The resurgence of an old internet rumour claiming that the Rwandan government deported Chinese nationals over the mistreatment of local labourers has dominated online spaces in recent weeks.
It has since spread like wildfire, with many internet users (and those who do not frequent online spaces) believing the story to be true. The story went wildly viral on social media platforms.
The online rumour – which emerged in 2020, and returned in 2021 – has once again “resurfaced”, with increased attention this time.
And, just perhaps, the proliferation of this false report [particularly on social media], speaks volumes about the perennially ambivalent perceptions that Africans harbour towards Chinese inroads in Africa.
That this story borders more on repeated conjecture (rather than credible facts) signals an overt indication that while some Africans may be accommodative to Chinese investments and cooperation in Africa, others are fiercely skeptical. Hence the false story was wildly viral.
AFP’s Fact Check Says There Has Never Been Any Deportation
A recent fact-check article by AFP has brought the untruthfulness of the Rwandan deportation story to light; as well as the crass populist connotations that the story is laden with.
The fact check by AFP reiterates and cements its position since 2020 – that this story is unreal, and has never been; it is a rumour that was started nearly two years ago; we have previously said it is not true; and now that it has “resurfaced”, it is still not true.
Several online outlets and social media accounts enthusiastically [and naively] spread the [false] news that Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame deported 18 Chinese nationals from Rwanda following the mistreatment of local workers.
Even reputable media outlets such as South Africa’s IOL carried the false report, titled “Here’s why Rwanda’s president ordered for the immediate deportation of 18 Chinese nationals”.
The deportation story, as propagated on websites and social media by various people, made use of [fake] quotes attributed to Paul Kagame.
Did Paul Kagame Order the Deportation of the Chinese?
The reports purport that Kagame ordered the immediate deportation of 18 Chinese investors saying that they “were found guilty of mistreating Rwandan workers and grubbing land on which they operated their business”.
The false reports further claim that Kagame said, “Africa is for Africans. We can’t be slaves in Africa. We don’t tolerate the nonsense of discrimination here.”
“Rwanda is for Africans and those who mean well for us. I am directing the 18 Chinese investors to leave Rwanda immediately and must never return back. Rwandan people must enjoy their rights in their country. Let this be a lesson to the remaining Chinese investors.”
However, as the recent AFP Fact Check report asserts, “there is still no evidence” two years later (since the rumours first surfaced in 2020) that indeed Paul Kagame ordered the deportation of Chinese nationals.
The report reads, “An old rumour purporting that Rwandan President Paul Kagame ordered the deportation of Chinese nationals for mistreating local workers has resurfaced online.”
The fact check sets the record straight that both the Rwandan and Chinese governments deny that this ever happened. In 2020, when the rumour initially sprung to life, an AFP Fact Check article stressed that the deportation story was untrue.
An Online Rumour/Fake News Story Since 2020
The quotes attributed to Kagame in the 2020 fake story are similar to the one that has “resurfaced” this year: “This country is for Africans and those who mean well for us. I’m instructing those 18 Chinese nationals to go back and never return back!”
At that time, Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry sternly warned the public via a Twitter-issued statement that the story was outright fake news and not to be taken seriously.
In 2021, the story returned to the internet again, and another AFP Fact Check report said that there was still no evidence that Rwanda had deported any Chinese nationals.
The quote attributed to Kagame had some slight variation as it read, “You can’t eat from Africa and you disrespect us…Africa is a people Continent that allows everybody to stay peacefully but won’t accept any form of slavery again.”
When the story appeared in 2021, Rwanda’s government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo flatly dismissed the story as “fake news”. And, with its resurfacing in 2022, she unwaveringly maintains the same stance (she must be tired of this now already).
On June 14, 2022, she replied to a tweet by eminent South African journalist Sophie Mokoena (the latter who seemingly expressed enthusiasm that Chinese nationals had been deported from Rwanda) with the words, “…This is fake news. Didn’t happen”.
Essentially, this is a misleading story, even though elements of African dissatisfaction with the Chinese investors are never to be ruled out.
The Tainted History of the Chinese on Labour vis-à-vis Neoliberal-Influenced “Bilateral Co-operation”
Some of the Chinese investors in Africa have a tainted and checkered track record when it comes to how they handle labour matters in Africa.
Yet, it is clear that the much-vaunted deportation story is a mere “repetition of the same rumour”, according to the Chinese Embassy in Rwanda.
Speaking to Africa Check, the Chinese Embassy in Rwanda affirmed: “The Chinese embassy in Rwanda hasn’t heard about any of the deportations regarding the claim. This [news] is again fabricated, and full of misinformation.”
But one would hazard to opine that the repeated social media attention of such an online rumour every year – a rumour consistently proven as false – implies that perhaps, there is no smoke without fire.
No Chinese investors were booted from Rwanda. Because the [insidiously neoliberal] discourse between Rwanda and China is one of “deepening” bilateral ties. So, it is inconceivable for Kagame to harm Chinese financialized interests in Rwanda.
“China and Rwanda are committed to deepen our bilateral cooperation, and bring more benefits to the Chinese and Rwandan people”, the Embassy added, when it spoke to Africa Check.
And of course, there are several stories of Chinese investors brazenly abusing local workers in Africa on various investment projects.
In April 2022, a Chinese investor was “sentenced to 20 years in jail for torturing local mineworkers in Rwanda after a video showing him whipping a man tied to a post went viral on social media”.
The shameful incident above was first reported in September 2021, and at that time Africa Report mused, “From Sierra Leone to the DRC and now Rwanda, videos of Chinese managers viciously beating local employees is becoming a trend, with new clips appearing on social media channels every few weeks.”
Conclusion – A Thoughtful Moment to Reflect on China-Africa Relations in 2022
Definitely, Rwanda’s leader Paul Kagame never deported 18 Chinese nationals; there is simply no evidence pointing to such. It is indisputably a false story.
However, it cannot be denied that Chinese investors have proclivities towards flagrantly disregarding the welfare of labourers in Africa through some of their nefarious approaches towards labour relations/law. This reality is an incontrovertible truism.
And, just perhaps, all these viral social media stories imply that there is no smoke without fire. As tragic and as regrettable as it looks, this is the concrete material reality obtaining in the post-colonial Africa-China relations.
Ultimately, this calls for a pensive pause – and an opportunity for all progressive Africans to reflect on whether or not Chinese investments in Africa through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are truly and mutually beneficial.
This is a discourse that ineluctably includes China’s debt trap or debt diplomacy to African countries. China categorically denies its loans to African countries constitute a debt burden; but the reality on the ground proves otherwise.
The neocolonial threat – whether from the East or the West – must be fervently thwarted with tremendous, organic, participatory, inclusive, bottom-up, and holistic Pan-African socialist democracy. Where that is achieved, the emergence of fake news like this will be a thing of the past.