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China in Africa: The Real Story

The lonely world of Chinese Traders in Africa

Deborah Brautigam

Researcher (me) interviewing Chinese trader
The Brenthurst Foundation in South Africa has just published a sensitive, detailed and eye-opening study by Terence McNamee (with others) of more than 200 Chinese traders in several South African countries: "Africa in Their Words: A Study of Chinese Traders in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zambia and Angola." It's also beautifully written!

The study's main points match my own research and experience, particularly the bitter belief by nearly all small traders and "China shop" owners that the Chinese government does nothing for them. As a trader in the Kariakoo market in Dar Es Salaam told me: "The Chinese government helps the Tanzanians. It doesn't help me." Highly recommended.

I'm sorry the researchers apparently never saw the very good paper by my former student Rachel Laribee, who did similar research in South Africa with Chinese shop keepers, "The China Shop Phenomenon: Trade Supply within the Chinese Diaspora in South Africa." Rachel pointed out how competitive the different China shops were with each other, not just with African shops. There was no "China, Inc." in her study, either.

Another hat tip to Yoon Park.