Last month, several hotels in Guangzhou posted notices that said African guests were no longer welcome. Among those turned away at the door was a Ugandan magistrate. Who was behind these notices, and why?
Juliet Hatanga arrived at the Tokai Hotel 东海大厦 in Guangzhou’s Xiaobei 小北 neighborhood at around 5 p.m. on July 20. The Ugandan national had traveled to the city from neighboring Foshan and was planning to spend “four or five” nights at the hotel, according to a Ugandan community leader in Guangzhou, who asked to remain anonymous.
Unfortunately, when trying to check in at the hotel, Hatanga was informed by staff at the front desk that Ugandan nationals were no longer allowed to stay in the area’s hotels.
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.”
Hatanga was eventually able to check in to a hotel in Tianhe 天河, a Guangzhou district located roughly 10 minutes from Xiaobei.
The rejection of Hatanga’s reservation is being linked by Ugandan community leaders to notices that were posted at numerous hotels and serviced apartments in Yuexiu District 越秀区 in early July. The notifications, while all worded differently, stated that the hotels were not allowed to receive guests from African countries, usually accompanied by apologies “for the inconvenience.”
One notice, posted by Waifiden Apartments 维福顿国际酒店 and dated July 6, states the building “will not receive foreign guests from all African countries,” as seen in the image below.
A receptionist at the Tokai Hotel, when visited by reporters on July 29, said that guests from Nigeria and Uganda had been turned away in previous weeks at the request of the police. The hotel staffer assured us that the ban on African guests had been lifted and that “everything is back to normal.”
This, at least, seemed true enough. I visited several other hotels in the area, including Zhong Hai Hotel 中海宾馆 on Huanshi Zhong Lu 环市中路 and Donfranc Hotel 新登峰宾馆 on Luhu Gongyuan 麓湖公园, and all were now accepting African guests.
But who had ordered the posting of the original notices?
Authorities at the Yuexiu Public Security Bureau told us that no warnings were issued to hotels in the district in regards to African guests. They continued to state that any actions taken against citizens of African nations by Yuexiu hotels were done without the involvement of the bureau.
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.” (The story goes on to state that many foreigners arrested carrying a Ugandan passport are actually Nigerian citizens.)
The Monitor report also claims 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,” reads the statement, as published by New Vision on July 28. “Local government has instructed the involved hotels to stop the improper practices immediately and gave grave criticisms and education to these hotels. At present, there is no hotel in Guangzhou which refuses to accommodate Africans.”
The release goes on to note that officials with the Guangdong government met with the consul generals of both Uganda and Nigeria and that steps have been taken to ensure similar problems do not occur in the future.
When contacted for comment, a staffer at the Uganda Consulate General in Guangzhou said that no one was available to speak on the issue and directed us 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 home to 15,000 Africans — a 25 percent drop from 2009. Many believe this number to be on the low side, though, as it fails to include illegal immigrants and those who overstay their visa, according to Xinhua.
Additional reporting by Tristin Zhang; top image by Philip Gostelow