Monrovia – Milton K Kesselly is a Liberian living in Beijing, China. He has been living there since 2016 after spending three years studying at the University of Science and Technology Beijing, where he earned a Masters in Economics with a specialty in International Trade.
KesselIy, in an exclusive online interview with FrontPageAfrica, said after his study he opted to return to China to seek greener pasture. He was determined to settle in Beijing where he is now married to a Chinese. The couple has a child. Kesselly says he has integrated well in the Asian nation.
But when news of discrimination against black Africans heightened in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Kesselly had a mixture of experiences. He has been telling FPA about his experience in the world’s most populous nation.
In this exclusive interview, he shares his experience.
FrontPage Africa: For how long you’ve been in China and how is life with you there?
Kesselly: I have stayed for about 6 years in China including my time in school and I’m currently married to a Chinese. Together we have established a business including an English training center that was set up last November but was soon interrupted due to the coronavirus outbreak. Besides, we run an online program. It’s an online program where we entertain our viewers with personal stories and fun and sell products like is done on Alibaba or Tiaboa. We have also registered a business in Liberia called Continental Link-LIB or COLL for short. Life in China is very competitive. So, one must be to the task at all times.
FPA: Have you been discriminated against?
Kesselly: As a black man living in China, it’s obvious to be discriminated against by some Chinese. Even though it’s not a central government’s policy but it’s a common practice to see adverts that says for white only. I have had several offers to teach but as a black man you are to receive less the wages as compare to whites who you might at times be qualified than by far. I have also had contract with the European American Chambers of Commerce to organize traders who wanted to visit factories in China. However, none of those were ever sustainable. As a foreigner dating a Chinese it is sometimes met with so much resentment from society. You must be strong to withstand.
To maintain a relationship with a young Chinese lady, you must keep the love stronger between you two and make sure she’s always happy. Devoice in China is very common. In fact, if you are black your rights could be very limited during times of conflicts; however, there are human rights groups that are willing to help people who want to settle so, it’s good to look for them just in case you might have to need them and it is always important to keep in line with the law. I have read a lot of the common laws and can easily justify based on what is on the books.
I had just started my training program when the virus broke out in Wuhan, not so far from where we had established our training school. And good enough, it was around the same time with the Chinese New Year Festivities and at when we have released students to go on breaks. Upon hearing about the disease and I knowing the severity of new out breaks based on training I have gained while in Sierra Leone as a refugee and in Liberia as public health officer with MSF Belgium and Oxfam GB. I had some sense of what might occur and so I took some precautionary measures.
Then we started hearing of tension between the USA and PRC about the outbreak, I quickly told my wife it was time we relocate to Beijing from Zhangjiakou where we had established the training program. My first fear was, many Chinese are ignorant when it comes to English speakers and that running an English school could fit you into a target for any retaliation or aggression, if things went off hand. I could be a target of locals who didn’t care to know the difference. She accepted my request and then on April 2 we moved in the suburb of Beijing, Yanjiao.
On my way from Zhangjiakou where we were to Yanjiao where we are, there were series of checkpoints but before leaving we were told that we need medical certificates to prove that we were COVID-19 negative and we did the test and obtained the certificates. At the checkpoints Chinese were accepted to move on even though we had all been traveling together but I was kept there for at least 25 minutes and where only let go when they have made several phone calls, I don’t know where.
I had several other encounters with the police or securities with less stress once I was in the compound I have registered to live in. However that wasn’t so long till I decided to visit some shopping malls and where I could get few things for our new home. The security guards at the shopping mall tried to stop me, I known what they were up to but I just stood there and told them I couldn’t go back because I wanted to go to the mall. Actually, I didn’t know that the route we once used were no more in service and that all entrances to residential compounds were now heavily secured due to the virus. Anyway, I was later escorted to the mall by their security head.
FPA: What is your view on criticisms about Chinese being discriminatory?
Kesselly: There is some form of discriminatory behavior in almost all places; I do not think it is exclusively a Chinese problem. You know it happened all over the world. I saw some of the videos of Chinese allegedly mistreating blacks to be specific in other communities most especially in Guangzhou, I have not experienced such extremity here so far. And for that I am grateful.
When I was in Zhangjiakou Zhangbei, I came out and went to their markets. I was served happily because I’m well known in that small city. In there, I have over a hundred thousand followers on my social media outlet and many of them had wished to be friend with me. In fact, I was selected to go with a team on an assessment to a popular tourist site in that area. Zhangjiakou is selected to host the 2022 winter Olympic Games, and I will look forward to seeing some Africans participating in those winter sports, even though Africa is known as a hot sport, lol.
I saw a video of a Liberian alleging that she was discriminated against or being harassed by officers but from my own assessment of the video, the police was simply doing their job. I was told the identity of the person who did the recoding. According to investigation, she had people living with her in Guangzhou the very day the police went to investigate. I think as a foreign resident, its good to be law abiding at all times. When you are in a country where the laws don’t even joke with citizens, as a foreigner, you are to be very mindful. I think that was wrong on her part. Once those who are visitors start to act unlawful, it becomes difficult to protect other foreigners who look like them even if they are very law abiding.
FPA: Where do you think the misunderstanding is coming from?
Kesselly: So, some of the problems that led to mishandling of blacks in Guangzhou is partly due to misunderstanding of the facts by ordinary Chinese when they see a black person and some due to the kind of misrepresentation of that Liberian you could hear on the video recording from Guangzhou. Sometimes is due to the act of some bad foreign residents and sometimes is just hate for blacks especially by people who are very ignorant about the truth. I am in great sympathy with brothers and sisters, meanly blacks who were thrown out of their homes. I learned that there were speculations that Africans were allowing their undocumented friends reside with them. I think the security in Guangzhou wanted to weed out those they think were undocumented living in Guangzhou, even though central PRC government had early warned that foreigners in China shouldn’t be trouble for papers during the pandemic. I understand how humiliating that can be, forcefully taking one out of their homes; however, I’m encouraging all blacks or Africans, especially Liberians to live in the scope of the laws. We are direct ambassadors of our respective countries and mostly our race. One doesn’t have to wait till their documents expired. It’s easy for people to stigmatize a group for a bad thing than they will praise them when one good thing is done.
So, let’s keep being on the right side of the law so that when we present our cases the law will be on our sides. When the law is on your side, even if they try to show injustice, they might simply ask you to go. I know the Central Government of China is working hard to keep a good relationship with their Africans counterparts. If African unite and remained positive, we stand to have a win-win. But if we cannot, we will always be at the losing end. Africans are usually overlooked and taken advantages off. Our continent is so divided, and even as blacks, we hold so strongly to our artificial divides till we don’t see the common thing that unite us. The real misunderstanding is that people see blacks as poverty and as people who aren’t contributing to humanity in general and until we can come together as Africans, we will only be use and wouldn’t get credit for anything.
FPA: So, how is the COVID-19 situation in China?
Kesselly: China is getting better; however, the restrictions are still everywhere as the pandemic is not over. But shops been opened all through the outbreaks, there is enough food and other necessary supplies once there is money. There is also a very good level of understanding now between Africans here and their Chinese friends. I’m on most of the social groups with Africans in China, I’m also a part of some foreign social grouping apart from the African groups and I think it’s fine with those I have interacted with, though the regular teaching jobs are not available for now and those who had depended on teaching will find it difficult especially where there is lockdowns everywhere. In China foreign or international students enjoy the best facilities from government and are well protected, so I expect less of a complaint from the student’s community.
I think it’s under control but we got to remember how this virus started. It was from a single person and to the rest of the world. China is still recording cases and that means no one should feel absolutely safe. We can only feel so, when we are vaccinated with a potent vaccine or when cure are readily available to us.
FPA: What is your message to Liberians back home?
Kesselly: My message to Liberians is keep safe the virus is real and deadly. The virus has brought powerful nations to their knees. We should not expect to play careless and think others would endanger their lives. Stay safe, constantly wash your hands with clean water and soap, keep a distance and follow all health Practices.
Like I have been saying to my followers on Facebook, the virus is nearly everywhere in the world, so if one plays careless, there wouldn’t be much help coming from those who been helping, there is already donor fatigue. The USA cut aid to WHO and other countries are equally fighting their own share of the pandemic. Liberia will have to manage her resources and stay safe.
Even after this pandemic, the hardship is likely to be around for a longer period. The president should seek concerted efforts from all stakeholders, health, security, religious and Economists. We must fight the virus as us and not me. When I heard the President, Dr. George M. Weah saying “I worked with government” and that he had his own project to help Liberians, I think that is a mistake. The president is the leader; he should lead a joint effort that deal with a whole country, when you are the president of a nation, and your country is faced with a problem like this, you deal with it on national level and not doing personal projects. Even though the virus says stay apart, but logically we should work together by supporting one another.
Stakeholders should continue to re-strategize plans to meet the Liberians needs, supply chain must go closer to (markets) the people in communities. To ease the risk of spreading the virus.
FPA: How can you describe China’s relationship with Liberia? And what needs to be Done to improve it?
Kesselly: I think there is a great relationship between China and Liberia. We see lot of doing business between Liberia and China, through bilateral scholarship programs, a continue training of manpower who are contributing to the growth of Liberia. The truth is Liberia is a small country and China is like a continent, the relationship can never be equal; however, we need to set our own priorities straight. If you are going to negotiate, do not wait for the man you are negotiating with to set your priorities. They will work to obtain their agenda, we too must work to meet ours that is when win-win comes to play, else they will win and win. China is leading the production of goods and services around the world. What do we want from their vest experience in industrial setups? We need to look for a direction to push our country towards. We are a small country we cannot produce all we want but we can start producing some things and try to specialize in an area, in that, we could gain skills and efficiency.
Maybe we try furniture making, since we have so many wood, we could be an exporter of furniture instead of wood. Building partnership with a country like China needs critical thinkers. I always think, we continue to be exported by powerful nations because we don’t set our agenda straight. We could spend very little in training people in that area and create a better industry that will supply some of the best furniture around the world. It shouldn’t be like what we have done with the Firestone, I think if we wanted to learn what Firestone is doing with rubbers she takes from Liberia, instead we be thinking that Firestone think to build a factory in Liberia and implement for us. We would have trained people to work with rubber or tire and set up our own tire factory but after hundred years we are stay asking Firestone to build our people good housing units and so on, lets train people to do what those who come for our natural resources are doing with them. And as China is stay around in needs of resources from Liberia, lets identify our strength and train people who will work in there.
FPA: Any final word before we leave you?
My final message to our government and people, government, please try to send out ambassadors, the people you sent out there who are using your passports represent you, they could promote you or bring your moral down. Today if I do anything wrong in China, the news will be a Liberian man… if so many good people represent you, everyone will try to associate with your nationals. During this time of COVID-19, please try to work on things that will unite the people rather than divide them. We are one people, no matter the differences in ideas, whether it be political or religious, we are Liberians and should find a way to unify.
And to those out there, please let’s respect ourselves so that others can respect us. Blacks are wonderful, we are so unique and people who come closer to us enjoy the experiences, if we are conscious of who we are and do what is right, in no time we will gain all the respect we need around the world. Africans should work together but let’s be positive and legal. I am called Blackman where I am, I am here legally, so if anyone with black eyes don’t want to see me cut your hair and burst your black eyes that make you to see me in the first place. I also want to use this time to say to Africans, lets overlook the artificial borders and work together, lets be honest with one another and build a strong African society. African Union should lookout to help in Weaker member nations who goes into trade negotiation with powerful countries, I think if Africans are speaking out for one another, we will be respected