Transnational entrepreneurs in an African outpost: Chinese migrants in Cape Verde

Led by Jørgen Carling
Jan 2003 - May 2004

The objective of the project is to analyse the dynamics of contemporary Chinese entrepreneurial migration to Africa, using the West African country of Cape Verde as a case. The analysis will focus on the process of migration by which a diaspora community emerged during the past decade, and on how the characteristics of the local economy and the resources of the Chinese migrants interact to form the basis for Chinese settlement.

The project aims to contribute to existing research on the Chinese diaspora in three ways: First, the case study exemplifies the migration of small groups of people to remote, economically stagnating areas. This is a unique but underemphasized feature of the Chinese diaspora. A second, related aspect is an emphasis on contemporary entrepreneurial migration with a pioneer element. The arrival of Chinese migrants in Cape Verde and their subsequent dispersal throughout the country shows a remarkable search for places of unused potential for Chinese business. These two aspects of the Chinese diaspora have received little scholarly attention, while they have been noted by mainstream news magazines. Third, by using an African case, the study will contribute to enlarging the geographical scope of research on the Chinese diaspora, which traditionally has focused on Southeast Asia, North America and Australia. Theoretically, the project will contribute to ongoing debates on transnational migration and ethnic entrepreneurship.

The project is structured around four research questions:

1) What form of migration dynamics has characterized the pioneer phase of Chinese migration to Cape Verde? This question addresses the macro-level context and micro-level dynamics of the rapid creation of a Chinese community in a small and distant country.

2) How have the characteristics of the local economy and the resources of the Chinese migrants interacted to form the basis for Chinese settlement? This question addresses the paradox of immigration into a stagnating trading economy that is itself experiencing emigration. It will require analysis of both the nature of the local economy prior to immigration, and the comparative advantage of Chinese traders. Explanations will be sought in the configuration of their personal and business networks, their strategies of management and employment, and the nature of competition and/or cooperation with each other.

3) How does the immigration flow from China interrelate with other migration flows in Cape Verde? This research question will be given less weight than questions 1 and 2, but represents a linking of the micro-dynamics of Chinese migration and entrepreneurship to the wider context of international migration flows.

4) How does the Cape Verdean government regard and react towards the Chinese immigration? The final research question links the Chinese entrepreneurial immigration to Cape Verde's development strategy and the intergovernmental ties between Cape Verde and the People's Republic of China.

The project is based on fieldwork among the Chinese migrants in Cape Verde, conducted by one Cape Verdean Creole-speaking researcher and one Mandarin-speaking researcher.


Research Groups


Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Haugen, Heidi Østbø & Jørgen Carling (2005) On the Edge of the Chinese Diaspora: The Surge of Baihuo Business in an African City, Ethnic and Racial Studies 28(4): 639–662.

Book Chapter

Carling, Jørgen & Heidi Østbø Haugen (2008) Mixed Fates of a Popular Minority: Chinese migrants in Cape Verde, in Chris Alden, ed., China Returns to Africa. a Rising Power and a Continent Embrace. (319–337).

Non-refereed Journal Article

Carling, Jørgen; & Haugen, Heidi Østbø (2005) Sie wagen und gewinnen. Chinesische Händler in Afrika. [They Dare and Win. Chinese Traders in Africa.] , Der Überblick: Zeitschrift Für Ökumenische Begegnung Und Internationale Zusammenarbeit 41(4): 19–23.

Conference Paper

Carling, Jørgen; & Haugen, Heidi Østbø 2004 How an African Outpost is Filled with Chinese Shops, presented at Fifth Conference of the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas, , 10–14 May.