Zhao Yang was charged with operating a restaurant without a valid licence only hours after the Daily Nation, Kenya’s biggest newspaper, published a front-page story about the restaurant.
Co-owner Esther Zhao told the newspaper that Africans posed a security risk and needed to be kept out after 5pm. “We don’t admit Africans that we don’t know because you never know who is al-Shabaab and who isn’t,” she said, referring to the Somali-based terror group blamed for a number of attacks in Kenya in recent years.
We don’t admit Africans that we don’t know because you never know who is Al-Shabaab and who isn’t
Co-owner Esther Zhao
“It is not like it is written on somebody’s face that they are a thug armed with a gun.”
Staff were quoted saying the restaurant’s security detail were under strict instruction not to let in any Africans in the evening, although one or two “loyal customers” were allowed.
The story triggered outrage across the internet. Under the hashtag #noblacksallowed, Twitter users called for the restaurant to be shut down.
“I don’t understand how this article isn’t ironic. This can’t be real,” one reader, Aisha, said. Most commentators demanded the deportation of the restaurant owners.
“There is a proverb, loosely translated, which says ‘if you hate the cow, you should also shun leather’,” one said. “Let the Chinese go do this in China. This is Kenya, and if there is something they do not like, they are free to leave.”
Like most countries on the continent, there has been an extraordinary rise in Chinese economic engagement in Kenya over the past decade. Trade volumes have grown from $186.37m (£125m) in 2002 to $3.27bn in 2013, and the growing number of Chinese migrants has been accompanied by the mushrooming of numerous Chinese-operated restaurants and hotels.
Although many Kenyans have welcomed Beijing’s investment in major infrastructure projects including a new $5.2bn railway to replace the track built by the British more than a century ago, some Chinese have been blamed for a rise in poaching in the country’s national parks.
Zhao faces a prison term of 18 months or a fine of more than $1,000 if found guilty of operating the restaurant without a licence.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights called on any Kenyans who had been barred from the restaurant to get in touch because it planned to lodge a civil suit.