Monday, February 07, 2011

1 million Chinese living and working in Africa

There are around one million Chinese living and working in Africa. The number of Chinese nationals living in the continent has grown exponentially since 1990 when it was only 100,000.

The Chinese leave for Africa mostly at the request of employers. Some state owned businesses are involved in the infrastructure for land exchanges between China and African governments. Other people leave for Africa because they see economic opportunity for themselves, and a few leave just for the slower pace of life.

From the Guardian, writer Xan Rice has an outstanding article that profiles some of the Chinese making a living in Africa.

In December 1999, a 24-year-old Chinese man called Zhang Hao left behind the freezing winter of his native Shenyang city to fly to Uganda. Zhang was nervous. He spoke no English. The journey was not even his idea, but that of his father, who had worked in Uganda a few years before on a fishing project involving the Chinese government.

"If you want to start something – and be the boss – Africa is the place to do it," Zhang's father had told him when he asked for business advice.

Zhang had quit university to travel to east Africa, but he did not need a degree to spot easy money-making opportunities as soon as he set foot in Kampala: goods that were available cheaply in every city in China were either expensive here, or unavailable. He started by importing shoes. Then schoolbags. Then fishing nets, nails and bicycles.

"I imported everything. At that time they needed everything!" recalls Zhang, an affable man with rimless glasses.

His business grew quickly; he made money and local friends. But after a few years he grew weary of the long buying trips to China. So he and his wife bought a large plot of land in Kampala. On it they constructed a spectacular Chinese-Korean restaurant, with private dining areas, karaoke rooms and a giant 500-seat dining hall. To the side of the restaurant they built a bedroom, which became their home. The business prospered, and soon he started additional enterprises including a bakery, a firm selling flat-screen televisions and a security company.

"Chinese don't think, they just try without studying the market too much. Otherwise, the chance is gone," he says.

At the site of each new enterprise, Zhang built a room for his family – he had a son in 2007 – to sleep in. They literally live at work.

It has paid off. Zhang says he is now the biggest Chinese employer in the country, with 1,200 local staff. He has even been offered a Ugandan passport, but has refused, just as he has declined to take an English first name.

"I am Chinese, and we need to build a Chinese name here – to let people know that our country is not like before. We are richer, catching up the world."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

how did he get a ugandan residence visa to start up his business in the first place?