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Chinese overseas

Chinese in Uganda ‘under threat’ after spate of armed robberies

  • Armed gangs target Chinese who tend to keep large sums of money in their factories
  • Country’s president reassured China’s ambassador about security after deploying extra police and soldiers to industrial estates
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 7:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 7:05am

The gang was armed with guns and machetes for their late-night heist.

It was almost 2am and the target was a soft one: a Chinese-run quarry in Nambi, a Ugandan village about 50km from the country’s capital Kampala.

Inside the quarry compound Chinese managers slept as four local security guards outside kept watch. But the guards were powerless – or unwilling – to stop what was about happen.

“The armed thugs grabbed the guards and tied them up with rope before attacking the building in which the Chinese live,” said Savana Region Police spokesman Paul Kangave of the November 9 robbery. “They took money, computers and other valuables.”

The gang escaped with about 35 million Uganda shillings (US$9,400) after threatening the Chinese workers at gunpoint.

The robbery at the Bangcheng Investments quarry company was not an isolated one. In the last two months, local media have reported almost a dozen attacks on Chinese-owned businesses, mostly in central Uganda, with armed robbers grabbing cash and other valuables.

The assaults have sent a chill though Uganda’s Chinese investor community, who tend to keep large sums of money in their factories.

The robberies have also raised fears among Chinese they were seen as easy prey in a country where many are successful traders and Chinese companies build motorways and hydroelectric dams.

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“Our lives are under threat, we live in fear,” a Bangcheng Investments manager surnamed Zhang told South China Morning Post.

This month an official from an association of Chinese-owned businesses in Uganda said some considered leaving the country because of insecurity.

Among other recent robbery targets was CCLE Rubber Company in Mukono District in October. Three Chinese workers were injured in that incident, local media reported.

Days later in the same district, machete-wielding thieves targeted Hongland Ltd, stealing significant sums of cash.

At Sino Plywood Ltd, thieves stole money and a car, but were caught later, police said.

It is unclear whether the robberies were carried out by one or more gangs.

Police have said the criminals could have been helped by locals who work for the Chinese companies, including security guards.

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A Chinese national who spoke to the Daily Monitor, a local paper, suggested some attacks may have been orchestrated by bigger investors who want to drive smaller ones out.

Bangcheng Investments employs 15 Chinese and over 100 Ugandans, and is among dozens of medium-to-large Chinese firms that have set up business in Uganda in recent years.

“Business is OK,” said Zhang, who was at the quarry the night of the armed assault. “We would be all right if it weren’t for the thieves. I want the [Ugandan] government to come to our rescue.”

The government has since announced new security measures. Ugandan troops will be deployed to Chinese industrial estates and police will guard factories in other areas.

“Security forces, the military inclusive, will provide security … We hold them dearly because of the employment opportunities they offer,” Ugandan military spokesman Richard Karemire said earlier this month, referring to Chinese investors.

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That pledge came after Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni reassured China’s ambassador Zheng Zhuqiang about the security situation.

“I am not very worried about this crime. I know we shall solve it,” Xinhua quoted Museveni as saying.

Security officials have arrested several suspects, including some allegedly involved in recent armed robberies.

But they are still hunting the leaders of a gang known as “The Peoples Agency”, which has been sending threatening letters to businesses including Chinese investors, demanding they pay money or be killed.

Meanwhile, managers at Bangcheng Investments have taken security matters into their own hands.

“We are constructing a wall around our premises,” company director Li Kang said. “We have also hired more guards but unfortunately they are not professional.”