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DEBORAH AMOS, Host:

And now to Africa. Chinese investments in Africa has funded gigantic infrastructure projects - building roads, hospitals, dams and railways. But the vanguard of these Chinese investors on the continent wasn't big business. It was an army of shopkeepers fanning out throughout Africa.

Senegal in West Africa was one of those destinations, specifically a wide avenue in the capital, Dakar, from where NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST: Welcome to Centenaire. You could call this a mini Chinatown right here in Dakar. It's about a 200-yard stretch of road, and behind me, there are lots of little shops, and most of them belong to Chinese merchants and Chinese traders who will come over to sell all sorts of mainly cheap goods.

They sell clothes, they sell bags, they sell shoes, they sell scarves. It's not the big sort of infrastructure project that one sees in other parts of Africa. This is more small business, small-time business and merchants coming over as pioneers to chance their luck in a new land.

ADAMA GAYE: Most people somehow, they represent a new form of colonialism with an Asian face that is coming into Africa.

QUIST: Adama Gaye, a Senegalese commentator and author of the book, "China-Africa: The Dragon and the Ostrich."

GAYE: When the Chinese petty(ph) businesspeople started coming to Senegal, the Chinese did it in a soft way, practicing a new form of Cold War(ph) using cheap goods that they are importing to Africa, getting clothes to the ordinary people.

The Chinese used these ordinary people to be their eyes and ears in territories like Senegal. They are very useful in the grand strategy that China is deploying across the world.

QUIST: Steel Wang, as he likes to be called, has set up shop in Dakar. As the searing Senegalese heat seeps into his store among the shimmering shawls and beaded sandals, he talks and smiles with his customers.

STEEL WANG: Not long ago, my friend came here for business. My friend introduced me to come to Dakar to sell Chinese products. I hope I can make a big market in Africa. In the future, maybe I get lucky.

QUIST: Cheap, mass-produced Chinese imports like those that Wang sells are flooding African markets and crippling some local industries - textiles for instance. The continent simply cannot compete with eye-catching Chinese fabrics with African prints at a fraction of the price. Factories are closing down, and jobs are being lost.

But many shoppers here in Senegal say the Chinese stores are affordable and excellent value.

Good morning, Ma'am. Can I ask your name, please?

Ms. KHADY SALL (Shopper, Senegal) Khady Sall.

QUIST: And I see that you're buying from the Chinese shop here in Dakar.

SALL: (Speaking foreign language).

QUIST: So you're saying that with the rising cost of living, things are quite cheap here and pretty good quality. Can I ask what you bought?

SALL: (Speaking foreign language).

QUIST: So she bought some shawls. She said she bought some sandals, and she bought some perfume - imitation perfume, she says, but cheap.

QUIST: Adama Gaye, the Senegalese author and visiting fellow at John Hopkins University, says China knows what it wants from Africa, but the continent hasn't done the same homework.

GAYE: So the question indeed is what is Africa doing in the face of these challenges? Nothing. Nothing, unfortunately, because it's as if African countries are rushing to China, bowl in hand, and China naturally is in a best position to take advantage - whereas African countries are almost powerless, and just expecting China to be the new messiah.

QUIST: Trade between Africa and China topped more than $55 billion in 2006, up fivefold since 2000 but that's still well below the more than $70 billion in U.S.-Africa trade. But China hopes two-way trade with the continent will hit $100 billion by 2020.

The Chinese shopkeeper in Dakar, Steel Wang, wants to be part of that boom and says he'll give it another few years in Senegal.

WANG: Maybe one, two, three, four, maybe long if lucky, if enough suitable for me. Maybe I can stay here for a long time.

QUIST: And is business good in Senegal, in Centenaire?

WANG: Not very good. Not very good.

QUIST: Why?

WANG: Because too much shop in Dakar.

QUIST: Too much competition?

WANG: Oh yeah, competition, it's more than before for Africa.

QUIST: Adama Gaye calls it a new scramble for Africa.

GAYE: Definitely, Africa has become more attractive because of China. It's like a young girl that suddenly is being vied by many countries. China is in a position to being the heart of Africa, and the West, they are losing out.

QUIST: Gaye says it's up to Africa to make the most of the marriage with China. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.

AMOS: You can see all the stories from our series about China's influence in Africa at NPR.org.

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