Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2010

Are the Chinese in Africa More Innovative than the Africans? Comparing Chinese and Nigerian Entrepreneurial Migrants' Cultures of Innovation

Dirk Kohnert

July 2010

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


The remarkable influx of Chinese migrant entrepreneurs in West Africa has been met with growing resistance from established African entrepreneurs. Whether the former have a competitive edge over the latter because of distinctive sociocultural traits or whether the Chineseʹs supposed effectiveness is just a characteristic feature of any trading diaspora is open to question. This comparative exploratory study of Chinese and Nigerian entrepreneurial migrants in Ghana and Benin provides initial answers to these questions. Apparently, the cultural stimuli for migrant drivers of change are not restricted to inherited value systems or religions, such as a Protestant ethic or Confucianism; rather, they are continually adapted and invented anew by transnational migration networks in a globalized world. There is no evidence of the supposed superiority of the innovative culture of Chinese entrepreneurial migrants versus that of African entrepreneurial migrants. Rather, there exist trading diasporas which have a generally enhanced innovative capacity vis‐àvis local entrepreneurs, regardless of the national culture in which they are embedded. In addition, the rivalry of Chinese and Nigerian migrant entrepreneurs in African markets does not necessarily lead to the often suspected cut‐throat competition. Often the actions of each group are complementary to those of the other. Under certain conditions they even contribute to poverty alleviation in the host country.