Hundreds of newly-arrived Chinese wholesale merchants are flooding Senegal's capital Dakar, with cheap goods, pleasing customers and retailers, but angering their Senegalese competitors.
At the Centenaire market in Dakar, Chinese wholesalers line the street on both sides, renting warehouses for $1,000 a month, selling everything in bulk from plastic toys to space-age looking DVD players.
One buyer, Fatou Gueye, says Senegalese are poor and they love these new shops, because, she says finally she can afford something. Here she says, she can buy for children and adults, for her whole family, almost everything they need.
One man who has just turned himself from chronically unemployed to retailer is also very pleased. He is buying bras, cameras, shoes, belt buckles, pots, pans, colorful pens and notebooks to resell in stores and on the streets of Dakar.
He says it was very cheap to start his business. He started by selling a Chinese pair of shoes he had bought here for $1. There was no way of finding shoes for under $5 besides flip-flops before.
For many people who live on several dollars a day, that's a big difference.
The Senegalese manager of one of the warehouses says the Chinese have created
jobs. He says young kids who used to be pickpockets are now hired as messengers.
Asked whether Senegalese are not afraid the quality of Chinese goods might not be so good, he says that's nonsense. Senegalese want quantity, he says, they want to be able to afford things.
Generally, prices in the Chinese shops are three to five times cheaper than in Lebanese or Senegalese stores.
The invasion started last year when Senegal's government signed a bilateral agreement with China, to encourage Chinese businessmen to set up shop in Dakar. So-called Senegalese investment packages which include visas have been made readily available in China.
But Senegalese shopkeepers say many Chinese who bribe their way buy these business visas at lower than official prices, for about $1,000 a year, and that Chinese typically undervalue their incoming goods to pay lower customs fees as well.
One shopkeeper told VOA he is furious.
"Now I think that I have to change business or to change work because business is very hard because of the Chinese here in Senegal," he said. "We have to stop them here because they do not pay customs, they have bad, bad, bad products. Chinese are going to destroy our country. They have to go out. Chinese, they are going to kill our economy.
Chinese merchants refused to be interviewed for this report, saying their command of French and English was not good enough for an interview, only for making deals.
A social commentator, Aboubacar Oumar, tells VOA, Senegal might currently be the world's most open country to Chinese merchants.
"Senegal has what they call an open door market policy which means that government don't interfere in private sector business initiatives," he said. "So whoever can come in and invest. What they do is they open the market for competition.
So if the Chinese are selling at a cheaper price, what will happen, is if the Senegalese businessmen the way they are complaining, maybe the government will step in to regulate the market and probably put quotas on the Chinese," added Mr. Oumar.
For now, the government has yet to interfere.
Chinese wholesalers say they can make several thousand dollars a day being based in Dakar, compared to Senegalese merchants who say they usually struggle to make $100 in a month.
The invasion is having an impact in the region as well, as trucks can be heard coming in and out of the Centenaire market, taking the cheap Chinese goods to Mauritania, Mali, the Gambia and even the continent's biggest market, Nigeria.