A Behind the Scenes View of the Chinese in Africa

For most outsiders, the Chinese operations in Africa run largely as an opaque mystery.  Seemingly every Western book or in-depth news article on the subject features the same complaint of not receiving any help from either Chinese officials or businesses there about how the mechanics of their investments in the region function.   Basic questions like how are factories acquired or what kind of support do Chinese embassies offer local businesses in the region largely go unanswered.

The Chinese in AfricaFor some perspective on these issues, I came across a fascinating bulletin board site (BBS) that offers remarkable insights into the inner-workings of Chinese business on the continent: www.chineseinafrica.com/bbs/ The site is exclusively in Chinese, so for the benefit of CTP’s English-only readers, here are some highlights of recent entries:

http://www.chineseinafrica.com/bbs/viewthread.php?tid=6400&extra=page%3D1

非洲中国商人眼中的中国使馆

How Chinese Businesses in Africa see the

Chinese Embassy

One entry submitted by a writer with the handle “Old African Trader” posts what appears to be an open letter to the Chinese government appealing on behalf of business leaders for more help from Chinese embassies on the continent.   The posts starts by saying how much pride there is seeing the Chinese flag rise over Africa and the emergence of China as a global power.  However, he goes on to sharply criticize the government for its lack of support of small businesses operating in Africa:

although Chinese African exchanges are deepening and broadening and more investors are coming to Africa, and everyone can say that those in Africa live a lonely, solitary life devoted to work and the embassy offers almost no help to these businesses”

随着中非交流的深入和推广,一批批商人来到非洲投资,大家可以说都是在非洲孤独的生活工作着,在生意上似乎很少有得到使馆帮助的。

If this writer is accurate, it offers a fascinating insight into the limitations of the “public-private partnership” that so many outside observers take for granted when evaluating Chinese investments in Africa.  On several occasions in Kinshasa and elsewhere, U.S. diplomats expressed their frustration that Chinese businesses had an unfair business advantage over American companies because of the close diplomatic/corporate relationship that allegedly exists among Chinese enterprises investing in Africa.  Yet this open letter exposes that there are limits to the Chinese government’s support of businesses.  Where Chinese embassies draw the line on what business to support is hard to know, it’s obvious that major State Owned Enterprise (SOE) multinationals operating mining and telecommunications concessions among other deals in places the DRC are very likely getting a lot of support from the embassy whereas medium and small investors, as the writer appears to represent, may not be getting very much assistance.

http://www.chineseinafrica.com/bbs/viewthread.php?tid=17011&sid=Zd9phz

牙膏厂寻求非洲贸易伙伴

Toothpaste Factory Seeks African Trade Partner

牙膏外盒If you are interested in importing “Angola” brand toothpaste to Africa, then this post will be of interest. The author of this post appears to be seeking business partners in Africa to import this toothpaste.  What’s most interesting about this post is the advertised price of the toothpaste at just 1.2 RMB per unit.  This sheds some light on China’s low-cost export strategy that we have been discussing on CTP.  At just 1.2 RMB per unit, this toothpaste is affordable for a wide-spectrum of consumers at the lowest end of the economic spectrum.

http://www.chineseinafrica.com/bbs/viewthread.php?tid=6201&sid=Zd9phz

多哥SINOCAR汽车销售有限公司修理厂致多哥华人朋友!

Togo Sinocar Auto Sales and Repair

[Welcomes/Greets] Togo-based Chinese Friends

togo sinocarIf you happen to live in the small West African country of Togo and want to either purchase a Chinese-made vehicle or get your “Great Wall” car repaired, then Togo Sinocar is the place to go.  The author of this post, seemingly the owner or manager of Togo Sinocar, explains how this venture is the first Chinese auto sales and repair company in the country.  Togo Sinocar has 10 employees and two Chinese engineers to serve the community.  What’s most interesting here is the range of services they offer. In the U.S. or Europe, an auto repair or sales dealer does just that, whereas with Togo Sinocar, the list of services is much broader. In addition to emergency tow services they’ll also help you secure either your Togo or international drivers licenses as well.

There are hundreds of other posts on this BBS that are worthy of exploration, some very personal about finding lost relatives who went to Africa and those searching for love in Africa.   We’ll bring you more posts in the coming weeks as this site offers a truly unique view into Chinese life on the continent that is hard to come by even among those living there.

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