Lesotho and the Chinese

In The Mountain School I told the story of visiting a Chinese-owned shop in a neighboring village called Kolo, where a Mosotho woman got into an argument with the Chinese cashier. Chinese are really the only immigrants in Lesotho and, if I could sum up, I’d say the Basotho grudgingly patronize Chinese businesses. I’d also note that while Westerners are almost strictly present in Lesotho in the role of charity or foreign aid workers, the Chinese are there to make money.

But the Chinese seem to be half-hearted immigrants; they set up businesses or run construction projects but otherwise put few roots down. They are notorious for knowing little Sesotho, and you would be hard-pressed to find a Chinese child anywhere in the Mountain Kingdom.

So unsurprisingly, though there is some admiration for the business acumen of the Chinese, Basotho mostly are heard speaking with jealousy, suspicion, or resentment of them. Chinese are sometimes given pejoratives such as colonizers, exploiters, imperialists of Africa in the 21st century, and worse.

The feelings have boiled over into violence in the past, most conspicuously during the riots of 1998, when many Chinese businesses were looted and burned. It seems the Chinese might soon find themselves targeted again. Here is a broad discussion on the website “Africa Is a Country” of recent incidents and current talk on local radio and the reaction from the Chinese embassy.

Here also is a short write-up in The Economist that mentions the new Parliament building that China has built for the government of Lesotho. Can you imagine, say, a new Capitol being built for the U.S. Congress by Brazil? What would that mean?

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