The harsh life of Chinese men and women held in Nairobi prison – PHOTOS
The most Luo Xongxu knew about Kenya before flying in from China was its diverse wildlife and massive infrastructure projects funded by Chinese money.
But, for the last 18 months, he has seen few animals and infrastructure except pesky insects and the walls of a century- old cramped windowless cell in Block L at Nairobi’s Industrial Area Remand Prison.
The 28-year-old is among 76 people from China and Taiwan who were arrested after fire broke out in a house in the city’s plush Runda estate in December 2014 and police discovered a network of telecommunications equipment which raised suspicions about the activities that were taking place at the house.
Life has not been easy since the arrest, and he says he has fallen sick more times in the Kenyan remand prison than in his entire life.
“We are not used to the Kenyan weather and prison is not the best place to acclimatise. Most of us fall sick at least once every week,” he says through an interpreter.
The language barrier and “strange” food further enhance their sense of isolation.
“The mosquitoes are determined to keep you awake. Sio poa sana (it is not too comfortable). It is really difficult to communicate but we are learning kidogo (a little),” he says with a twist of the little sheng he has learnt to speak while in prison.
As they await their date with destiny, the Chinese remandees spend their days chatting and playing cards in between meals of ugali, githeri, rice, sukuma wiki, beans and occasionally meat like the rest of the inmates.
Last year, the Sunday Nation reported how some of them were said to be ordering special meals, and luxuries like cigarettes, but our recent visit found no sign of such extravagance.
Mr Luo left behind his wife and a one-year-old son in the Chinese city of Zigong, Sichuan Province, and came to Kenya in September 2014 with huge expectations.
His home city, known for its salt production, was once among the wealthiest in the country but its economy has become less vibrant over the years despite massive industrialisation of the Asian giant.
Perhaps that is why Mr Luo jumped at the opportunity to come to Kenya when he saw an advertisement on a pole asking for people willing to work in Africa.
“The flier said that on top of a $800 (Sh81,000) monthly salary, the job offer included airfare and accommodation,” he says.
Mr Luo studied machine automation after high school. But he could only secure work as a driver, cook and as a casual labourer earning $300 (Sh30,000) per month to support his young family.
“According to Chinese living standards, $300 (Sh30,000) is too little and I knew if I made the adventure to Kenya that would be $500 (Sh50,000) more per month,” he says.
On arrival, he claims a Kenyan driver picked him up and others in the group at the airport and took them to a house in Runda where they were to await further instructions.
They would be arrested two months later, setting off a chain of events that have created a diplomatic row between Kenya, China and Taiwan.
The 76 were charged with running a telecommunications system without a licence, conspiring to commit a felony and engaging in organised criminal activity. If found guilty on June 6 when a ruling is expected to be issued, they could spend 15 years in prison.
Mr Luo’s account leaves lingering questions: Were some of those arrested victims of human trafficking? Were all those found in the Runda house aware of the alleged illegal activities going on at the house or were some completely in the dark?
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