Some Kenyan church leaders are backing protests against the recent arrival of Chinese businesspeople in the east African country, while others urge Africans to welcome Asians in the spirit of the “global village.”

About 500 small business owners protested Aug. 16 in central Nairobi, chanting “Chinese go home.” The Kenyans were reacting to the recent arrival of Chinese vendors on city streets as well as in open air markets, selling all kinds of goods from electronics to imported onions, according to one protestor, Stephen Kagiri.

One church leader backed the protestors. “We need to dialogue on the coming of the Chinese ... I don’t appreciate them entering into retailing. They are denying our people opportunities. They have also entered into construction of houses. I think their activities will leave us poorer,” said the Rev. David Gathanju, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.

However, the Rev. Wellington Mutiso, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, said in the context of the globalized world people are free to move, live and work anywhere.

Referring to projects completed by Chinese construction companies, he said, “We need to open for the Chinese. They have helped improve our infrastructure and I think we need to reciprocate,” said Mutiso. “Their presence here has also brought down prices of goods. From an evangelical perspective, they have also come nearer and we hope we can win them over with the gospel.”

The Chinese presence in Africa has been a question of debate among scholars with many highlighting a questionable human rights record at home.

“I wish there were more demonstrations in Kenya to express satisfaction rather than dissatisfaction. The word ‘demonstration’ has come to be associated with dissatisfaction. But there should also be more public expressions of satisfaction for things well done,” said Professor Jesse Mugambi, a religious scholar at the University of Nairobi, commenting on the protest.