Photo: Courtesy BBC/Nicola Kelly
Teaching Mandarin: Chinese influence in Kenya’s slums
By Nicola Kelly
“Ni hao!” a group of Kenyan schoolchildren call in unison as they bound uphill towards a wooden hut perched on the hill ahead.
“Those are some of my new students,” teacher Liu Yimenghan tells me, smiling broadly. “Chinese is their favourite class.”
The Chang Rong Light Centre in Kenya’s Mathare slums is a 15-minute drive from the centre of Nairobi, but it feels like a world away. Kiosks nearby sell Chinese colouring books, dim sum bubbles on hot stoves and schoolchildren carry canvas book bags from Beijing.
It’s here, among some of Kenya’s poorest communities, that Chinese companies are investing heavily, building roads and residential blocks. Many are now turning to education, developing programmes to teach Mandarin to at-risk young people on the outskirts of the capital city.
“It’s a way to understand a different culture. As well as learning a new language, we also teach them about our way of life,” Liu explains. “Next year, we hope to bring Kenyan children to China so they can practise their Mandarin there.”
Among the local community, there is some scepticism about the motivation for Chinese investment in educational programmes.
Some of Mathare’s residents believe that they are seeking to create dependence rather than supporting the development of Nairobi’s slum areas, which has led to heightened tensions in recent months. READ MORE