A business owner (1st R) sells small commodities to an African dealer at Yiwu International Trade City in Yiwu, east China's Zhejiang Province, Jan. 5, 2017. (Xinhua/Tan Jin)
by Xinhua writers Liu Baiyun, Wang Pan and Jin Zheng
GUANGZHOU/NAIROBI, Sept. 1 (Xinhua) -- Walking on Baohanzhi Street in Guangzhou, capital city of south China's Guangdong Province, Felly Mwamba greeted a patrolling security guard in Chinese, spoke French as he introduced local businesses to a fellow countryman, and was randomly stopped by an acquaintance for a quick chat.
Mwamba, a businessman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is known as a "civil diplomat" of the Africans living in the Dengfeng community, where over 800 African residents live among more than 1200 registered foreigners.
But the flow of people is two way, and a growing number of Chinese are calling Africa home. Alongside rapidly developing bilateral ties, China-Africa people-to-people exchanges are booming.
Baohanzhi Street, where Mwamba lives, is nicknamed "African Street." After living in Guangzhou for 15 years, Mwamba has earned himself a reputation for building bridges between Chinese and Africans in the city and beyond.
Guangzhou is home to the densest population of Africans in the country and is China's main port for entry and exit. In 2017, roughly 320,000 Africans entered or left China through Guangzhou, according to local customs.
"I'm lucky to be here at the best time of China-Africa trade," Mwamba said in fluent Chinese. "I often tell my friends that no matter where my business extends to, China will always be my base."
Every day tons of made-in-China products, such as clothes, household appliances, mobile phones and motorcycles, are shipped to Africa. Meanwhile, African products such as crops, sea food and coffee are exported to China.
"The Xiaobei business district where Baohanzhi Street is located fully reflects the pragmatic, win-win and inclusive features of China-Africa economic and trade cooperation," said Liu Jisen, executive vice president of the Institute for African Studies at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies.
"Many African people regard Guangzhou, especially Xiaobei, as the starting point of their dreams," Liu said.
As similar African communities in other Chinese cities such as Yiwu in Zhejiang Province are likewise embracing opportunities, a growing number of Chinese neighborhoods are emerging in Africa.
For many Chinese living in Nairobi, a typical Saturday morning in the Kenya-China Supermarket is spent eating steamed rice rolls and chatting in a traditional tea house.
Chinese businesses are ubiquitous, including restaurants, a farmers' market, hair salon, hardware store, clinic and souvenir shop. Today, there are at least four Chinese "business districts" in the country.
When Song Ai, founder of Chinya Tea Development Co., LTD in Kenya, first arrived here, common Chinese snacks and premium tea from China were scarce. Not anymore. Song attributed the drastic change over the past decade to the closer relationship between China and Africa. "I think with the Belt and Road Initiative, more and more Chinese people like me will get the chance to pursue their dreams in Africa," she said.
BRIDGING THE GAP
In Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve, a Chinese man dubbed "Simba" has many titles, such as "friend of Mara" and "hero of wildlife conservation."
Simba, whose real name is Zhuo Qiang, is the first Chinese to work full-time on wildlife conservation in Africa, and the first Chinese to register a non-profit organization on the continent.
Years of hard work in jointly building a wildlife theme park with local Masais have paid off. For the past five years, the size of Kiniyei Conservancy, where he now works, has doubled, and the number of poaching cases have dropped. The number of lions roaming the park has increased from 12 to 30, and the numbers of cheetahs, spotted hyenas, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes and antelope have all doubled.
Zhuo, who hails from the southwestern city of Chongqing, said his dream is to introduce this model of wildlife conservation to other African countries and bring his valuable experience back to China.
Over the years, hundreds of young Chinese volunteers have set foot on the African continent. Their hard work, be it in education, health care or agriculture, is widely recognized and appreciated by local residents.
"With more and more well-educated young people going to Africa, non-governmental exchanges between China and Africa run deeper," said Huo Jiangtao, an assistant at the Institute for African Studies at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies.
Likewise, more and more African volunteers have been actively involved in social work in China. Michel Tshimbombo Musampa is one of them.
The 20-year-old is from the Republic of the Congo and lives with his family in the Dengfeng community of Guangzhou. Besides doing his part in running a family business, Musampa volunteers to lend a hand to newcomers from his motherland and visits local seniors who live alone.
Musampa said that he wants to serve the community because he was helped by the community and wants to return the favor.
In Dengfeng, more than 30 foreigners have become registered volunteers. "Foreign volunteers have played an important part in bridging our service to foreign residents," said Wang Haige, who offers services to foreigners at the Comprehensive Service Center for Dengfeng Community.
According to the Exit and Entry of Guangzhou, among the nearly 7,500 African students who live in the city, a quarter take part in cultural and voluntary activities.
"China-Africa cultural exchange is on the rise, especially among young people," said Liu Hongwu, director of the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University. "And this will provide a solid foundation for the further development of bilateral relations."
Mouhamadou Moustapha Dieng, a Senegalese businessman who has been living in Guangzhou for 16 years, plans to set up a packaging factory in Senegal.
Dieng's idea is to set up a processing factory in Senegal by importing a production line from China. The reason is simple: to ensure that the seafood and agricultural products that cannot be exported now due to a lack of processing capability reach the Chinese market in time.
Research by the Guangdong government has found that smaller retail businesses dominated Guangzhou's markets involving African buyers 10 years ago. Today, the percentage has dropped to 15 percent, while more than 60 percent of procurement by African businesspersons is done in bulk purchases.
"That is to say, China-Africa trade is becoming more standardized," said Liu Jisen from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies.
According to Chinese customs statistics, the volume of trade between China and Africa reached nearly 100 billion U.S. dollars in the first half of the year, an increase of 17.3 percent.
Dieng said he is very interested in measures proposed by the Chinese government to bolster China-Africa economic and trade cooperation. He hopes the upcoming Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing will bring the two partners closer together.
Dieng added that he plans to send his 17-year-old son, who is learning Chinese in a Confucius Institute in Senegal, to study at a Chinese university.
Like Dieng, Zhu Layi, the founding president of the Africa-Guangdong Business Association, also has high expectation for the upcoming summit.
These days, Zhu is involved in the construction of the Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone, a park located in Ogun State of Nigeria in West Africa, and Kenya's Pearl River Special Economic Zone in East Africa. He also plans to set up an African business school.
"In the future, more ordinary people will be involved in and benefit from China-Africa cooperation," said Liu Jisen. "The Chinese dream and the African dream will be more deeply integrated."
(Video editors: Luo Hui and Geng Linlin)