Imports from afar make good life a reality
Good-quality household items were a preserve of high-income earners in Africa two decades ago. Today almost all families including low-income ones can buy better quality products because of the availability of affordable Chinese-made goods as trade between the continent and China booms.
"China has enabled many low-income earners like me to buy high-quality household goods that before we could only dream of," said Esther Nzau, 35, a businesswoman in Nairobi. "Were it not for Chinese-made goods, many of us wouldn't be able to afford things such as smartphones, television sets, fridges, microwaves and blenders."
Ninety-five percent of all the products in Nzau's house, from kitchen appliances to electronics to clothing, are made in China, and that has transformed her life, she said.
Nzau said that when she was growing up her family ate from plastic plates, bowls and cups, as many other families in the village did, not out of choice but because that was all they could afford. "Today… there is a wide variety of quality China-made items even for those who earn a dollar a day," she said.
Nzau, who sells ready-to-wear ladies apparel, said affordable Chinese-made clothes have enabled many who could only afford secondhand clothes to own new outfits.
"A new dress made in Turkey or the US costs at least $30, whereas with $2 you can get a nice new dress made in China."
China's trade with Africa has risen significantly over the past 20 years, the continent having surpassed the US as its largest trade partner in 2009 and remaining so since, China's Ministry of Commerce said.
Statista, a German company that specializes in market and consumer data, said Africa's imports from China grew from $5 billion in 2000 to $113 billion in 2019.
AWOT Global Corporation, a logistics service provider in China, says that in the first three months of this year trade between China and Africa rose 26.9 percent, totaling $52.1 billion.
A United Nations Development Programme report published in March forecast that African countries will trade more with China and less with India, Europe and the US.
Traders from across the continent perceive improving bilateral trade relations as a blessing. In many African countries most of the shops stock Chinese-made merchandise, popular because of its affordability and quality.
In Kamukunji wholesale market in Nairobi most of the products on sale are made in China. The products include utensils, home decor accessories, beddings, carpets, plastic household items, beauty products, diapers, children toys, clothes, shoes and bags.
The market is always crowded from Monday to Saturday and attracts traders from across the country who buy goods wholesale to be sold retail elsewhere.
Five kilometers from the Nairobi CBD, Eastleigh shopping malls, consisting of several wholesale and retail shops, stock clothes and accessories that mostly come from China.
Gitahi Ngunyi, a member of the central committee of the Communist Party Kenya, said Chinese products have helped improve the quality of life of all Africans through affordable pricing.
The relationship between Chinese manufacturers and African traders is one of mutual respect and benefit, Ngunyi said.
"The experience we have had in the trade between the West and Africa is that the West takes raw materials from us and makes sure we don't add value to those products," Ngunyi said.
"However, in the case of China and Africa, we are not only getting materials for small industries at very affordable prices, but Chinese are even setting up manufacturing and distribution in the continent, so the industrial process is not affected."