Portrait: Wang Hui Li

Wang Hui Li cropped 2

Wang Hui Li came to work at Harare’s China Garden restaurant five years ago because a relative needed an extra pair of hands. “My mother’s mother is the boss’s sister,” she told me, sounding a little uncertain. Ni mamade mama shi laobande meimei? I repeated. She thought for a moment before repeating the sentence quizzically, and we said it back and forth a couple of times, knowing that something about the description sounded strange. Her mother’s mother is her grandmother – but she must have become accustomed to “mother’s mother” from explanations of how she’d come to this Chinese restaurant in Harare’s suburbs.

Five years is a long time to be away from home, I suggested. Had she adapted to life in Zimbabwe’s capital? Yes, she nodded, with a smile. “The air is good, the climate is good, and there’s no cold winter like in China.” Xi’an, the central Chinese city she calls home regularly sees snow in winter. She’d be going home next year she said. And would she return? I asked. “ I don’t know,” she said calmly, as if uncertainty were the most inevitable thing in the world.

“Wang Hui Li” she told me, when I asked for her full name. She drew the character for Wang in the air with four strokes of her index finger, patted my arm, and said goodbye with a smile.

Uber Won’t Surrender to Its Chinese Rival in the World’s Ride-Hailing Market Battle

Uber app in ChineseSan Francisco-based Uber had already established itself as a leader in the U.S. market when Chinese-owned Didi Dache first released its own mobile application for on-demand taxis in June 2012 in China. Yet since Uber quietly moved into the country in late 2013 with a soft launchin expat-friendly Shanghai, the American company’s imminent failure at the hands of its Chinese competitor has become central to the story.


Continue reading

China’s Mobile Payment Revolution Is Going to Africa

Standard Bank advertising We Wallet cropped smaller

With the launch of Apple Pay in mainland China on Feb. 18, Apple has become the first foreign player to secure a place at the table for China’s enormous mobile payment market. The company will be battling for market share with e-commerce giant Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Wallet, which dominate China’s mobile payment arena.

Billboard in Cape Town’s CBD

By the end of last year, a staggering 358 million Chinese were using mobile phones to purchase goods and services, according to research from the China Internet Network Information Center. Outside of China, financial institutions are eagerly looking for ways to build entire ecosystems around their users, following the success of digital leaders like Tencent and Alibaba, Beijing-based managing director of Accenture Albert Chan told Bloomberg.

Continue reading

Could WeChat become the only app that African internet users need?


As technology hubs from Silicon Valley to Bangalore work hard at devising digital approaches to finance that could alter the global banking landscape, mobile banking penetration in China has already exceeded 390 million people. And for Chinese-owned Tencent Holdings, the world’s fifth largestInternet company, China’s 1.3 billion-strong market is just the beginning. The tech giant’s best-known social network, WeChat, is fast gaining traction in Africa, and mobile banking is one area in which its influence is spreading.


Continue reading

FOCAC: Beyond the Numbers

December’s Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has been and gone, and the eagerly-awaited list of numbers has been released, digested, and analysed. China’s commitment of US$60 billion in financing for development across Africa is triple the amount pledged at the last summit three years ago, according to several mainstream media reports. Other calculations put this figure at closer to a 50%  increase in financial commitment. And, while it is this magic number that has since hogged the limelight, China’s important second policy toward Africa was released too.

Continue reading

Reporting FOCAC6 – A Turning Point for Africa-China Engagement

Wits‘ 12 November roundtable, Reporting FOCAC6 – A Turning Point for Africa-China Engagement, provided a variety of journalists, experts, and other attendees with plenty of food for thought on China-Africa relations, both at the diplomatic level and on the ground, with a focus on producing quality journalism around this expansive subject. CCTV Africa‘s short video report of the event forms the first of a series of posts I’ll be adding on the FOCAC summit and its implications for Sino-African relations.

Lessons from Alibaba’s World

Jack-Ma-Alibaba-IPOThe last few years have seen Alibaba, the Chinese tech and e-commerce juggernaut, go from being a shaky, unknown start-up to something of a household name from Detroit to Delhi. At some point along its path to success, the company has also become one of the world’s favourite success stories. It’s a rags-to-riches tale of sorts, and it doesn’t hurt that the lead character in the story, CEO Jack Ma, is widely considered “one of China’s most unlikely tech founders”. After all, everyone loves an underdog.  Continue reading