The owner of a Chinese restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya has been arrested following an uproar over its policy of banning African customers at night, according to reports.
Owner Zhao Yang was arrested for operating a restaurant without a valid license shortly after local press ran a story alleging that Kenyan reporters were turned away from the restaurant — for being African.
Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper carried a story Mondaythat its reporters had been barred entry to the restaurant, being told by a guard at the entrance that “the time for Africans is over” when the journalists arrived at 7 p.m.
Only locals accompanied by Chinese, European or Indian patrons would be admitted, the newspaper reported.
It also reported that two local politicians, “loyal patrons” Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko and former Cabinet Minister Raphael Tuju, had been admitted, the latter being a friend of the owner.
Kenyan social media users were quickly up in arms about the ban, taking to Facebook and Twitter to voice their displeasure, using the hashtag #noblacksallowed.
The establishment, known only as Chinese Restaurant, in the Kilimani neighborhood of Nairobi, has subsequently been closed after it transpired that it lacked several necessary licenses, said reports.
The Daily Nation reported that the Chinese-owned eatery lacked liquor, health or change-of-use licences — the latter needed as the property had been converted from a residence to a restaurant.
Co-owner and restaurant manager Esther Zhao told the newspaper that the “no Africans at night” policy had its roots in security concerns.
“We don’t admit Africans that we don’t know because you never know who is Al-Shabaab and who isn’t,” she said, referencing the Islamist militant group that is active in Kenya and neighboring Somalia.
“It is not like it is written on somebody’s face that they are a thug armed with a gun,” she said.
The restaurant’s owners appeared to admit culpability in a statement reproduced in the newspaper.
“Because of the concern of the business environment at night and the bad memory of (a robbery in) 2013, we adopted certain measures. Unfortunately, some of the measures were inappropriate, we sincerely apologize for this,” the management said in a statement.
China is the largest outside investor in African economies but resentment against Chinese in Kenya and other African nations is significant as many Africans often regard Chinese businesses as, in the words of one Chinese journalist, “resource predators” or “environmental vandals.”
One Kenyan reporter commenting on the restaurant’s ban likened the policy to a new form of colonialism in Africa.