How an African Outpost is Filled with Chinese Shops

Conference paper

Carling, Jørgen & Heidi Østbø Haugen (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.

Conference web site

Since the first Chinese shop opened in Cape Verde in 1995, this remote archipelago has experienced a wave of Chinese entrepreneurial immigration that has transformed local retail and had a significant impact on people’s purchasing power. In the process, the Chinese migrants have seen profit margins fall, and now complain that there are too many Chinese in Cape Verde. Selling cheap consumer goods to the poor was the recipe for success in Cape Verde, and many Chinese in the country are now looking for similar opportunities elsewhere in Africa.

Our paper explores the migration dynamics that has characterized the pioneer phase of Chinese migration to Cape Verde. Furthermore, we address how the characteristics of the local economy and the resources of the Chinese migrants have interacted to form the basis for Chinese settlement. We examine the process of market saturation, and relate responses to market saturation to a conceptual framework developed on the basis of literature on Chinese migration to Europe and the Former Soviet Union. The research is based on fieldwork in Cape Verde in 2002 and 2003, conducted partly in Mandarin and partly in Cape Verdean Creole. We interviewed Chinese migrants, Cape Verdean employees and customers, and surveyed the Chinese shops in the country’s second largest city.

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