An African Trader And The Perils Of Business In China | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

An African Trader And The Perils Of Business In China

Play associated audio

It's dinnertime at a bustling Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Little Africa neighborhood of Guangzhou, in southern China. Chinese schoolgirls nibble on fries, a grandmother feeds her grandson, and Kelvin Njubigbo stares at a single wing on his tray. His foot, wrapped in a gauze bandage, juts out from the table.

"Everything is risk in life," repeats Njubigbo. "It's all risk from the beginning to the last."

A lawyer, Njubigbo couldn't find steady work in his native Nigeria, so he's trying his hand at the clothing trade. He's buying cheap goods in China and reselling them in Nigeria. His first two trips were successful. For this third trip to Guangzhou, he convinced his parents to lend him more money. More money means more clothes, which means more profit, he figured.

His family cobbled together $19,000. After he arrived, he got wind of a great deal. Two factory representatives standing in front of the Tangqi market showed him some nice shirts at an unbelievably low price. Njubigbo couldn't believe his luck. He took a taxi with the two men to their warehouse.

Once inside, two men suddenly grabbed him from behind. He tried to fight, but one of the men smashed his leg with a sledgehammer. They pulled down his pants where his money belt was hidden, grabbed the belt with his entire savings and fled.

"And here I am. Everything I saved, just gone like that," says Njubigbo.

A Risky Business

Njubigbo knew the risks. It's not uncommon for traders to carry large sums of money. According to Heidi Ostho Haugen, a scholar studying the Nigerian trading community in China: "The producers are in the informal sector, so you'll have to pay cash. People know about that and can take advantage."

At the police station, an officer gave Njubigbo the phone number of the only man who might help: the Chairman.

Ojukwu Emma is the head of the Nigerian community in Guangzhou, but everyone calls him the Chairman. He used to export shoes, now he exports salvation, helping troubled traders with visa problems leave China legally. But there was nothing he could do for Njubigbo.

Njubigbo had a valid visa and a ticket home. Back at KFC, he debated with himself about what he should do next. "Do I stay? Do I go home empty-handed?" He stared out the window. Traders stood on the sidewalk laughing and shaking hands. Packages labeled Lagos, Nigeria, piled up on the curb.

Eventually, Njubigbo went back to Nigeria. But he saved for another trip and returned to Guangzhou this week.

Nina Porzucki is NPR's Above the Fray fellow. During her fellowship, she traveled to Guangzhou, China, and reported on the Little Africa community for one month.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Getting A Tattoo Is An Unlikely Rite Of Passage For This Teen

Commentator Katie Davis helped with an unlikely coming of age ceremony for a young man she mentored and tutored for years. She took him to get his first tattoo.
NPR

There Are 200 Million Fewer Hungry People Than 25 Years Ago

That's the good news. The bad news is that there are still 795 million people who don't get enough to eat — and enough nutrients in their food.
WAMU 88.5

Virginia Candidates Spending Big On Consultants, Postage

The political consultants need to get paid, and that direct mail needs postage. Then there's the website and the campaign staff. These are the things candidates in the upcoming Virginia primary are spending big money on.
NPR

Tech Startup Harnesses Virtual Reality For Use In Architecture

A startup company called The Third Fate envisions virtual reality as a way for architects and builders to offer tours of their designs before they're even constructed.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.