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[TRANSLATION] 10 Things Chinese People Should Know About Doing Business in Africa

One of the most common criticisms of the Chinese in Africa is how difficult it is for “outsiders” (i.e. non-Chinese) to engage them in any kind of open dialogue. In many African countries, the Chinese community is widely perceived as reclusive, even isolated, from the broader community. Some of this behavior is common to all new immigrant populations who don’t speak the local language, understand customs and are often fearful of people who they aren’t entirely sure will do them harm. This is no different than migrant communities anywhere else in the world where the first generation arrivals struggle to assimilate. Separately, there are specific traits within Chinese culture that also inhibit the kind of integration that is common in more multicultural societies. It’s important to remember that China is predominantly homogeneous culture in terms of race, language and culture. So when the Chinese migrate to Africa, they are often struggling to adapt to entirely new conditions that are no doubt extremely challenging.
So while the Chinese are typically reluctant to open up to outsiders, among their own it’s a different story. Over the past decade of Chinese migration to Africa, several niche social media networks focused have come online to serve as a forum for PRC migrants in Africa. These online portals offer an easy way for Chinese migrants to connect for business, find friends or simply find companionship among a community of people enjoying (or often enduring) a common experience. These social networks provide an intriguing glimpse inside a world that is largely unknown to outsiders, or non-Chinese speakers, given that the content on these sites are published exclusively in Chinese.
While Chinese migrants in Africa may be reluctant to speak with outsiders, here among their own, there are no such reservations. The postings are often direct, sometimes culturally and racially insensitive but extremely authentic. These online postings offer a unique insight in the Chinese experience in Africa that otherwise would be very difficult to otherwise obtain. The China Africa Project is engaging in a new initiative to translate posts from these social media networks in an effort to expand our understanding of how Chinese communicate among each other about their views and experiences in Africa.
In this post, a small-to-medium business owner by the name of Yuan Yue (photo) offers his advice to Chinese back home who are considering coming to Africa to start a business and what they should know about the challenges of living and working on the continent. The original Chinese-language edition of the post is available after the English translation below. Please note that the author of this post used quite a bit of colloquial language that does not easily translate to English, so some editorial liberties were used in the translation to make it easier to comprehend.
There are a lot of opportunities throughout Africa, and there are also a lot of risks. Today, there are more and more Chinese people coming to Africa to do business, but there are also more and more negative rumors, so allow those of us who have real experience on the ground here in Africa to shed some light on the situation.  Allow me to provide some insight here with 10 things you (Chinese people) should know about doing business in Africa:
1) Africa has a lot of natural resources but at the same time it’s a place where the rule of law is very weak. Africa is also one of the last places on earth with so much natural wealth and where Chinese products are in high demand. Here if you find natural resources you can also find great wealth.  I’ve heard a lot of a Chinese college graduates who cannot find work back home, so in my view coming to Africa is a golden opportunity for young people to earn a lot of money. But while there are many opportunities, there are also a lot of risks so you must also be prudent.
2) African people want to buy your products, but if you want to succeed you’ll need to make sure that you stay away from other Chinese people.  If you don’t run into any other Chinese people who will compete with you on price you can pretty much charge what you want for your products.  Also, contracts here don’t really matter. Regardless of who signs a deal with you, it won’t take long for them to break the contract. In Africa’s there’s no need to do market research because you can sell pretty much everything here but the situation is unpredictable. So while today it may be possible to make money, who knows about tomorrow.
3) One of Chinese peoples’ best characteristics is our ability to be flexible and to adapt. Here in Africa, there are few rules or regulations, so for Chinese people looking for an opportunity to make money, the Chinese in Africa are like fish in water. You just have to be determined because in ten years Africa will become the Chinese peoples’ Africa (十年以后的非洲就是中国人的非洲).
4) Here if you have money there is no problem that can’t be solved, so the larger companies that have a lot of money and resources also have strong connections with the government, but if smaller companies want to solve problems they must be both flexible and self-reliant (specifically, you really can’t rely on the government for any kind of help). Mid-sized companies that are neither big nor have strong government relations are especially isolated. {African} government policy is actually beneficial only to large state-owned enterprises, for us smaller, privately-owned business we can only rely on ourselves.
5) If you’re thinking of coming to Africa then you must make a choice as to whether you want to enjoy a comfortable life or if money is the most important thing. So if you think life is more important, than earn a bit money and leave (Africa), but if you think earning money is more important than forget everything else and focus all of your attention on making as much as possible.
6) After you arrive in Africa, you don’t want to ask a Chinese person if they have been robbed, you want to ask them HOW MANY times they have been robbed. When you go out for the day, you should carry all of your money with you (so it’s not stolen from you house). Also, you shouldn’t wear a uniform or branded shirt from your company as that could draw unwanted attention. For those wealthier people who drive home from work, it’s best advised that you change your route everyday so you don’t become an easy target. If you happen to run into problems, the security guards here will do nothing to help you, that said, having even some public security here is better than nothing, at least they can scare away the most timid of the bad guys.
7) Black people in Africa are not afraid of and don’t listen to Chinese people. So for example In South Africa, the best way to go is to hire white people and then have the white people manage the black people. In other parts of Africa, it’s OK for Chinese people to directly manage black people.
8) Black people do not want to work overtime. Just because some people come to work today, doesn’t mean they will actually show for work tomorrow. So if you expect workers here to do overtime, there’s no way, it’s just not possible.
9) A single Chinese people can become an African person’s president, with two Chinese people one can become the president and the other vice president, but if there are three Chinese people then nothing is possible. Here rather than have dealings with Chinese people it’s better to do business with black and/or white people who are more reliable. Take for example that 80% of the kidnappings and robberies against Chinese people in Africa somehow involve other Chinese people.
Editor’s note: the key point the author is trying to make here is how distrustful Chinese are of one another. His advice is to set up a business in a place where there are as few other Chinese migrants as possible so as not to encounter the brutal pricing competition Chinese merchants are so well-known for. Additionally, he goes on to accuse other Chinese migrants in Africa of being complicit in criminal activities against one other. The figure of 80% is most-likely anecdotal as there is no way to accurately determine the levels of crime and complicity within the overseas Chinese population in Africa.
10) Here it’s easier if just a husband and wife start a business together since it’s extremely difficult to find talented, qualified Chinese people who are willing to come to Africa to work. Sure, you can find young people (who have no experience) who are willing to come, people with no talent or people who don’t want to relocate here for a long-term stay. Since (Chinese) people can get very lonely here, a lot of people aren’t willing to stay move for extended periods, so in the end it’s really just for you to do everything yourself rather than to rely on others. Crime is another problem. Since so many people (back home) are afraid of getting robbed, even killed here, most people don’t even dare to come to work in Africa.
Please click here to view the original article in Chinese.