Chinese in Tanzania

During the week we spent in Tanzania I was surprised to see how big this countries potential is. Among others there are huge natural resources and also tourism has only just started. I saw numerous business opportunities, without even really thinking about it. But the strange thing is that when you walk on the streets of Moshi you just see young men sitting around doing nothing. Occasionally they get up to try to sell you something you don’t need or want, or just to ask you for money, but for the rest they just seem to do nothing. From early morning until late at night. Women seem to do most of the work, they carry goods (on their heads) or kids (on their back), do the house work and even work the fields. And the men are just sitting in the shade talking to each other, and they seem to be happy doing so. It surprised me, not only because they let the women do the work, but especially that they do not see the potential to make money.

It looks like the only people that see the opportunity and also seize it, are the Chinese. By coincidence we got to meet a young entrepreneurial Chinese lady while in Moshi. During lunch on our first day we decided to head out to a different restaurant. Not knowing what kind of restaurants would be good, we asked a taxi driver. He told us that there was a good Indian restaurant in Moshi, and he would take us there. Fine with us, as long as we would not get Chinese food we did not really mind. So he drives off with us and 10 minutes later we drive into…. The Panda Chinese restaurant! The taxi driver did not understand that there was a difference, and we decided to just go ahead. As long as they had a cold beer we were fine. The place was not bad actually: a small villa with a nice garden and a terrace, in the Shanty Town part of Moshi. We ordered some dishes and when they arrived we were pleasantly surprised by the taste, it was authentic Chinese! So we asked the African waitress whether the cook was from China, and whether we could talk to him/her.

A minute later a Chinese lady around 30 years old turns up, Ms. Feng Yu. She is not only the cook but also the owner of the restaurant. Originally she hails from Chengdu and has been in Tanzania for several years already. Despite her young age she not only owns this restaurant but is also co-owner of a small chicken farm. We asked her how she ended up in Moshi, which is not the most logical place in the world to start a business, and she just answered “I guess I just took the wrong bus”. We did not feel she was very happy here, but at least she seemed to be successful. She told us that for a while she was the only Chinese person in Moshi, but now there were several more. Some had started a factory, and soon her brother would join to set up a massage place (with masseuses from China). Smart idea, after our Kilimanjaro trip I would have loved to have a good leg massage, and with Kili tourism on the rise there certainly will be a market for this.

Seeing entrepreneurial Chinese here confirms what you read in the foreign media, the Chinese are slowly taking over the economy in several African countries. They are smart, willing to work hard and take risks – some of the reasons why I like to work in China. I just wonder what the reaction of unemployed inhabitants of Moshi will be once the Chinese start to make serious money.

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  1. Do you really imagine that the men of Tanzania would “see” business opportunities and “money” everywhere?

    Remember, it is country suffered from a long stretch of brutal colonialism in it’s very recent past, probably most people don’t have much of a work ethic or any marketable skills. This same thing can be found throughout Africa, India, SE Asia…

    Perhaps you don’t know much about Tanzanian history, but you might learn a bit more about your own, sir.

    The arrogance! Perhaps you could lend them some of your expertise and capital, show those chaps the proper way to maximize their resources!

  2. I don’t think that because of a colonial background people cannot see business opportunities. That’s just finding an excuse for not doing anything now. You give India as an example, but Indians are actually quite entrepreneurial!

  3. Making excuses for people because of their ethnicity is nothing but soft racism. Young men sitting around doing nothing – there’s no excuse for that anywhere.

  4. There is indeed no excuse for sitting around anywhere. Maybe you think it’s politically not correct to observe that this happens more in certain parts of the world? It is a fact that the Chinese are more entrepreneurial than most other people (including Europeans), why is it wrong to say that? Tanzanians are probably more happy with their lifestyle, they certainly smile a lot more than Chinese.

  5. If you give people the right tools, there’s still no guarantee that they’ll use those tools properly.

    Vietnam suffered from a long stretch of brutal colonialism by the French in its recent past and they have the second-fastest-growing economy in Asia now. This is also true of Ethiopia. So I don’t think it has anything to do with history.

  6. You said that young people are just sitting around without doing any work, right? and that women do house work and work the field? Where does your countrywoman"s customers come from then? I mean there are only a handful of Chinese around and the locals are just wasting time talking instead of making money?

    Quit such kinds of generalizations bro. You got a lot porvery and hopelessness in your own country. I have been to Haiko, Shaoyang, Yiyang, Luodi and many other small places of main land China, and I know very well how majority of people are struggling despite the current economic boom that most of Chinese brag about. In the countryside China, many families don't even have toilets and the shit is just thrown to the pigs, do you happen to know that?

    Tanzania is on the move, though, like any other developing country, the government needs to spearhead the attainment of basic education, for every one to realize their potential, and that's what your government is still struggling with at home.

    You should hurry back there now any open your business, because once the locals open their eyes, I don't see how they could exist with such attitude. Bravo