Posted on October 13, 2009

‘Michael Jackson’ Women in Tanzania Search for Chinese Husbands

Jonathan Clayton, Times of London, October 13, 2009

Zaina, 28, a tall Tanzanian woman, intends to cash in on the new Chinese presence in Africa. She is planning to find herself an oriental husband.

“I had hoped to get a Westerner like you,” she told The Times. “But they are few and far between these days and Chinese are not so fussy and I’m not getting any younger. They say they are racist, but they like local women.”

As her eyes darted around the appropriately named Jolly nightclub and bar, she admitted that she faced an uphill struggle. The competition is ferocious. Apart from a solitary Chinese man, quietly sipping a beer at the bar and a group of young men playing pool, the favourite after-work drinking hole is overflowing with groups of young women, chatting excitedly.

“It is early, Chinese men work hard and come later, they not lazy like Tanzanians,” Zaina said. “Problem is many, many girls; me not really their type. I am tall and slim. They prefer small, fat ladies with paler skins,” she said, confiding with a whisper that some of the girls were busy applying skin-lightening ointment. “They buy it in Congo–we call them the Michael Jacksons.”

Word has spread through Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s main commercial centre, that many of the Chinese men who have flooded into the country in recent years are open to marrying local women. In reality, only a handful of marriages have taken place.

Increasing numbers of Chinese entering the country were first noted in 1986, mainly attributed to trade liberalisation as the country moved from a Socialist-style planned economy to a Western-backed market one. Since then the Chinese have been at the centre of accusations linked to wildlife slaughter, illegal export of timber and other minerals, counterfeit goods production and a growing trade in drugs and prostitution.

Critics of the growing relationship with Beijing say that Chinese are now marrying local women to circumvent restrictions on foreigners gaining residency permits and owning land and companies. Such restrictions often do not apply to people married to Tanzanian nationals who can easily also gain nationality.

“I don’t see the Chinese presence as positive because it is a one-way street. The Chinese want to trade in their own products, which they subsidise. Ten years down the road our local industries will not exist,” said Hussein Kamote, of the Confederation of Tanzania Industries.

“They love our women, especially the ones with big bottoms. I don’t know why they have that reputation for racism. That’s certainly not the case here.” Others say that the Chinese are using their women as mules to carry ivory from poached elephants and rhinos out of the country and drugs on the way back again.

In July, a Dar es Salaam businesswoman with connections to Chinese traders was detained at the international airport for allegedly trying to smuggle elephant tusks and carvings made from ivory in a suitcase destined for the Far East.

Like the rest of Africa, where in 2007 China had investments totalling $3.3 billion (£2 billion) from almost nothing a decade earlier, Tanzania has benefited from a host of major infrastructure projects. In August, using its enormous war chest of foreign currency savings, China said that it was investing $400 million in a scandal-hit coal mine.

On a visit to the country last February, President Hu Jintao granted an additional $22 million in aid, with no strings attached.

“The friendship between China and Tanzania . . . can be viewed as an exemplary relationship of sincerity, solidarity and co-operation between China and an African country,” Mr Hu said. Many Tanzanians, particularly those outside government, are not so sure.