BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - It’s not yet four a.m. and Vimbayi Kajese is already arriving at China Central Television (CCTV) for another day in her job as mainland China’s first African news presenter, and the face of a growing community.
Kajese is one of an increasing number of young Africans heading to China, as the country’s booming economy and ever-closer ties with African nations create opportunities as tempting as any in Europe or the United States.
China’s African community has grown dramatically since it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, with as many as 250,000 in the country at any one time, say experts in Hong Kong.
Many are traders sourcing cheap China-made goods to sell back home. They throng to export hubs like Guangzhou where a “Little Africa” has sprung up that boasts ethnic shops, eateries, and export malls crammed with everything from fake designer jeans to bright African textiles.
But young professionals are also finding a niche in every sector from television to cutting edge entertainment.
A 28-year-old from Zimbabwe, Kajese reads the news on the top of most hours from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. on CCTV 9, China’s state-run English language channel that is its mouthpiece to the world.
Despite the early starts, with half an hour in the make up chair alone, and the stress of going live to air, Kajese says she is grateful for the chance to boost understanding.
“There’s a lot of Chinese people that might not have met many Africans, and so now is an opportunity to say ‘Well, why does she speak like this or why is her hair like this?” she told Reuters between live broadcasts.
“It’s also good that when Africans come here, they’ll know that there are opportunities for them, just like any other foreigner,” she said. Westerners with Chinese-language skills have flocked to Beijing for years to get career headstarts.
On the other side of town, Frank Baelongandi is winding up his evening’s work as Kajese starts her day.
The 27-year-old, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, came to study business in China six years ago but has ended up ruling the capital’s nightlife scene as DJ Kefra.
He has been named the capital’s best DJ, and has a residency at one of its biggest clubs, Vic‘s.
“I felt the energy, the opportunity, and I felt the magnitude,” said Baelongandi.
“So I just decided, okay, I think that’s the place I should stay...I‘m in the right place at the right time right now.”
China and many African nations have been diplomatic allies for decades, but there has been only limited direct contact between ordinary citizens until recently.
The influx of Africans to China has brought some friction as a result: casual racism and clashes with authority.
In July, over 100 Africans in southern Guangzhou took to the streets in a sometimes violent protest against a police crackdown on illegal visa overstayers.
But with the increasing appeal of the east, ambitious young Africans like Kajese and Baelongandi are likely to keep heading out of Africa, and into China, in years to come.
Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Miral Fahmy