An arena called Africa
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In Maseru, the Chinese face competition from Indians and other South Asians. On alternate weekends in the city, I would walk through many small markets filled with Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi-owned shops selling anything from groceries to electronic items to clothes. There seemed to be no distinction between Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi — anyone with South Asian looks was "Indian".
Despite my Indian looks, or perhaps because of them, it was hard to gauge the general reaction towards "Indians". From conversations with colleagues at school and friends in the city, I got the impression that Indians acquired the reputation of being useful and trustworthy by having lived in the country longer. Additionally, many proved to be fair employers who stuck to the city for their trade without disrupting commerce in the villages. The Chinese, on the other hand, are known not only for village commerce but also for large clothing factories on the outskirts of the city. These factories are the biggest employers of local labour in a country that, lacking industry within its borders, mainly exports its labour to South African mines.
In addition to the factories, there is another building attributed to the Chinese, which sits atop the highest hill in the capital, visible from most parts of the city. This is Lesotho's new parliament building, a gift from Beijing. The building, seemingly complete the day I arrived in Lesotho, had not been handed over to the local government when my year of service ended. Word was that the Lesotho government had not yet agreed to allocate a piece of land for a Chinatown in return for the gift. The presence of this building, both a symbol of resistance to the Chinese presence and a reminder of what will probably occur in the near future, makes one wonder how much longer "Indian" trade will keep to the city. Neither contender in the race for Africa's resources seems to care about its reputation in local communities. Nor do they seem to understand why this lack of concern is problematic.
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