LILONGWE, Malawi — When Yang Jie left home at 18, he was doing what people from China’s hardscrabble Fujian Province have done for generations: emigrating in search of a better living overseas.
What set him apart was his destination. Instead of the traditional adopted homelands like the United States and Europe, where Fujian people have settled by the hundreds of thousands, he chose this small, landlocked country in southern Africa.
“Before I left China,” said Mr. Yang, now 25, “I thought Africa was all one big desert.” So he figured that ice cream would be in high demand, and with money pooled from relatives and friends, he created his own factory at the edge of Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. The climate is in fact subtropical, but that has not stopped his ice cream company from becoming the country’s biggest.
Stories like this have become legion across Africa in the past five years or so, as hundreds of thousands of Chinese have discovered the continent, setting off to do business in a part of the world that had been terra incognita. The Xinhua News Agency recently estimated that at least 750,000 Chinese were working or living for extended periods on the continent, a reflection of deepening economic ties between China and Africa that reached $55 billion in trade in 2006, compared with less than $10 million a generation earlier.
Even when Mr. Yang arrived here in 2001, he said, he could go weeks without encountering another traveler from his homeland. But as surely as his investments in the country have prospered, he said, an increasingly large community of Chinese migrants has taken root, and now runs everything from small factories to health care clinics and trading companies.
During the previous wave of Chinese interest in Africa in the 1960s and ’70s, an era of radical socialism and proclaimed third-world solidarity, European and American companies held sway over economies in most of the continent. Here and there, though, the Chinese made their presence felt, often in drably dressed, state-run work brigades that built stadiums, railroads and highways, crushing rocks and doing other labor by hand.
Today, in many of the countries where the new Chinese emigrants have settled, like Chad, Chinese-owned pharmacies, massage parlors and restaurants serving a variety of regional Chinese cuisines can be found; the Western presence, once dominant, has steadily dwindled, and essentially consists nowadays of relief experts working international agencies or oil workers, living behind high walls in heavily guarded enclaves.
I read an interesting series of articles in Forbes about a month ago about all the business opportunities in Africa, and how it was an untapped market just waiting to explode.
I believe this article in the New York Times further illustrates that, along with pointing out all the new investment that China has been making all throughout the continent of Africa. One does wonder how that will ultimately benefit the Africans, but I do appreciate those articles and this one in showing that Africa isn't just some big negative; that there is a lot of positive to be done there.
New Power in Africa