Flip-flop man treads new path by identifying market needs
Trade in commodities has been the dominant feature of China-Africa relations over the past 20 years, but many traders, particularly those who arrived in Africa early, are now well aware that there must be more to the relationship than that.
“It’s very important to set up a factory in Africa to ensure that one’s products have staying power in this market,” says Wu Quanman, owner of Li Lai International in Dar es Salaam, which makes flip-flops.
He first came to Africa in 1998, to Rwanda, and moved to Uganda in 2000, and set up the factory in Tanzania in 2006.
When the opportunity presented itself to go abroad in 1998, he came to Africa rather than going to the United States, he says, because he had heard tales of what happened to many Chinese who went there.
“I didn’t want to end up washing dishes in an American restaurant, but to build up my own business in a new market.”
He had been an agent selling video tape recorders before coming to Africa, and he says he knew how important it was to identify market demand, and eventually came up with the idea of selling flip-flops.
“You can’t imagine how popular they were.