Accepted Paper:

Creating new pathways: The role of logistics in the emergence of trade from Guangzhou to Africa  


Heidi Ostbo Haugen (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

The emergence of flexible logistics systems has been crucial to Guangzhou's rise as a trading hub for Africans.

Paper long abstract:

Nigerians established less-than-container load shipping services from Guangzhou to Africa in the late 1990s, thereby laying the foundation for the city's subsequent emergence as a trading hub for Africans. Guangzhou now hosts logistics brokers from all parts of Africa. In an increasingly competitive market, playing with asymmetries between modes of calculation has become a way of securing profit in the logistics industry. The materiality of the container, which is defined by exact qualifications and measurements, creates opportunities for revaluing its interior space. Through act of squeezing goods as they are loaded, logistics agents disrupt the relationship between the container's measurements and the shipment volumes sold for less-than-container freight. However, such unstable relations between containers and goods render shipments vulnerable to customs inspections. Logistics agents manage this risk by acquiring information about inspection schedules from Chinese port officials. Moreover, African traders alter the attributes of the container space through earmarking ‒ attaching fragments of the space within a container to specific sets of social relations, which in turn defines appropriate usage. The earmarking of space provides a tool for traders to manage their capital in volatile economic environments. The analysis draws upon data collected through sixteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Guangzhou, South China, and West African cities between 2009 and 2016.

Panel P128
The Rise of African Transnational Traders