Editor’s Note: The headline of this article has been corrected to state that Zambia, not Malawi, police arrested the Chinese national.
A Chinese national accused of exploiting children in Malawi by making them appear in racist videos for half a dollar a day is now under police custody.
Lu Ke, who went missing after a BBC Africa Eye documentary exposed his activities, was arrested in the neighboring country of Zambia, Malawian authorities confirmed.
Lu Ke sparked outrage in Malawi after the documentary revealed that he had paid local children to perform in his videos, which he sold for up to $70 on Chinese social media. He reportedly made 380 videos a day, earning approximately 77 million kwacha (approximately $75,300).
In one of his alleged videos, children in matching shirts are seen chanting phrases such as “I am a Black monster” and “My IQ is low” in Chinese. One child alleged that Lu Ke, whom they referred to as Susu, would beat them if they did not obey his orders.
Lu Ke admitted that he made the video in question before immediately backpedaling. He argued that he was making videos to spread Chinese culture to the local community.
The ensuing outrage triggered calls for Malawian authorities to track down Chinese nationals residing illegally in the country. Sylvester Namiwa, executive director for the Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI), a non-government organization, said the move would “verify if needed what they are doing in the country is tallying with the purpose of their coming into the country.”
Malawian police launched an investigation into Lu Ke’s activities last week, but they were unable to find him. On Monday, Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services spokesman Pasqually Zulu confirmed that he was arrested in the Zambian town of Chipata.
The Chinese Embassy in Malawi responded to the controversy by saying it condemns racism “in any form, by anyone or happening anywhere.” The consulate added that they will “closely work with the Malawi side and see to it that this unfortunate issue be properly addressed.”
Meanwhile, Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would engage its Chinese counterparts. Malawi and China established diplomatic relations in 2008.
“We are trying to manage whatever aspect of this that involves us working with the Chinese government. For the rest of the other aspects, those are internal issues that are being handled by internal state organs,” Ministry spokesperson John Kabaghe said.
Malawi is expected to seek Lu Ke’s extradition. “We want him to stand trial in Malawi,” police spokesman Harry Namwaza said.