11 August 2010

On Chinese Shop Owners in Lesotho

Economist.com Piece about Chinese in Lesotho

An excerpt from my comments on Economist.com:

I'm an American who has been living and working as a volunteer teacher in a rural village not far from Mokhotlong for the last two years. 

Unfortunetly, there are two distinct phenomena being conflated here: the noteworthy presence of a Chinese shopowners throughout Lesotho and the Chinese governments foreign policy in Africa. The shop owners are in most cases immigrant who came to Lesotho with little, and are building new lives and raising families here. They are here for the long run and are not exporting resources nor by any stretch of the imagination subjugating Basotho. As the article mentions, the shopmowners "seem entirely divorced from geopolitics." These small business owners are trying to make a livelihood in an open market and in doing so are employing local Basotho and providing goods and services (including building supplies for infrastructural development) to rural areas where such supplies were previously unavailable. Further, they often practice an efficient business model, strong work ethic, regular and predictable service, and a wide variety of supply. This puts the economic force on other local shop owners to improve their practices and ultimately the whole community benefits from the improved efficiency and supply. I know this sounds like a lesson from Econ 101, but I watch this process unfold daily. My best friend is a Basotho shop owner. We often discuss how he can gain a competative edge over the Chinese shop. By improving customer service and supply, he has done quite well. We are now making plans to build a bigger shop! 

Clearly adding the economic force of these new shops is not pleasant at first, as it forces other shop owners to improve their practices and can at first be perceived as 'outsiders' stealing business - such frustrations were partly the cause of the violence of 1998 - but ultimately the improved business practices and wider supply that results really is what is needed for the development of these rural areas.
I'm not going to comment on China's foreign policy; it's another, seperate, story - but that's my point. Emigre shop owners in Lesotho should not be conflated with the foreign policies of the country they left any more than emigre shop owners in Queens, New York.  

1 comment:

OlderMusicGeek said...

sounds like it was when i was there in the 80s!