【英语中国】非洲系列之三:中国商品催生非洲中产阶级

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2010-6-9 23:45

小艾摘要: When 13 traders from eastern Nigeria arrived at the allotted spot for their new market outside Lagos in 1977, the vista was not promising.When they got here this was thick forest and swamp, populated ...
When 13 traders from eastern Nigeria arrived at the allotted spot for their new market outside Lagos in 1977, the vista was not promising.

“When they got here this was thick forest and swamp, populated by reptiles,” says Chief Emeka Dike.

Today, Mr Dike presides over what is reputed to be Africa's biggest electronics market, a heaving bazaar long since swallowed by a megacity of 18m people.

On offer at Alaba market are the trappings of a comfortable existence: fridges, televisions, air conditioning units, cookers.

Hundreds of shops cater to the Nigerian segment of a middle class whose ranks have been swelled across the continent by rising livelihoods.

From the explosion of mobile telephony to bulging profits of beer companies, evidence of expanding consumer markets in Africa abounds.

In its early years, Alaba was for the few. Only the elite, flush with oil money, could afford the white goods and Japanese sound-systems. Then, just over a decade ago, the factory of the world went into production.

Prince Anselam Nwadike gestures at two electric ovens in his Alaba store. “When we need quality, we go for Italy,” he says, indicating a shiny silver model for Naira 150,000, about $996 (€809, £677). Turning to a more basic alternative with a Naira 50,000 price tag, he adds: “When we want cheap, we go for China.”

Traders estimate that about 90 per cent of the appliances in Alaba are made in China. Quality has improved markedly with time, most say. Some of the audio equipment packaged in western-branded boxes is Chinese underneath, some admit.

According to a 2006 report for the African Union, “Chinese imports can be 75 per cent cheaper than ‘equivalent' imports from traditional sources and up to 50 per cent cheaper than the locally produced substitutes”.

The precipitous fall in the cost of imports has brought a middle-class lifestyle within reach of many more Africans. Estimating their numbers is difficult. Data from the United Nations suggest 92 per cent of Nigeria's estimated 150m people live on less than $2 a day.

But many analysts say such figures fail to capture huge informal economies as well as a surge in well-paid employment in banking and telecoms.

A Nigerian official study calculates that 30 per cent of the 150m population have “middle class” salaries. Yet graduating to the African middle class can be prohibitively expensive – as one of Alaba's best-selling appliances testifies.

The whirr of diesel generators is the soundtrack of Lagos life. So comprehensive is the collapse of the national grid that generators are the main source of power.

“Without the gens, this market cannot exist,” says Nonso Nwankwo, an Alaba trader selling Chinese-made generators for a quarter of the price of the old Japanese ones.

But running a generator costs an estimated Naira 45 per kilowatt hour, roughly three times the average residential tariff in the US. Factor in the price of repairs and Alaba's other appliances start to look less like bargains.

Corruption adds an extra levy. One Alaba merchant says “settling” – or bribing – customs officials and police can add $7,000 to the cost of importing each $40,000 shipment of smoke-extractors. Nonetheless, Alaba's customers are better off for the cheap Chinese wares.

Tens of thousands of redundant Nigerian textile workers are not, however. An influx of Chinese textiles dealt a hammer-blow to Nigerian factories already struggling with the lack of electricity. In the face of Chinese competition, efforts to stimulate local manufacturing seem futile.

The chances of an industrial middle class emerging in Nigeria as it did in Europe 200 years ago look slim.

However, Mr Dike, Alaba's elected president, says globalisation has provided the means and the incentive for Nigerians to fork out – at least for televisions. “It's supposed to be a luxury,” he says, “but today it's a necessity.”

1977年,当尼日利亚东部的13名商人来到首都拉各斯城外一块划给他们的土地,准备建立新市场时,前景并不乐观。

埃梅卡•戴克酋长(Emeka Dike)表示:“当初他们来这儿时,这里还是茂密的森林和沼泽,到处是爬行动物。”

如今,戴克管理着被誉为非洲之最的电子市场。自从被拉各斯这座拥有1800万人口的大城市吞没之后,这里早已发展成为一个拥挤的集市。

Alaba市场里供应的都是象征着富足生活的物品:冰箱、电视机、空调和炊具。

数百家店铺的目标客户群都定位为尼日利亚的中产阶级——随着生活品质的不断提升,整个非洲大陆中产阶级的社会地位都有所提高。

从手机通话的爆炸式增长,到啤酒公司的利润迅速膨胀,非洲消费者市场不断扩张的证据比比皆是。

在早期,Alaba市场只是面向少数人。只有兜里揣满了石油资金的精英人士,才负担得起大型家电和日本音响系统。而就在10年前,世界工厂开始投产。

安瑟拉姆•恩瓦戴克(Anselam Nwadike)指着他在Alaba市场店铺里的两台电烤箱。“如果图质量,就选意大利货,”他指着一台泛着银色金属光泽的烤箱,售价15万奈拉,约合996美元。他又指着另一台售价5万奈拉、简单一些的烤箱,补充道:“如果图便宜,就选中国货。”

商人们估计,Alaba市场中约90%的电器都产自中国。多数人表示,中国产品的质量已有了显著改善。一些人承认,部分用西方品牌包装盒包装的音响设备,实际上产自中国。

根据非洲联盟(African Union,简称非盟)2006年的一份报告,“中国进口商品可能比‘同类'进口产品便宜75%,比当地产的同类产品便宜至多50%。”

进口成本的骤降,让更多非洲人过上了中产阶级生活。很难估计这部分人的数量。来自联合国的数据显示,尼日利亚估计有1.5亿人口,其中92%每天生活费不到2美元。

但许多分析师表示,上述数字没有将大量非正式经济活动、以及银行业和电信业高收入工作岗位的激增考虑在内。

一份尼日利亚官方研究报告估计,该国1.5亿人口中,30%拥有“中产阶级”收入。但要晋身非洲中产阶级,费用极其昂贵——Alaba市场最畅销的一种设备就能证明这一点。

柴油发电机发出的嗡嗡声,是拉各斯生活的背景音。由于国家电网大面积崩溃,发电机成了这里的主要电源。

销售中国产发电机的Alaba商人农索•恩瓦科沃(Nonso Nwankwo)表示:“没有发电机,这个市场就存在不下去。”他卖的中国发电机,售价是日本老式发电机的四分之一。

但一台发电机生产每千瓦时电的成本估计为45奈拉,约为美国平均住宅电费的3倍。如果把维修费用纳入考虑,Alaba市场其它电器的价格看上去就不那么划算了。

腐败也增加了额外成本。一名Alaba商人表示,“摆平”——也就是贿赂——海关官员和警方,也会让每进口4万美元抽油烟机的成本增加7000美元。尽管如此,由于有廉价的中国商品,Alaba的客户们仍较为富裕。

但数万名失业的尼日利亚纺织工人境遇却相反。大量中国纺织品的涌入,对本已因电力不足而苦苦挣扎的尼日利亚工厂构成了沉重打击。面对中国的竞争,刺激本地制造业的努力似乎是徒劳的。

尼日利亚出现工业中产阶级的可能性,看上去就像200年前的欧洲一样渺茫。

但当选为Alaba董事长的戴克表示,全球化为尼日利亚人提供了掏钱的财力和动机——至少在购买电视机方面如此。“这本应是一种奢侈品,”他表示,“但现在成了一种必需品。”

译者/何黎

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