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Integration & Collision: Kenyans under “One Belt One Roa

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In January 2020, as a high school student from Beijing, the author went to Kenya for a field study, during which he interviewed local Kenyan employees of a Chinese infrastructure project in Nairobi. Talking with the staff, the author genuinely realized the cultural differences between Chinese and Kenyan society. Although facing a number of difficulties, the two are gradually reconciling thanks to “One Belt One Road” initiative.

Rober Nijuguna, 41, grew up near Nairobi with local Kenyans like him. In his childhood, China has not yet started to closely cooperate with Kenya. After graduating from the local high school, he went to a university in Nairobi to study marketing. But after graduation, due to the poor employment situation in Kenya, Rober became a driver in 1999 and has been driving trucks even since.

In 2018, Rober began to work for a Chinese infrastructure company. There, for the first time, he had personal contact with the Chinese people. Compared to the local engineering companies in Kenya, the standardized enterprise management standards of his Chinese company have been praised by him:

“Every month, the Chinese company will transfer my salary to my bank account on time, but the Kenyan companies I previously worked for have never been able to do it. Sometimes the boss had even delayed for more than half a year. In order to support my wife and children, I had to borrow money to support my family. It's true that my salary is not as high as before, and often I think about getting pay rise, but stable income is more important for me. ”

Chinese infrastructure enterprises have brought China's strict standards to Kenya along with technology and equipment, which not only guaranteed the safety of local employees in Kenya, but also established a good reputation for themselves.

“The company also has a complete process for the possible injuries during our work. If it is a minor injury, we can solve it in the infirmary at our construction site; if the problem is serious, someone will take us to the hospital. After that, the compensation problem is very simple to deal with, too. We will talk to our superiors directly. Usually, we are very satisfied with the agreed amount. ”

However, besides enjoying all kinds of treatment at work, Rober felt the cultural differences between the East and the West, as well as the impact of such differences on his work. Among them, especially for the concept of “career,” Rober and his friends are puzzled. In their eyes, Chinese managers and colleagues are too “passionate” for working, which makes them experience an unprecedented “rush.”

“I think my Chinese colleagues seem to always be in a hurry. After finishing a job, they are always busy with the next task, even those originally planned to be done tomorrow or later.”

Local employees in Kenya are inevitably influenced by this atmosphere, and Rober admitted that:

“This kind of request sometimes makes me feel very uncomfortable. For example, when it's 3 or 4 p.m., since we have worked hard for a day, it is undoubted that we are very tired, so our work efficiency will definitely drop a lot compared with that in the morning. But when my Chinese boss spots me working like that, he will blame me for being lazy, and because of the language problem, I can't explain to him clearly. At those moments, I felt wronged. ”

As early as the end of the 19th century, Britain put Kenya under the jurisdiction of the British Empire, and it became a colony in 1920. In this historical context, Britain has had a profound impact on Kenya, from education, to law, to religion, and the European culture represented by Britain has penetrated into all aspects of Kenya. Even after the country’s independence in 1950, many of Kenya's leaders remained in close contact with Britain. Kenya's relationship with Britain in the past 100 years has made local Kenyans accustomed to living in a similar way to the British. Different from the focus on work efficiency of Chinese enterprises, European and American enterprises are very concerned about the spare time of employees and will not put forward such strict requirements. Under the influence of British culture for such a long time, it is difficult for Kenyan employees to adapt to the expectations of Chinese managers so quickly.

In 21st century, especially after the establishment of “One Belt One Road” initiative, there was increasing economic cooperation and exchanges between China and Kenya, which brought the Oriental thinking represented by Chinese at the same time. Therefore, the integration and collision caused by the cultural differences between the East and the West began on this piece of the vast Africa continent.

Rober and his Kenyan colleagues are very grateful for the opportunities China has brought. The “One Belt One Road” initiative in recent years has effectively promoted Kenya's economic development and domestic infrastructure, but at the same time, Kenyan employees also hope that they can not only stay at the level of economic cooperation with their Chinese colleagues. They hope they can chat with Chinese people who come to Kenya and become friends with them. However, Michael Kamau Ichura, a friend of Rober, said there were many difficulties in it:

“When we are not working, Chinese employees in our company usually chat in Chinese, which makes it impossible for us to join the conversation at all. Even in English conversations, because of the poor English speaking, we can not communicate with each other smoothly, so generally the topics are only about work. If my Chinese colleagues can speak more with us and improve their English, I will be happy to make friends with them. ”

“As for the problem that Rober said just now——the conflicts between managers and employees, I think that with the increase of communication between the two sides, it will also be solved naturally. Because then we can know each other more and understand each one’s idea, and there will be less misunderstandings. ”

Hence, local people in Kenya are actually very friendly to the Chinese people who are  appearing more and more often in their own country, but there are some small frictions due to the lack of understanding between the two sides. As a helping party, China should communicate equally with the assisted party, Kenya, integrate into each other's culture and social norms, and avoid imposing its own ideas on the other country.

In fact, Chinese have already taken a great step. According to the person in charge of the infrastructure enterprise interviewed by the author, some old employees who have worked in East Africa for more than ten years have taught themselves Swahili. They can communicate with local employees without any obstacles, and many of them have made a lot of local friends. In addition, author’s driver in Kenya mentioned the watch on his wrist when he was driving and chatting. He said it was given to him by a Chinese chef from his company several years ago before the chef returned to China, and the two had been good friends before.

What’s more, Kenyan employees in Chinese enterprises are also very motivated. After graduating from high school, Abel Marende has worked with Chinese construction teams in various countries in East Africa for more than ten years. He has been working as a mechanic in the construction team and is responsible for controlling construction machines. Because Abel is not very good at talking, Michael told the author a wish of Abel and others:

“Can you see the cement mixer out there? Abel has worked for more than ten years, but never had the chance to operate it. However difficult it is, I believe he will manage to master. If we can see that our own brother handling these machines instead of leaving them to Chinese staff, we will feel really proud.”

After listening to Micheal's words, Abel smiled and nodded, and the other Kenyan employees sitting together also agreed. In addition to their friendly attitude towards the Chinese people, they are looking forward to learning to complete more important tasks.

In the Boao Forum For Asia 2015, President Xi has pointed out that the "One Belt One Road" initiative is based on the principle of “sharing.” It is not closed or exclusive, but open and inclusive. With the deepening of China-Kenya cooperation, it is likely that China and Kenya can not only benefit each other economically, but can also reconcile and learn from each other in term of culture.

标题:Integration & Collision: Kenyans under “One Belt One Roa    

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