Saturday, August 18, 2007

China goes to Africa

LILONGWE, Malawi: When Yang Jie left home at 18, he was doing what people from China's hardscrabble Fujian Province have done for generations: emigrating in search of a better living overseas.

What set him apart was his destination. Instead of the traditional adopted homelands in North America and Europe, where Fujian people have settled by the hundreds of thousands, he chose southern Africa, making his way to this small, landlocked country where Stanley and Livingstone's legendary meeting occurred.

"Before I left China," said Yang, now 25, "I thought Africa was all one big desert," a place forever bathed in terrible heat. So he figured ice cream would naturally be in high demand, and with money pooled from relatives and friends, created his own factory. Malawi's climate, in fact, is subtropical, but that has not stopped his ice cream company from becoming the country's biggest.

Stories like this have become legion across Africa over the last five years or so, as hundreds of thousands of Chinese have discovered the continent, setting off to do business in a part of the world that had been terra incognita for their compatriots. The Xinhua press agency recently estimated there were at least 750,000 Chinese working or living for extended periods on the continent, a reflection of burgeoning economic ties between China and Africa that reached $55 billion in trade in 2006, compared with less than $10 million a generation earlier.

Even when Yang arrived here in 2001, he said he could go weeks without encountering another traveler from his homeland. But as surely as his investments in the country have prospered, he said, an increasingly large community of Chinese migrants has taken root, running everything from small factories to health care clinics and trading companies.

During the previous wave of Chinese interest in Africa in the 1960s and 70s, an era of radical socialism and proclaimed third world solidarity, European and American companies held sway over economies across most of the continent. Here and there, though, the Chinese made their presence felt, often as a curious sight: drably dressed, state-run work brigades that built stadiums, railroads and highways, often crushing rocks and performing other heavy labor by hand. Today, in many of the countries the new Chinese emigrants have settled in, like Chad, Chinese-owned pharmacies, massage parlors and restaurants serving a variety of regional Chinese cuisines can be found; the Western presence, once dominant, has steadily dwindled, and essentially consists nowadays of relief experts working with international agencies or oil workers, living behind high walls in heavily guarded enclaves.

At first, this new Chinese exodus was driven largely by word of mouth, as pioneers like Yang relayed news back home of abundant opportunities in a part of the world where many economies lay undeveloped or in ruins, and where even in the richer countries many things taken for granted in the developed world awaited builders and investors.

Conditions like these often deter Western investors, but for many budding Chinese entrepreneurs, Africa's emerging economies are inviting precisely because they seem small and accessible. Competition is often weak or nonexistent, and for African customers, the low price of many Chinese goods and services make them more affordable than their Western counterparts.

You Xianwen sold his pipe-laying business in Chengdu this year to move to Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, to join a startup company with a Chinese partner he had previously only met online.

"Back where I come from we are pretty independent people," said You, 55. "My brothers and sisters all supported my decision to come here. In fact, they say that if things really work out for me, they would like to move to Africa, too."

You said that before settling on Ethiopia, he had considered other African countries, including Zambia. "Luckily I didn't decide to go there," he said, explaining that he had been frightened by the recent anti-Chinese protests in that country.

His new business, ABC Bioenergy, builds devices that generate combustible gas from ordinary refuse, providing what You says would be an affordable alternative source of energy in a country where electricity supplies are erratic and prices high.

Read the rest here:

IHT: Chinese Flocking to Africa

Africa a source of fascination for China since the Ming Dynasty

(Hopefully, things will improve for Africa. But the continuation of the upheavals we saw in the 60s -80s are still continuing - corrupt governments, inefficient bureaucracies,  nepotism, cronyism, etc.. Who can also forget that thousands of South Asian Indians who had been in Africa for generations - and were good businessmen -were ruthlessly persecuted by the blacks.)

1 comment:

Shirley Matsuda said...

Yeap. Conclusion speaks for the whole story in this article.