Chinese Bikes find their market (West Africa!!)

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Chinese Bikes find their market (West Africa!!)

Postby Micronaut » Tue Oct 10, 2006 5:24 pm

In West Africa, Chinese Motorcycles Find a Market
Blake Lambert | Bio | 04 Oct 2006
World Politics Watch Exclusive
BAMAKO, Mali -- Lambert Coulibaly, 40, seems an unlikely proponent of the global marketplace.

Employed as a maintenance worker by a hotel in the River Quarter of Mali's capital, he spends not a little of his day sitting around and smoking.

Yet Coulibaly commutes to his job each day on a Chinese-made Yamaha motorcycle.

As he travels around Bamako, he is joined by tens of thousands of Malians on motorcycles and mopeds, the majority of which are also Chinese.

"The Chinese motorcycles are cheaper. Plus the Japanese are more expensive," Coulibaly said.

He said his Chinese-made Yamaha cost about $620.
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Compare that to the price of its Japanese-made counterpart, nearly five times that amount, at $2,950.

But the sleek, colorful design of the Chinese-made Power K, a cross between a moped and a motorcycle, also attracts style-conscious young Malians, such as 27-year-old Amama Sidibe.

The repairman at the same hotel where Coulibaly works, he owns an up-market cellular phone on which he stores music and videos and pictures of international soccer stars such as Brazil's Ronaldinho and Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o.

The Power K isn't Sidibe's first foray into the Chinese market, as he bought motorcycles manufactured there in 2003 and 2004, but he said he loves his new one; he gets a good bike at the cheap price of 375,000 CFA (West African francs) or about $735.

Sidibe even called the Power K the favorite brand of Malians, an unverifiable, if sensible, claim given the number of red and blue models riding across Bamako and seen as far west as Kayes, 600 kilometers away, near the Senegalese border.

However, pragmatism is why he bought his bike.

"For us here in Mali, we don't have good roads. I need to keep a motorcycle to get around easier," Sidibe said.

Bamako hosts a dense network of paved major streets, often one-way, and dirt tracks, which allow for two lanes of traffic.

In its River Quarter, 4 x 4 trucks and Mercedes sedans slowly erode their suspensions while negotiating their way into parking spaces at up-market restaurants.

Sidibe complained the roads, dirt or paved, are too small, a fair comment for anyone jockeying for space alongside cars and taxi vans, in green and white, on the cramped routes.

That doesn't account for the dusty traffic jams either.

Circumventing the crush of vehicles is certainly easier on a motorcycle, which can maneuver in and out of lanes, and it can save its rider time.

Almost everyone in Mali seems to own a motorcycle, and their use cuts across lines of age and, unusually for a majority Muslim country, gender.

The young and the middle-aged, men and women, dressed in suits, traditional wear or leisure clothes move around on two wheels.

However, most Malians needing a vehicle do not enjoy a wealth of options.

Even the cheapest of the Chinese-made motorcycles, at $590, can cut deeply into a person's financial resources.

In Bamako, a relatively good monthly salary ranges from $120 to $200, maybe as high as $250.

A lower-paying job brings home $70 to $80 each month, which, in one example, is used by the earner to care for himself, his fiance and his child along with his poorer family members.

At those earnings, one cannot possibly buy a car when a reliable one costs around 3,000,000 CFA, double the price of the Japanese-made Yamaha motorcycle.

"In our country here, a car is very, very expensive," Amadou Dicko, a graduate of the University of Mali, said. "I think even all civil servants cannot afford it."

Dicko, the son of civil servants, owns an aging, fuel-efficient Italian Vespa that relies on pedal power to get started, which he purchased for about $130.

He said the motorcycle is ideal for students, but they're not the only young people to appreciate the machine.

After one press conference concluded in a Bamako suburb, waves of journalists, 35 and under, rode off into the Saturday sunset on their bikes.

This combination of low wages and poor roads has supplied China with a giant opening for its motorcycles.

A World Bank study released earlier this month, examining the economic links between Africa and Asia, showed motorcycles were China's third-largest import to sub-Saharan Africa between 2002 to 2004, topped only by cotton fabrics and footwear.

Not surprisingly, Mali, a country of around 12 million people, is sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest importer of these machines.

But that is a mere fragment of the story, because Mali is but one of five West African countries -- the others being Nigeria, Togo, Cameroon and Guinea -- which are rife with Chinese motorcycles.

Citizens there may have equal fidelity to the Yamahas, the Power Ks and other affordable brands.

Coulibaly and Sidibe recognized and embraced the pro-China trend in their own country long before the World Bank provided statistical confirmation.

They intimately know their local economy and arrived at their own calculations.

"There's not a lot of money in Mali," Coulibaly said. "I believe cheaper is better here."

Blake Lambert worked in Uganda between June 2003 and March 2006, reporting on the country for The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor and other publications. The Ugandan government summarily expelled him in March 2006, declaring him a "threat" to the country's national security. He is now working in Mali.
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