Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Africans making it big in China

HONG KONG : From a windowless room in a dilapidated Hong Kong high-rise, Ali Diallo sells Chinese electronics to retailers across Africa.

The modest surroundings belie the multi-million dollar business the  West African trader has built in the five years since he moved to the city.
The 39-year-old from Guinea is part of a growing number of African  entrepreneurs thriving in southern China, as trade between the world’s  second-largest economy and fastest-growing continent soars.
Sitting in a small room cluttered with cardboard boxes destined for  Nigeria, Diallo welcomes the latest delivery of Chinese-made mobile phones to  his office in Chungking Mansions — a bustling labyrinth better known for  budget hotels and no-frills restaurants. 
The building is also the go-to place in Hong Kong for African buyers in  search of cheap electronics, with phones selling from around $8 each. 
“In China there are opportunities for people who can start from scratch and  build up their own business. Obviously not in one day but through hard work and  networking you can do it,” says the trader, whose company sees an annual  turnover of $11 million a year through the sale of phones and tablets alone.
Trade between China and Africa hit new highs of nearly $200 billion last  year, according to official Chinese data, driven by Chinese industry’s appetite  for African raw materials. 
The African traders in southern China are the flipside of this deepening  relationship. Entrepreneurs like Diallo have made Chungking Mansions one of the  most important passageways for Chinese gadgets air-freighted to Africa. 
According to Gordon Mathews, professor of anthropology at the Chinese  University of Hong Kong, up to a fifth of all mobiles in Africa have passed  through the building’s corridors in recent years.
But while this 17-storey hive is the storefront, the engines behind this  trade lie in the industrial heartland of neighbouring Guangdong province in  southern China.
This mecca for low-cost manufacturing has drawn entrepreneurs from across  Africa, creating one of the largest black communities in Asia. 
A pivotal role    
In the provincial capital Guangzhou, at least 20,000 Africans live in the  city, research from local Sun Yat-sen University shows.
Though their number is a fraction of the million Chinese now living in  Africa, these migrants are playing a pivotal role in their new home.
“Traders bring with them vast skills and capital, supporting large amounts  of Chinese manufacturers... If all the African traders were to vanish it would  have an enormous effect on the south China economy and business people realise  this rather strongly,” says Mathews.
Many traders work in and around a downtown neighbourhood dubbed “Little  Africa”, or more insensitively “Chocolate City” by the local media. Along its  winding central alley, a restaurant serves Tilapia with fufu — a staple  Congolese meal of fried fish and cassava — as well as traditional Chinese  fried rice and steamed fish.
A few kilometres away at Canaan Export Clothes Trading Centre, a vast  complex where Igbo is spoken as often as the local Cantonese language, Lamine  Ibrahim loads thousands of jeans into bags destined for Africa.
He is one of several hundred Africans who has forged a deeper connection to  the city by marrying a local Chinese woman — a relationship founded on love  but also economic prudence.
“For (communication) with the Chinese people... she can do. I buy my car,  she is there, I open my own factory, she is there. So if I have no wife it’s  not easy,” says the Muslim trader from Guinea in broken English. 
Five months ago Ibrahim and his wife Choi Zoung-mai — renamed Maryam Barry  after converting to Islam — opened their first factory hiring 43 Chinese  workers. With this latest investment they hope to secure a bright future for  their four-year-old son who speaks fluent Mandarin as well as French, English  and Fula.
Prejudices can run high    
While there are several success stories, not all African entrepreneurs make  it in China — for some rising costs and intense competition make it difficult  to stay afloat. But this migrant community, which began forming in Guangzhou in  the 1990s, has built a network of groups to support each other’s ambitions.
This is vividly apparent in the handful of African Pentecostal churches  that have sprung up across the city. Tucked away on the ninth floor of a  building behind Guangzhou railway station, 150 worshippers crowd into Royal  Victory Church.
“Our prayer is that you will prosper,” the pastor preaches to cries of  agreement from a mostly male congregation drawn from Nigeria, Cameroon and  Ghana.
The African entrepreneurs who are flourishing in Guangzhou are succeeding  where many foreigners fail. Not only are they navigating the notorious Chinese  bureaucracy but at times overt racism in a country where prejudices can run  high.
This can range from mild snubs from taxi drivers who refuse to pick up  black customers to more serious accusations of traders being unfairly targeted  by police when they conduct raids for illegal immigrants.
Even so others report good relations with the Chinese. “Many traders feel  much more comfortable working in China than they do in Europe,” says Roberto  Castillo, a Lingnan University researcher in Guangzhou.
Ojukwu Emma, president of the local Nigerian community, says the main  problem for Africans trading in China are the increasing clampdowns on visas. 
He says it is getting harder for African residents in the city to renew visas,  or for those travelling back and forth to gain re-entry.
“You cannot allow foreigners to come in and not give the foreigner  confidence to stay. Once you are out to the world, you must be open,” says the  businessman who has lived in the city for 16 years.
But for now booming Sino-African trade continues to draw new waves of  African entrepreneurs, drawn to the shores of Guangzhou in search of the  Chinese dream.-- AFP

Source: New Straits Times

No comments:

Post a Comment