Academic journal article Africa

From Scotch Whisky to Chinese Sneakers: International Commodity Flows and New Trade Networks in Oshikango, Namibia

Academic journal article Africa

From Scotch Whisky to Chinese Sneakers: International Commodity Flows and New Trade Networks in Oshikango, Namibia

Article excerpt


After the end of the colonial period, international commodity flows into Africa at first continued to reproduce patterns of colonial domination. In the last ten years, however, important shifts have become visible. New commodity chains bypassing the old colonial powers have developed and are changing the way Africa is integrated into the global economy. This article looks at four trade networks that converge in Oshikango, a small trade boom town in northern Namibia. It describes how trade in Scotch whisky, Brazilian furniture, Japanese used cars and Chinese sneakers into Oshikango is organized. Whisky trade follows old colonial patterns; furniture trade relies on new South-South business contacts backed by political lobbying; in the used car trade, goods from the North are traded by networks of Southern migrant entrepreneurs; Chinese consumer goods are brought into Africa by Chinese migrants who bridge the cultural gap between the markets. Trade in Oshikango highlights the importance of new trade routes for Africa. Migrant entrepreneurs play an important role in these trade routes. A closer look at them shows, however, that their importance is largely due to opportunities arising from their place in the international system, not to a group's inherent cultural or social characteristics.


Apres la fin de la periode coloniale, les flux de marchandises internationaux entrant en Afrique ont continue, initialement, de reproduire les schemas de domination coloniale. Or, des changements importants sont apparus au cours de ces dix dernieres annees. De nouvelles chaines de marchandises omettant les anciennes puissances coloniales se sont developpees et modifient la facon dont l'Afrique s'integre dans l'economie mondiale. Cet article se penche sur quatre reseaux d'echanges commerciaux qui convergent a Oshikango, petite ville du Nord de la Namibie dont le commerce est en plein essor. Il decrit comment s'organise le commerce du whisky ecossais, des meubles bresiliens, des voitures d'occasion japonaises et des chaussures de sport chinoises a Oshikango. Le commerce du whisky suit les anciens schemas coloniaux; le commerce des meubles s'appuie sur de nouvelles relations commerciales SudSud soutenues par un lobbying politique; le commerce des voitures d'occasion du Nord est assure par des reseaux d'entrepreneurs migrants du Sud; les biens de consommation chinois sont amenes en Afrique par des migrants chinois qui comblent la fracture culturelle entre les marches. Le commerce a Oshikango souligne l'importance des nouvelles voies d'echanges commerciaux pour l'Afrique. Les entrepreneurs migrants jouent un role important dans ces voies d'echanges. Un examen plus detaille de ces voies montre, cependant, que leur importance tient essentiellement aux opportunites qui decoulent de leur place dans le systeme international, et non aux caracteristiques culturelles ou sociales inherentes a un groupe.


Imported consumer goods have been an element in African lives for many centuries, but the increase in consumption has probably never been as great as in the past twenty years. Everywhere in Africa, people adopt new commodities that change their daily lives. Consumption, and the quest for consumption, has become one of the major modes of integration of young Africans into a global society, and consumption choices have become an important means to express personal identity in relation to the wider world, with all its social and economic discrepancies. (1) Consumption is thus directly linked to political identities and to self-assertion in a context of economic deprivation, and the impossibility of making certain consumption choices ranks among the most acute experiences of exclusion.

The symbolic interaction with the wider world through consumption relies on a very tangible mode of integration of African countries into the world market for consumer goods. In the past twenty years, transnational commodity trade into Africa has been the topic of a number of major ethnographies (for example, Burke 1996; Hansen 2000; Vierke 2006; Weiss 1996). …

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