“When we want cheap, we go for China.”

Thats the sentiment that is being expressed by Africa’s growing consumer middle class.

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.

The influx of cheap Chinese products has all but destroyed the local economy and manufactures but that isn’t something that is only exclusive to Nigeria. It is a story that is very familiar around the world that allows the coming in of Chinese goods.

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