Chinese Migration to Ghana

The Early Years: Manufacturers from Hong Kong, and Trading Representatives from Taiwan and Mainland China

Research on the Chinese in Ghana is scant. The few scholars who have done it agree that the first Chinese entered the Gold Coast region shortly before the British colony became independent in 1957. Drawing on interviews with long-term Chinese residents, Ho (2008, 2012) and Lam (2015a, b) report that the embryonic Chinese presence in Accra in the late 1950s was dominated by Hong Kong industrial investors (many of Shanghai origin) and their staff, thus also from a British colony. Partly as a result of restrictions imposed by the UK and the USA on textile imports from Hong Kong, manufacturers there are said to have arrived in Ghana to seek alternative markets (Lam 2017: 34). Soon Ghana was promoted among Hong Kong manufacturers as a suitable base. Investments were made in the manufacture of enamelware, textiles, tobacco and steel products, among other things (Lam 2015b: 33). During a period of political turmoil in Ghana in the 1970s and the early 1980s, most of the Hong Kong-run factories closed down and their investors, technicians and managers left, save for a small number who stayed with their families and opened restaurants and other businesses (Lam 2015b: 35). Many of the staff in the few remaining factories returned to Hong Kong and were replaced by cheaper labor from mainland China, particularly after the late 1980s (Lam 2015b). Some Taiwanese enterprises also entered the Ghanaian market, first as importers, and later as manufacturers and service providers. So did a small number of Chinese state-owned trading companies. Though statistics are not available, the Chinese presence seems to have been numerically insignificant. The first stage was characterized by long-term investment in basic manufacturing and the settlement of mostly Cantonese-speaking investors, managers and staff, but in the 1970s and 1980s the movements of trading representatives belonging to private Taiwan companies and mainland Chinese state-owned enterprises (SoEs) were more transitory. No more than a dozen or so of these early Chinese migrants remained in Ghana. Informants still present in Ghana during the period of my research agreed that, by the 1990s, migratory movements of Hong Kong and Taiwan entrepreneurs and staff had ceased, and Chinese state-owned trading offices were closed or had moved into private hands in the course of economic reforms and privatization within the People’s Republic of China.

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