This thesis concerns Chinese small-scale traders in Zambia, and the relations between Chinese and Zambian traders. It is based on ethnographic field research in Kamwala Market in Zambia’s capital Lusaka. The number of Chinese migrants living in Zambia is increasing, and Chinese independent small-scale traders are selling Chinese manufactured consumer goods side by side with Zambian traders. Both media and academia have shown a growing interest in Chinese investments and activities in Africa. However, the media often focuses on large Chinese state run projects in Africa, and points to the negative sides of China’s role on the continent. The aim of this thesis is to draw a more nuanced picture of the exchanges between Chinese and African actors, and through a grounded perspective show that the picture is not entirely positive or negative; rather it is complex and context specific.
From recent perspectives in anthropology on mobility and mobilities, and using in particular the concepts of ‘mobile livelihoods’, ‘multi-placement’, ‘translocality’ and ‘imagined mobility’, this thesis argues thatthe Chinese traders live mobile lives, where they maintain a strong presence in more than one locality. They engage in onwards and return migration, and they view Zambia as a place to do business, not to settle down. In a sedentary logic, to migrate is seen as being pulled up by the roots and then planted somewhere else. But the Chinese traders in Lusaka do not think like this. For them, Zambia is a place to moor temporarily to work towards their ambitions of social mobility for themselves and their family. They travel to different places where they see opportunities to do business, as a strategy to obtain social and economic mobility in China and other countries.
The relations between Zambians and Chinese at Kamwala Market can be characterised as ambivalent. They both compete and cooperate, they are interdependent but at the same time, there are many conflicts and misunderstandings. To understand the relations between Zambians and Chinese at the market, this thesis analyses the relations in a holistic manner and explores some of the conditions - structural, linguistic, economic, legal and cultural - configuring the relations of ambivalence and conflicting experiences. The study explores how the interactions and relations unfold in practice on a daily basis in the market. The aim is to grasp the relations within defined African locales, engaging the Chinese presence in a grounded context.
There is a process of market saturation at Kamwala Market, and there is intense competition for physical, economic and social space. In the saturated market many, both Zambians and Chinese, are provided with opportunities to earn a living and potential for upwards social mobility, while others face falling profits and economic problems, and potential downwards social mobility. This thesis examines the different traders’ responses to market saturation, and argues that the recent level of competition has led to increased geographical mobility among the traders, as trading networks are expanding and people and goods are increasingly moving in all directions. The thesis further argues that geographical mobility is related to social mobility and imagined mobility, and that mobilities are key for understanding the processes currently taking place at Kamwala Market.