yet they are in a foreign land, that’s why some business should be left for locals. You can’t have investors as PF call them competing with locals in the informal economy and u say that is development, yet u are not collecting tax, tax is only collected from the already heavily taxed Zambian in the formal sector, wake up people

  8. The influx of these Chinese in Africa is not worth celebrating, however development-minded the writer purports to insinuate they are.
    Here in Kenya, they have crowded everywhere up to the villages and deep interior taking casual labour and posing a threat to the locals.
    Others have resorted to prostitution, hawking and maize roasting among other petty activities.
    Their racist tendencies in their day -to-day interactions with the locals cannot be overlooked.
    We shall soon mortgage our continent to these donors unless we streamline this uncontrolled influx.

  9. I’d like to think this is the same Kumbukilani Phiri of Biomass katwish, who ran for Lsk Mayor. Kumbukilani Phiri how would you like it if the Chinese copied your business model? You’d probably like the competition since it’s an open industry for foreigners.
    We appreciate the Chinese for what ever they do, but they should leave businesses that can be done by locals to locals. Chinese shouldn’t be selling freezits. Isn’t it such that MCS used to call ‘infestor’?
    Do you know how many Zambian companies were left out in the Smart Zambia deal? I run an ICT company and was left out. I have the necessary expertise. The PF govt single sourced Huawei, and most of us are now surviving on hand to mouth.

  10. Zambia must attract foreign investors that must come and employee citizens, and transfer skills, note those who come to and compete with locals to sell chicken and eggs you are killing you country. And other things about Chinese do not keep their money in the host country, but they smuggle it out to and build China. Another evil the know best is bribing their way to get any thing, that is their culture


  12. My fellow Zambians. There is no substitute for hard work. Right from our basic unit, the family, hard work should never be compromised other your family and indeed your country will become a laughing stock.
    I am a Zambian and have known Zambians to be hard workers. Zambians unlike neighbouring countries like Botswana and south Africa, to mention but a few, receive very little help if any from the government.
    The Chinese on the other hand, come with full back up from their government. Their policy is not to help or support locals but to overwhelm and overrun them.
    You talk of farming and say the Chinese, produces food all year with the help of Dams. Who gives them the resources to build dams? If you did not, it’s their government. Does our government empower our farmers to this level?…

  13. Sorry people, the writers wife is Chinese and it’s the truth. Whereas he brings out facts, he can’t be entirely objective in his presentation because half his soul is in China.

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