From Chungking to Nairobi

Dylan Bushell-Embling

The credit crunch hasn't dampened trade at the Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong, the source of at least 15% of sub-Sarahan Africa's mobile phones.

A fascinating feature in the Financial Times reveals that the infamous, seedy Chungking Mansions today hosts a thriving handset trade floor, where some 90 vendors sell phones ranging from brand new models to refabbed phones to C-grade fakes to traders from all over the world.

The floor is particularly popular with African traders eager to carve out a slice of the continent's booming handset market.

It even has its own academic, Gordon Mathews, professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who has made a major study of the Chungking handset trade.

He estimates that some 10 million phones per year are bought there. In Kenya between 70 and 80% of all phones sold were procured at the building. Traders prefer to move the handsets via air travel, filling up their bags and carry-on luggage with as many phones as they can take on the plane.

There are an estimated 60 million mobile phone subscribers in Nigeria alone - a penetration rate of 32.79% - and that number is set to grow by 10 million a year over the next five years. Not bad considering that in 2001, mobile penetration was less than 1%.

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