An arena called Africa

"Time is money" is a phrase that has perhaps never been more pertinent to the African continent than it is today. The race for Africa's resources is underway, and some of the contenders, like India and China, are finding themselves engaged in a familiar battle on unfamiliar territory. While spectators and stakeholders around the world follow the race, the reaction of Africa's own people to this aggressive invasion has not garnered nearly as much public attention as it deserves.

I spent a year in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, a tiny country situated inside South Africa, teaching Business Education at a high school for economically disadvantaged girls in a tiny village several hours from the capital city, Maseru.

Once they understood the meaning of terms like competition and pricing, my students had no problems applying the definitions to their lives. "Who sells papa (maize meal) around our village?" I would ask, and class would reply, "the Chinese shop!" A few students would name family-owned stores close by, and when asked collectively as to where they would choose to shop, family-owned stores would always win. "Why don't you shop at the Chinese shop?" would be answered with an angry chorus of "They cheat us at the Chinese shop!" Students would warn me that the Chinese shop would charge me more for eggs and milk, and would sell me things that were "too old".

For all the animosity my students displayed towards the local Chinese shop, it was still the largest and most obviously prosperous establishment for miles around. Nor was it alone in its success ó there are many shops like it in the northern and eastern parts of the country, where high mountains, bad weather conditions, lack of proper roads and distance from Maseru make transport and connectivity difficult for local residents and shop owners with limited resources. Although Chinese-owned establishments are not the locals' first choice, they appear to circumvent the hostility directed towards them by having a constant supply of necessary products.

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