When Juliet Hatanga arrived at the Tokai Hotel in Guangzhou’s Xiaobei neighbourhood in the afternoon on July 20, she was informed by staff at the front desk that Ugandan nationals were no longer allowed to stay in the area’s hotels.
Hatanga had traveled to the city, planning to spend “four or five” nights at the hotel, according to a Ugandan community leader in Guangzhou, who asked to remain anonymous.
Hatanga — who works as a principal magistrate in her home country — contacted staff at the Uganda Consulate General in Guangzhou, who in turn put her in touch with locally based Ugandan community leaders.
“I picked her up and took her to Starbucks for a coffee and told her to calm down,” one Ugandan community leader, who asked to remain anonymous, told me. “I then called the consul general [of Uganda] and I briefed him on what was happening.”
Several notifications, while all worded differently, stated that the hotels in the area were not allowed to receive guests from African countries, usually accompanied by apologies “for the inconvenience”.
One notice, posted by Waifiden Apartments dated July 6, states the building “will not receive foreign guests from all African countries”. Guests from Nigeria and Uganda had been turned away in previous weeks at the request of the police. The hotel staffer assured reporters however that the ban on African guests had been lifted and that “everything is back to normal”.
According to Uganda’s Sunday Monitor newspaper, the situation in Guangzhou has worsened for Ugandans due to “many suspects involved in crime, especially drug trafficking, being found to be holding Ugandan passports”. It appears that many Africans arrested carrying a Ugandan passport are actually Nigerian citizens.
The Monitor reported that many restaurants specializing in African cuisine have been forced to cease operations at the behest of Chinese authorities.
In response to the reports, the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of Uganda issued a statement denying that hotels were instructed by authorities to reject Ugandans and Nigerians, according to Uganda’s New Vision newspaper.
“The situation that some Africans including Ugandans were refused to check into budget hotels in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China was purely resulted from the self-made decisions of isolated hotels,” the New Vision reported on July 28.
When contacted for comment, a staffer at the Uganda Consulate General in Guangzhou said that no one was available for comment and directed reporters to the statement issued by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of Uganda. Staff at the Consulate General of Nigeria in Guangzhou denied any knowledge of Nigerian citizens being denied accommodation in Guangzhou.
Xiaobei is an area in Guangzhou’s Yuexiu District that is often referred to as “Little Africa” due to the large number of African expats, traders, and travelers that live and work in the neighborhood.
According to statistics released in January by the city’s police bureau, Guangzhou is now home to 15 000 Africans, a 25 percent drop from 2009. The number does not include illegal immigrants and those who overstay their visa, according to Xinhua.