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Guangzhou - little Africa: largest African community in Asia

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

11-06-2015 16:03 BJT

By Miroslav Atanasov, Ph.D., Renmin University of China

I visited Guangzhou's Xiaobei district, popularly-known as  "Little Africa,"   where many Africans congregate at the Elephant Mall, as well as other African shops at the Canaan Clothing Market. 

Guangzhou Africans are the largest African community in Asia. They began arriving in the late 1990s when China's economy was growing and they foresaw opportunity, selected Guangzhou because of its proximity to Chinese factories and the relative ease of shipping goods from there.

The cost of living there is cheaper than in Hong Kong. Accordingly, they made it a new major international trading outpost, from where goods can be shipped all over the world, especially to Africa.  

The number of Africans in Guangzhou is hard to estimate as the group is constantly in motion. Figures are given as high as 20,000 who stay for six months or more at a time. The number of African visitors is over 200,000 per year.

This export expansion has attracted numerous African restaurants, shipping companies, intermediaries, and hair-saloons. African business people bring African laborers and service staff to the city.

Most Africans start work at noon. Even though their language proficiency is often limited, their trading skills have impressed locals. According to some Chinese traders, Africans are the most practical business people, very different from Europeans, Americans, and Arabs.

They do not care about brand names, and love to bargain. Some Chinese have become impatient and biased toward them, but business is flourishing and African demand for cheaper goods has ushered in a new era of prosperity for Guangdong Region's factories.

Guangzhou offers relative ease for foreigners to open shops. They employ Chinese workers who assist in their negotiations with both, local authorities and processing factories.

However, many Chinese employees have learnt business basics from the Congolese, Kenyans, or Ugandans, and they have move on to set up their own shops, competing with their former employers. This has lowered prices on merchandise and slowed down business for Africans in the last 3 years.

This is how the system works. An African couple with clothing shops in their country comes to Guangzhou. Their fellow African friend meets them at the airport, takes them to a hotel, and later to the wholesale markets.

After their shopping excursion is complete, they go to the freight forwarder who processes their paperwork and delivers the shipment. During their stay they can eat at an African restaurant for 50 RMB per plate; the lady makes her hair at an African beauty salon for about 200 RMB.

They pay the local African guide a wage, 300 RMB per day. Since their purchased goods are not available domestically, they get quickly purchased upon arrival in Africa. 

Traveling to Africa this summer on Kenya Airways' direct flight between Guangzhou and Nairobi, I met many commuting traders and sat near three Liberian women who spent a month in Guangzhou collecting goods to fill a container. They were on their way back to Monrovia to await shipment. 

Nelson, a Nigerian man, came to Guangzhou with a few thousand yuan to fill up two big suitcases of goods. The money for his ticket and merchandise were pooled together by his family. He had to stumble though language barriers and misunderstandings with sellers. However, if he succeeded, he could help his poor family back home and raise his social status.

Birabwa Milly from Uganda, a student at the International Business at Guangdong Polytechnic Normal University since 2012, believes China offers excellent opportunities for Africans to enjoy a better life and future.

On the Sunday afternoon English Mass at Shishi Catholic Church, attended by over 1000 black people - 80% of the congregation, they feel likes its Africa here. Many African Protestant groups worship in French and/or English, serving the spiritual needs of their fellowship. 

Since Africans experience culture shock and face various problems upon arrival, the city government established in 2012 the Dengfeng Community Center to assist their transition. Around 100 Africans go there weekly for Chinese lessons, football games and guitar lessons, while the center provides free medical check-ups.

This new trading colony, as an example of the low-end globalization, has also attracted scholarly research. Says Gordon Mathews, anthropology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong: "They’re not here to learn Chinese culture. They're here to make money and they can make a lot of money if they have some common sense."

( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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