Mariam Namata’s face was dappled with sweat when she arrived for a job interview at Sunshine Foods, a company that claimed to be Uganda’s first homemade chips manufacturer. It was October 2015, a fierce summer month in the country’s capital, Kampala, and she was nervous. The company’s Chinese boss sat where he conducted most of his business, at one end of a row of four chairs that had been welded together, near a trash can that contained cigarette stubs.
Namata, a 24-year-old woman with a delicate nose and bleached curls, took the seat next to him and introduced herself in Mandarin. She explained that she had studied international finance at Shenyang University, in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning, and asked if he had grown used to eating matoke, an East African dish of steamed green bananas.