African Trade Hub in China Brings Mutual Profits

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


South-South trade is the great economic success story of the past decade. World Trade Organization (WTO) ( figures show South-South trade accounted for 16.4 percent of the US $14 trillion in total world exports in 2007, up from 11.5 percent of the total in 2000. While the global economic crisis has slowed things down, the overall trend is firmly established.

Trade between China and Africa has surged over the past decade since China joined the WTO in 2001, from around US $10 billion in 2000 to US $73.3 billion in 2007, registering a year-on-year increase of 32.2 percent. In 2008, it soared by 44.1 percent to reach a record high of US $106.84 billion, registering a year-on-year increase of 45.1 percent, according to Zhang Yongpeng of the Institute for West Asian and African Studies (IWAAS).

In the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou ( , a trading hub nicknamed “Africa Town” has emerged since 1998. A conglomeration of buildings around the Xiaobei road in Yuexiu district of the city, it has been equated to the famous Chungking Mansions of Hong Kong ( . There are officially 20,000 African traders and entrepreneurs in the city of 18 million, but unofficial estimates put the number at more than 100,000. This African trading hub has emerged to the benefit of both the Chinese and Africans. It is a coming together of small traders matching Africa’s strong demand for consumer goods with China’s manufacturing powerhouse.

The traders export generators, toys, mopeds, construction equipment and other products back to Africa. The traders act as go-betweens, bringing their local knowledge of African market demands to the Chinese manufacturers.

Citizens from over 19 African countries are represented, the majority from Nigeria.

“Almost 90 per cent of goods in African markets come from China, Thailand and Indonesia,” Sultane Barry, president of Guangzhou’s Guinean community, told the Globe and Mail newspaper.

Barry has an entire floor for business in a 35-storey building packed with shops, offices, freight-forwarding companies, African restaurants, hairdressers and furnished apartments for rent by the week.

“We’re not here for fun,” said Ibrahim Kader Traore, an entrepreneur from Ivory Coast. “We work hard and do well. In Abidjan, people still swear by France, where you might be able to save US $13,000 over 25 years; in China, you can have US $130,000 in just five years.”

A trading success story, the hub has run into problems over visas and the upcoming November Asian Games in Guangzhou, which is increasing identity checks.

“I sell more than 50 per cent of the output of my brother-in-law’s TV factory to Africans,” one saleswoman told the Globe and Mail. “We need them and I’m worried there are going to be fewer of them.”

Brought together by trade and mutual interest, both communities still have much to learn about each other. Relations have had their ups and downs and Africans can face discrimination.

But the trading relationship is teaching both sides important lessons. “The arrival of the Africans taught the Chinese how to look for business opportunities,” said Barry. “The secretaries we had here didn’t speak a word of English. Our presence started a craze for learning languages: English and French. The Chinese didn’t know the basic rules of international trade. They knew nothing about documentary credit. They paid for everything cash in hand.

“The Chinese people will soon realize that it’s better for business to deal directly with ordinary Africans.”

And the pressure is on to see who will keep trading relations with Africa positive. “The door to the Chinese market has only opened a crack, mostly because visa requirements are so tough,” said Zango, a trader from Mali.


1) A Financial Times report on Africa-China trade in 2010. Website:

2) An article about “Africa Town” from the official Guangzhou website. Website:

3) Trade Winds: Guangzhou’s African Community by Graeme Nicol is a photo book about the community. Website:

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This work is licensed under a
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© David South Consulting 2022


Djibouti Re-shapes Itself as African Trade Hub

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Trade hubs can prove to be decisive in boosting regional growth. Trade hubs are places where commerce congregates, for a mix of geographical, cultural and economic reasons. Like a bicycle wheel, a trade hub sits at the centre as the spokes of trade routes travel towards it. Throughout history, trade hubs have emerged, from the outposts of the Silk Route running through Asia and Central Asia to the Hanseatic League cities of Northern Europe in the Middle Ages.

Trade is critical to increasing prosperity, and the more efficient trade becomes – and the greater the variety of goods and affordable prices – the higher the standard of living for the nations doing the trading.

With South-South trade the great economic success story of the past decade, new trade hubs are emerging. World Trade Organization (WTO) ( figures show South-South trade accounted for 16.4 percent of the US $14 trillion in total world exports in 2007, up from 11.5 percent in 2000. While the global economic crisis has slowed things down, the overall trend is firmly established.

One country hoping to become a key 21st century trade hub is the tiny African nation of Djibouti, which sits strategically between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It is surrounded by the nations of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia and is across the Bab al Mandab Strait from Yemen.

It is at the nexus of Africa and Asia. Some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world float by the country’s coastline. Much of the oil shipped to Europe and the United States passes by.

“Djibouti is perfectly positioned to become a services and logistics hub,” said Jerome Martins Oliveira, chief executive officer of Djibouti port, operated by a subsidiary of Dubai World.

PwC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) (, which recently published its third Transportation & Logistics 2030 Report, predicts that global trade hubs and routes will shift to emerging markets within the next 20 years.

“Trade volumes will move towards emerging markets such as Africa or Asia and competition for future large transport contracts will be determined within the next few years,” said Akhter Moosa, PwC’s South African Transport and Logistics Leader.

This underscores the growing importance of emerging markets. The majority of global trade is forecast to shift to emerging markets by 2030. As the trade shifts, so new trade routes emerge. PwC sees strong links between Asia and Africa and Asia and South America, as well as trade within Asia, transforming global supply chains.

Hot spots for trade are showing impressive growth. Trade between Asia and the former Soviet states grows at 42 percent a year. The volume of trade between South America and Africa is growing by double digits.

“China already owns seven of the world’s twenty largest ports,” said Christopher Siewierski, associate director in Corporate Finance at PwC. “India, Russia and South Africa are also expected to play a significant role as logistics giants.”

Respondents to the Transportation & Logistics 2030 Report
( ) believe it is unlikely that companies from emerging countries will seek further growth in the developed European and North American markets. Instead, they will concentrate on domestic markets and the strong growing neighbouring countries.

All of this is good news for Djibouti. At present, the population of Djibouti
( is small at around 864,202 people (2009 World Bank).

Ancient Djibouti traded hides and skins for the perfumes of Egypt, India and China: a classic South-South trade heritage. Djibouti became a French colony and gained its independence from France in 1977.

The geography is harsh: a rocky semi desert of plateaus and highlands. Djibouti has few resources, apart from its large salt reserves – the country has a long history of salt mining. Djibouti must depend on foreign assistance – or innovative trade.

Djibouti has to be clever in increasing income opportunities: the country has an estimated unemployment rate of between 40 and 50 percent. The country is heavily dependent on imports for food and fuel, and over the past decade has experienced recession – in the wake of a 1991 to 1994 civil war – and a growing population.

For years, the tiny state was overlooked and development had proceeded at a slow pace. But now investment from Dubai is pouring in to upgrade the port to make it a regional gateway.

The Djibouti Free Zone ( was set up in the wake of the country being designated a free-export processing zone in 1995. In practice, this means a company or business working to export products can be designated as an Export Processing Company (EPC).

It was created to re-shape the landscape in Africa when it comes to trade. Push out the red tape, and bring efficiency and plenty of services: the prime habitat for business to flourish free of restrictions. Prospective businesses can find modern offices, distribution, storage and light manufacturing facilities.

Djibouti provides services as both a transit port for the region and an international trans shipment and refuelling center.

And even more ambitious plans are afoot: a multi-billion dollar, 29-kilometre bridge across the Red Sea has been proposed. The Bridge of the Horns ( will link Djibouti with Yemen and two new cities will be built on either side of the bridge. The new Noor City on the Djibouti side will become the “financial, educational, and medical hub of Africa” according to its developers.

Elsewhere, the United States is funding and operating four regional trade and competiveness hubs in sub-Saharan Africa. They aim to assist, enhance and broaden the flow of trade between the United States and the region, both inside and outside the terms of the historic African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) ( The four trade hubs — located in Ghana, Senegal, Botswana and Kenya — provide information and technical expertise to enhance and expand bilateral trade between the United States and Africa.


  • Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa: Is a regional organisation for the ports and maritime sector in Eastern and Southern Africa. It seeks to promote and nurture best practices among member ports by creating an enabling environment for exchange of information and capacity building to contribute to the economic development of the region. Website:
  • Dubai World: Global holding company Dubai World “focuses on the strategic growth areas of Transport & Logistics, Drydocks & Maritime, Urban Development, Investment & Financial Services. Our portfolio contains some of the world’s leading companies in their industries, including Drydocks World, Economic Zones World, Istithmar World, Nakheel and majority ownership of DP World.” Website:
  • A Financial Times report on Africa-China trade in 2010. Website:
  • West Africa Trade Hub: The USAID West Africa Trade Hub uses a market-driven approach to increase exports from the region – making West Africa competitive in world markets. The Trade Hub provides direct assistance to hundreds of companies in six value chains. That work is complemented by teams tackling problems in transportation, telecommunications, access to finance and business environment that make it difficult for West African companies to compete. Website:
  • Biz Africa’s Leading Daily Retail News: Where the action is on Africa’s fast-growing retail markets. Website:

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


© David South Consulting 2022