Chinese Economic Development in West Africa

Factory workers in Ghana

This is my latest project, started in the spring of 2008. While the diasporic nature of overseas Chinese has been explored in a wide range of localities (from Southeast Asia to Europe, Latin America, and North America), less work has focused on the growing cultural and sociopolitical influence of overseas Chinese communities in West Africa. In 2007, Xinhua (New China News Agency) reported that an estimated 750,000 Chinese are working or living in Africa; overseas Chinese in Africa have been portrayed in the media as the latest wave of outsiders coming to Africa to extract natural and labor resources. They come not only as investors looking for new opportunities for expansion or engineers working the oil fields of the Sudan, but also as petty entrepreneurs starting trading companies, restaurants, pharmacies, and other businesses in what is portrayed as a “new frontier.” They also come as laborers, working for Chinese companies that are building new plants or infrastructural projects in Africa. Their presence sometimes creates resentment among local residents of African communities where Chinese immigrants have created their own communities, at times leading to kidnappings and violence as has happened in Nigeria and Ethiopia. In Ghana, their presence has been peaceful, though resentment of their affluence in their largely managerial or entrepreneurial roles is beginning to be voiced. This project seeks to ethnographically document the presence of overseas Chinese in Tema and other metropolitan areas of Ghana. The goals of this project are to collect demographic information on the overseas Chinese communities in Ghana to determine: more precise numbers of the Chinese population in Ghana; if there are particular Chinese localities or other demographic characteristics that are providing the bulk of overseas Chinese in Ghana; and Chinese attitudes towards their Ghanaians (and, correspondingly, Ghanaian attitudes towards the Chinese). Based on contacts that I developed with Chinese entrepreneurs in Tema and Cape Coast in the summer of 2008, I will select more informants based on snowball-sampling to gain access to overseas Chinese communities, and informal interviews, household surveys (if relevant), and other anthropological fieldwork based methodologies will be used to collect ethnographic data.