Chinese expansion into Africa – at the micro level

As China invests in mines and oil, one Chinese businessman is focused on something much smaller: a general store.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

It’s one of the more remote destinations in Lesotho, linked by a perilous, potholed road that can only be navigated by a 4X4 or on horseback. Wet in summer and with limited electricity and Internet coverage, Semonkong is a harsh place to live. But for Chinese businessman Yu Qiang, it’s home.

While the world debates China’s expansion into Africa and its voracious appetite for fuel and minerals, Mr. Yu is happy to concentrate on his general store and the demands of the local people around remote Semonkong.

Yu – or Jack, as he is known locally – arrived here in 1999, six months after his aunt set up shop and began trading.

“It was my first time overseas and I wanted to make more money,” says Yu, who comes from Haimeng in Jiangsu Province, where his wife and 5-year-old son still live. “It is a hard place to live ... but the Lesotho people are so kind and polite.”

The general store on the main street resembles the Wild West, with horses – the main form of transport for locals – tethered to posts. The shop sells everything from the staple maize meal to cellphone airtime.

Yu employs seven family members and eight locals and is open “365 days a year, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.” “I’m not interested in what my government is doing elsewhere in Africa,” says Yu. “I like it here and we have a good business.”

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