Debate rages over Chinese billboard in Nairobi


Debate rages over Chinese billboard in Nairobi

In Summary

  • A picture of a Chinese billboard put up in Nairobi has elicited sharp reactions.
  • Written purely in Chinese, the signage has left Kenyans wondering why it was not translated to the country's two official languages: English and Kiswahili.
  • It only indicates a Kenyan phone number at the bottom.

A picture of a Chinese billboard put up in Nairobi has elicited sharp reactions.

Written purely in Chinese, the signage has left Kenyans wondering why it was not translated to the country’s two official languages; English and Kiswahili.

It only indicates a Kenyan phone number at the bottom. A local daily on Tuesday evening reported that the billboard has since been vandalised after causing an uproar among Nairobi residents.

Ms. Renee Ngamau, a radio-show host who posted a picture of the billboard on her Twitter page said:

“The official languages in Kenya are English and Kiswahili! Period! And we have 42 other local languages. Foreign language poster Directed solely at foreigners to the exclusion of locals??!! Seriously??!!! #PullItDown and all others like it anywhere in public spaces.”

“A billboard is a public announcement aimed at the majority of the general population in a given area. Thus, you will find HIV billboards in local languages in the places the specific language speakers are the majority. This billboard fails in its basic functionality. #PullItDown” she added.

Another tweet reportedly from the Motorists Association of Kenya also criticised the advertisement saying it raises a lot of questions about the message and its intended recipients.

Some have called on Nairobi County Governor Mike Sonko to explain how the billboard was approved.

“@MikeSonko do you mind translating to Nairobians what this Chinese billboards are saying? Or is it a congratulatory message for the handshake between President @UKenyatta and @RailaOdinga ?” Justus Walobwa posed.

Interestingly, there are some Kenyans who did not see anything wrong with the language used on the billboard.

According to one Robert Njogu, the advertisement is targeting Chinese residents who live in the area. “I am sorry to say this a case of the racism/xenophobic card you are playing here,” he said in response to Renee’s tweet.

Gakii Gituma expressed similar sentiments saying: “A client is free to use whichever mode of advertising as well as the language depending on their target audience. So YES , their audience understands the language on the billboard hence their objective is achieved. You’re unfamiliar with the language, you ain’t their audience.”

Joy Doreen Biira, a communications advisor at the Mining Ministry was also of the opinion that the billboard achieved its intended purpose.

“Globalization I suppose has come with its ups and downs. With it we are expected to go with the flow of accommodating other languages no matter how foreign in the hope there are those who can read it (in this case Mandarin),” she wrote on Twitter.

The Nairobi County Government and the outdoor advertising company behind the billboard are yet to issue any statement.

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Story By Rachel Ombaka
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