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A Nigerian’s Guide to Manufacturing in China

A sizable portion of the 200+ billion dollars in China-Africa trade is the stuff that fills store shelves and market stalls across the continent. Clothes, electronics, cars, pots & pans, glasses and pretty much everything else that one can imagine is made in China and shipped to Africa. While these low-cost imports give consumers, many who have limited disposable income, once unimaginable choice, a lot of shoppers also complain that many of those products are often of such low quality that they quickly fall apart.

Consumers aren’t the only ones unhappy with the flood of cheap Chinese imported goods that are now pervasive across the continent. African manufacturers complain bitterly that they can’t match the so-called “China Price” that is often so low it forces local competitors to trim profit margins, cut staff or even go out of business. Textile producers are among those suffering the most. 

One after another, apparel makers in northern Nigeria’s Kano state are closing shop. The region was once home to a thriving textile sector but with the advent globalization and the arrival of Chinese competitors, Kano’s manufacturers couldn’t compete. Unions and other Nigerian stakeholders put much of the blame for the demise of the region’s textile sector on the Chinese. But it’s not quite that simple.

“In Kano, angry protesters in the streets blame widespread joblessness on China, which is manufacturing African fabric designs in shimmering hues more cheaply than Nigeria. Employment in Nigeria’s textile and apparel sector has plummeted to 20,000 people, from 600,000 two decades ago.” — NY Times Reporters Keith Bradsher & Adam Nossiter

Sure, those textiles and countless other products are all made in Chinese factories at super low prices. That much is true. Where it gets confusing, though, is how all that stuff makes its way to Africa, and in many instances it’s not Chinese traders importing goods into Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa among other places but Africans themselves.

Thousands of Africans live in China’s manufacturing hubs like Guangzhou and Yiwu, scrambling to fill shipping containers with all those products that ultimately find their way to store shelves and market stalls throughout Africa. It’s hard work. After all, China is not an easy place to do business, where middle-men battle ferociously over margins that are often measured in pennies not dollars. The language and cultural barriers between African traders and Chinese manufacturers are equally daunting. “If you don’t know what you’re doing in China, it’s very easy to lose a lot of money here,” said a trader from Ghana who asked to remain anonymous.

 
One of the thousands of Chinese textile factories that produce some of the apparel that now floods African markets.

Nigerian Jideofor Ahaneku has pretty much seen it all when it comes to Chinese manufacturing and trade with Africa. The young entrepreneur came to China in 2014 to pursue an MBA at Nankai University in the eastern Chinese city of Tianjin. After graduation, he launched his own online business, Savannah & Joy, that sells Chinese goods to buyers in the U.K. and back home in Nigeria. But to get the lowest possible price, he had to cut out the middlemen and go to the factories himself to build relationships with the plant bosses. Since he started, Jideofor has visited almost thirty factories across China, picking up valuable insights along the way on how to source goods in China.

Show Notes:

About Jideofor Ahaneku:

Jideofor AhanekuI graduated from Nankai University Tianjin, one of China’s premier colleges, with an MBA in 2014. His thesis focused on effective ways to attract foreign direct Investments (FDI) into Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on the growing Sino – Africa partnership. He is multi-lingual, I speak English, Ibo, Pidgin and Chinese language. Over the last ten years, Jideofor has worked extensively in customer service and telecommunications and is now an independent business consultant/quality control officer for foreign companies and individuals doing business with Chinese companies.

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