March 15, 2009

Cheap Chinese goods, commerce in Congo

Every few months we encounter some complain about cheap Chinese imports destroying local economies. I have seen in Burma how such cheap imports actually encourage small traders and sellers.

Tim Butcher writing in his book Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart” talks about cheap Chinese imports facilitating local commerce in Kasongo, Western Democratic Republic of Congo.

We continued through the market. Under a tree a young boy was selling water pots made from red, earthy clay. And against the ruins of a building a woman had hung out some coloured cotton cloth for sale as wraps for women. I asked her where the cloth came from and she told me a story showing that even in a weak economy like the Congo’s, the power of globalisation can still be felt.

The best cloth used to come from Britain and Holland, a long time ago, maybe even a hundred years ago, but it became too expensive. Material from China is the cheapest now. It is not the same quality as the old material, but people buy what they can afford and that means the cheapest is best. So this material you see today has come to Africa by God only knows what route. It arrives in Kalemie somehow and from there people bring it all the way here by bicycle.

I remembered the bike traders I had seen all along the 500-kilometre motorbike route I had just completed from Kalemie. It might beat feebly here in the Congo, but the free market is still strong enough to motivate people to drag bicycles laden with Chinese cloth for vast distances through the tropical bush, to earn a living.

Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart


Books Africa


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