Some studies estimate that about 1 million Chinese citizens have arrived in Africa since 2001, with China emerging as Africa’s largest trading partner and Chinese companies stepping up investment in oil and infrastructure projects. Most are workers, traders and entrepreneurs.
The communities are scattered from South Africa to Tanzania, Zambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Angola, Mauritius, Madagascar and Algeria.
How many Chinese live in Africa? No one knows for sure because of a shortage of reliable statistics from African governments. “Estimates range from 250,000 to 2 million,” says Hannah Postel, a migration researcher at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C.
South Africa boasts the largest ethnic Chinese population in Africa, with consensus estimates putting the number at more than 350,000. A 2012 Migration Policy Institute study pushes it even higher — to 500,000. The population is concentrated in the capital of Johannesburg, where there are two Chinatowns. Other communities are in in Pretoria and Port Elizabeth.
Angola’s main Chinatown is located in Luanda, and the Angolan government counted nearly 259,000 Chinese migrants in 2012. China’s relations with Angola date back to 1975, when the oil and ore-rich southwest African nation won its independence from Portugal. Angola is China’s second-largest trading partner in Africa after South Africa.
Nigeria’s Chinese population has jumped from about 6,000, in 1999, to around 20,000 as China has stepped up its involvement in the country’s oil industry and infrastructure projects. Local Chinese traders and entrepreneurs are also tapping Nigeria’s burgeoning middle class. The estimates for Chinese residents include Taiwanese and Hong Kong citizens. The main Chinese communities are situated in Lagos, Kano and Abuja.
Tanzania had 10,000 Chinese residents, according to a 2008 story by state-run Xinhua News Agency. Some are the descendants of laborers who arrived during the 1890s when the country was a German colony. Others stayed after being dispatched as aid workers by China’s government in the 1960s and 1970s. The latest wave consists of traders and entrepreneurs. Most Chinese live in the capital of Dar Es Salaam.
Zambia has anywhere from 13,000 and 23,000 Chinese nationals, based on estimates by private researchers and government officials. Many arrived in the last several years as workers for Chinese state-owned enterprises or private firms. Chinese workers built a major railway project in Zambia in the 1970s and Chinese investors are heavily invested in local mining operations.
Algeria has an estimated 40,000 Chinese nationals. Most work on local infrastructure projects or are engaged in commerce.
Doug Tsuruoka is Editor-at-Large of Asia Times