African students lining up to learn Chinese at Mlimani Primary School in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Meet the Africans students lining up to learn Chinese

Zimbabwean Daniel Mugandiri had no Chinese contacts nor any knowledge of China when one day he sat down to write a letter to the outgoing Chinese ambassador in Harare. He had recently been named Entrepreneur of the Year in Zimbabwe’s equivalent of “Dragon’s Den”, and was faced with the challenge of turning his business idea into reality. The 26-year-old wanted to manufacture solar panels to help address the nation’s electricity shortage. He wasn’t certain how to go about it, but he knew where to start.

“China is the hub of manufacturing, so I knew I had to learn from them,” he says. “If you buy something in the US or in the UK, it’s made in China. Every country in the world looks East.”

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George Shum, owner of the Chinese Pagoda Restaurant in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Portrait of George Shum: A Chinese-Zanzibari Entrepreneur

I first met George Shum, owner of Pagoda Restaurant, surrounded by ubiquitous Chinese restaurant paraphernalia: red-tasseled symbols of good fortune, golden good luck cats and a fish tank, in which lobsters and other sea creatures awaited their fate. It is the only Chinese restaurant in Stone Town, the old quarter of Zanzibar City.

At first glance, I assumed that the 44-year-old entrepreneur belonged to the substantial community of Chinese citizens that had begun to forge a life for themselves in recent years in East Africa. But when I asked where he was from, he replied in a thick Cantonese accent: “Wo shi sang ji ba er ren” — “I’m Zanzibari.”

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