Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5c569c448b-q9r9l Total loading time: 0.351 Render date: 2022-07-02T21:32:26.285Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true


The China–Africa Value Chain: Can Africa’s Small-Scale Entrepreneurs Engage Successfully in Global Trade?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2013

Michal Lyons
Michal Lyons (1950–2013) was a professor of development policy (Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences) at London South Bank University. She was the author of numerous publications, including articles in the Journal of International Development, the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, and World Development.
Alison Brown
Alison Brown is a professor of urban planning and international development in the School of Planning and Geography, Cardiff University, and an urban planner and development policy expert. She has published articles in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research and Urban Studies and is author/editor of Contested Space: Street Trading, Public Space and Livelihoods in Developing Cities (ITDG Publishing, 2006). E-mail:
Zhigang Li
Zhigang Li is a professor of urban studies and planning in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou. He is an international editor of Urban Studies journal. He has published articles in African Diasporas, Urban Geography, Habitat International, and Urban Studies. E-mail:


This article analyzes the value chain for Chinese manufactured goods such as garments and textiles sold in sub-Saharan Africa. It explores the opportunities for Africans with small, private businesses in the export trade from China, the potential for long-term business development, and how strategies of engagement have changed over time. It finds that the value chains for low-cost goods vary. There is great diversity of entry levels and opportunities for socioeconomic mobility, and traders evolve diverse strategies to obtain and defend their position in the chain. These findings are discussed in terms of understandings of international value chains, the informal economy, and African economic development strategies.


Cet article analyse la chaîne de valeur pour les produits manufacturés en Chine, en particulier les vêtements et tissus vendus en Afrique subsaharienne. Il explore les opportunités pour les africains dans les petites entreprises liées au commerce d’export venant de Chine, le potentiel pour le développement du commerce au long terme, et la manière dont les stratégies d’engagement ont changé au cours du temps. Nous observons que la chaîne de valeur pour les produits à bas prix varie. Il y a une grande diversité d’opportunités de niveaux d’entrée et de mobilité socio-économique, et les commerçants utilisent différentes stratégies pour obtenir et défendre leurs positions dans la chaîne. Ces conclusions sont évaluées en terme de compréhension de la chaîne de valeur à l’international, d’économie informelle, et de stratégies de développement économique sur le sol africain.

Copyright © African Studies Association 2013 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ademola, Oyejide, Bankole, Abiodun, and Adwuyi, Adeolu. 2009. “China–Africa Trade Relations: Insights from AERC Scoping Studies.” European Journal of Development Research 21 (4): 485505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ajakaiye, Olusanya, and Kaplinky, Raphael. 2009. “China in Africa: A Relationship in Transition.” European Journal of Development Research 21 (4): 479–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ancharaz, Vinaye. 2009. “David V. Goliath: Mauritius Facing Up to China.” European Journal of Development Research 21 (4): 622–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bertoncelo, Brigitte, and Bredeloup, Sylvie. 2007. “The Emergence of New African ‘Trading Posts’ in Hong Kong and Guangzhou.” China Perspectives 1: 94105.Google Scholar
Bodomo, Adams. 2010. “The African Trading Community in Guangzhou: An Emerging Bridge for Africa–China Relations.” China Quarterly 203: 693707.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bodomo, Adams. 2012. Africans in China: A Sociocultural Study and Its Implications on Africa–China Relations. London: Cambria Press.Google Scholar
Frederick, Stacey, and Cassill, Nancy. 2009. “Industry Clusters and Global Value Chains: Analytical Frameworks to Study the New World of Textiles.” Journal of the Textile Institute 100 (8): 668–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gereffi, Gary. 1999. “A Commodity Chains Framework for Analyzing Global Industries.”
Gereffi, Gary, and Memedovic, Olga. 2003. “The Global Apparel Value Chain: What Prospects for Upgrading by Developing Countries?” Vienna: UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization).
Gereffi, Gary, Humphrey, John, and Sturgeon, Timothy. 2005. “The Governance of Global Value Chains.” International Review of Political Economy 12 (1) 78104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gibbon, Peter, and Ponte, Stefano. 2005. Trading Down: Africa, Value Chains and the Global Economy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
Giovannetti, Giorgia, and Sanfilippo, Marco. 2009. “Do Chinese Exports Crowd Out African Goods? An Econometric Analysis by Country and Sector.” European Journal of Development Research 21 (4): 506–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Han, Huamei. 2013. “Individual Grassroots Multilingualism in Africa Town in Guangzhou: The Role of States in Globalisation.” International Multilingual Research Journal 7 (1): 8397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haugen, Heidi Østbø. 2012. “Nigerians in China: A Second State of Immobility.” International Migration 50 (2): 6580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haugen, Heidi Østbø. 2011. “Chinese Exports to Africa: Competition, Complementarity and Cooperation between Micro-Level Actors.” Forum for Development Studies 38 (2): 157–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hu, Xiuhong, and Kaplan, David. 2001. “The Emergence of Affluence in Beijing: Residential Social Stratification in China’s Capital City.” Urban Geography 22: 5477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Humphrey, John, and Schmitz, Hubert. 2002. “How Does Insertion in Global Value Chains Affect Upgrading in Industrial Clusters?Regional Studies 36 (9): 1017–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Institute of Liberty and Democracy (ILD). 2005a. “Volume I: Executive Summary, The Diagnosis.” Lima, Peru: ILD.
Institute of Liberty and Democracy (ILD). 2005b. “Volume II: The Extra-legal Economy: Its Archetypes and Sizes.” Lima, Peru: ILD.
Institute of Liberty and Democracy (ILD). 2005c. “Volume III: The Legal Economy, Its Institutions and Costs.” Lima, Peru: ILD.
Kaplinsky, Raphael, and Morris, Mike. 2003. A Handbook for Value Chain Research. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre (IDRC).Google Scholar
Li, Zhigang, Ma, Laurence J. C., and Xue, Desheng. 2009. “An African Enclave in China: The Making of a New Transnational Urban Space.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 50 (6): 699719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lyons, Michal, and Brown, Alison. 2010. “Has Mercantilism Reduced Urban Poverty in SSA? Boom and Bust in the Markets of Lome and Bamako.” World Development 38 (5): 771–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lyons, Michal, Brown, Alison, and Zhigang, Li. 2008. “The ‘Third Tier’ of Globalization Reconsidered: African Traders in Guangzhou.” City 12 (2): 196206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lyons, Michal, Brown., Alison and Zhigang, Li. 2012. “In the Dragon’s Den: African Traders in Guangzhou, 2007–2009.” Journal for Ethnic and Migration Studies 38 (5): 869–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mathews, G., Ribeiro, G. L., and Alba Vega, C.. 2012. Globalization from Below: The World’s Other Economy. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Mitchell, Jonathan, Keane, Jodie, and Coles, Christopher. 2009. “Trading Up: How a Value Chain Approach Can Benefit the Rural Poor.” London: COPLA Global, ODI (Overseas Development Institute).
Mitchell, Jonathan, and Ashley, Caroline. 2009. “Value Chain Analysis and Poverty Reduction at Scale.” Briefing Paper 49. London: ODI (Overseas Development Institute).
Ng, Linda F-Y, and Tuan, Chyau. 2003. “Location Decisions of Manufacturing FDI in China: Implications of China’s WTO Accession.” Journal of Asian Economics 14 (1): 5172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Romero, Isodoro, and Tejada, Pilar. 2011. “A Multi-level Approach to the Study of Production Chains in the Tourism Sector.” Tourism Management 32 (2): 297306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Subramanian, Uma, and Matthuijs, Matthias. 2007. “Can Sub-Saharan Africa Leap into Global Network Trade?” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4112. Addis Ababa: UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa).
Villoria, Nelson. 2009. “China’s Growth and the Agricultural Exports of Sub-Saharan Southern Africa.” European Journal of Development Research 21 (4): 531–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wu, Weiping. 2001. “Temporary Migrants in Shanghai: Housing and Settlement Patterns.” In The New Chinese City: Globalization and Market Reform, edited by Logan, John R., 212–26. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *