In Bamenda, Cameroon’s third city, live dozens of Chinese nationals. Frustrated by difficulties of the business environment while nostalgic of home, they strive to make money with affordable and needed products made-in-China. After hitting instant success, competitions from locals is changing their fortune-tides, but these Chinese are resilient and determine to make it in the face of these hurdles.
Of the 25,000-more foreign population, of which 90% are Nigerians, Chinese make only a tiny part. Unlike the other small portion of Europeans and Americans, most of whom are naturalized and working for denominational institutions, NGOs or run IT businesses, Nigerians and Chinese are mostly engaged in business activities, Nigerians are more into motor spare parts and construction hardware while Chinese are mostly engaged in general commerce.
Mrs. Li Xiao Guang’s family owns one of the biggest shops in the Central Business District of town. Her family arrived this Central African state in 2008, some 10,000 km from China. Mrs Guang like most of the Chinese in town today, arrived Bamenda (360 km west of Yaounde) 3 years ago from the economic capital Douala, some 300 km south east of Bamenda
Her family shop, the “Lin Song Guang Shopping Centre” deals with an assortment of household appliances, electronics, furniture, and fashion items all made-in-China.
Upon arrival in town, Mrs. Guang immediately saw the importance of learning English language for easier communication and enrolled at the Linguistic Centre for English classes, an ability that has become her greatest asset and endeared her to her customers.
Difficulties and challenges
Settling down here has not been on a bed of roses, the prickles are sharp and painful, particularly for a town whose economy is far inferior to what they were used to in cities like Douala and Yaoundé or back home in china.
“Business is slow this time” Mrs. Li said. “On an average day we make between 300,000 to 600,000 CFA Frs. (between 450 to 900 Euros) far inferior to what we use to make in our first two years here,…..More locals and Nigerians are getting into this line of business” she continued and “such stiff competition is reducing profit margins.”
“There are bills to be settled, taxes to pay, rents, salaries for these workers (4) and other overhead cost to straighten out…this is not a walk in the park” Mr. Guang said speaking through his wife.
Just a block away on an adjacent street is the “Chinese Shop” that belongs to the Shi Chan Ming family from Liaog Ling China. This shop has a reputation for quality travelers bags, ladies hand bags, umbrellas and shoes.
“Business is particularly slow “this couple confesses. For three years now the Mings are still unable to communicate in any of the two official languages in Cameroon (English and French). “This is a big handicap to us” the wife reveals through an interpreter. “We depend on our employees to sell here, buy and shop in the local markets and to carry out other transactions” she added.
Unlike the Guangs and Mings who deal in general commerce, Wu Xing is into healthcare and better than Mrs. Guang he has a grasp if not a mastery of English, French and the local lingua-franca pidgin English. He deals strictly in Chinese natural medicine and massage. His “Chinese Health Institute” situated in the other side of town has become a reference for physiotherapy. Many from far and near come here to experience 500 years of Chinese acupuncture therapy.
It’s no doubt business is going on as usual for him. He has been in Bamenda for 5 of his 6 years in Cameroon. Of all the Chinese nationals in town today “I was the first to arrive” he proudly announced in Pidgin English offering a broad smile.
If there is one common problem these businessmen face, it’s that of low volume of trade. They have all spent some time in bigger cities like Yaoundé and Douala where business is brisk as compared to Bamenda.“This is a big village” Shi Chan Ming said jokingly, comparing Bamenda to the big cities.
No Question of giving Up
Does this discourage you in any way? “No. No” Wu Xing emphasizes. “I would forfeit extra profit in hot cities like Douala for a good climate and mosquito free zone here” he emphasized.
“If there is one thing that makes us to choose Bamenda over Douala or Yaoundé it’s the climate here” Mrs. Guang said an opinion also shared by Shi Chan Ming.
Bamenda is renowned for its beautiful climate with a yearly average temperature of 210c, that is one reason it keeps attracting Europeans and other foreigners.
Another thing they all agree in is that they would gladly encourage other Chinese nationals willing to set up businesses in Bamenda to give it a try. “But I would rather advice them to pick up different trades” Mrs. Guang said, because as she continues “I am thinking of switching business lane”
Wu Xing seems to take pleasure in his stay here. “I love this place, I have many Cameroonian friends and I enjoy a variety of local food like the pounded cocoyam and yellow soup” Wu Xing confided. “I haven’t notice any discrimination or bias shown towards me” he acknowledged.
For Mrs. Guang, she has a small backyard garden where she plants Chinese spices and tea which she said are doing fine.
Home may be very far away but that is no obstacle for these Chinese nationals. “I get to see my family back home once every two years” said Wu Xing as he confirms his biennial trips to china.
Mrs. Li Xiao can’t help thinking of China most of the time.
“I miss home no doubt because of my son. I only get to see him during holidays or when I go home to restock” she said, “I am so grateful to be with my family here, we also get together with other Chinese families in town over the weekends to chat, play or organize other activities”
China Central Television (CCTV), the state media is available on satellite in Chinese, English and French. Wu Xing is a big fan of CCTV4 and proudly uses his TV remote to showoff other channels available.
Despite these challenges, this bred of Chinese businessmen seem to be opening new frontiers, one that beckons to create more opportunities for all in the years to come. But for the moment they are still surviving amidst the difficulties here. End
By Abongwa Fozo