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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 December 2005, 13:46 GMT
Dubai appeals to African traders
By Daniel Dickinson
BBC News reporter in Dubai

Siril Mallya
Mr Mallya hopes to sell Dubai-sourced shoes in Tanzania

It is difficult to keep pace with the jolly, energetic and entrepreneurial Siril Mallya from Tanzania as he conducts his exhausting tour of Dubai's wholesale shoe shops.

This is a man with a mission to buy around 17,000 pairs of shoes during a three-day shopping spree, shoes that he will take back to his home country to sell at a profit.

Mr Mallya does not speak much English nor do most of the Chinese wholesalers he buys shoes from.

But that does not matter too much, because in Dubai, it is money which does the talking.

A calculator, a dose of humour, some exaggerated gestures and a thick wad of cash, preferably dollars, are normally enough to strike a deal.

No guarantees

Mr Mallya has been coming to Dubai in search of cut-price Chinese shoes for the last six years, visiting every two or three months.

Lufti Trading.
Aircons, fridges, microwaves and food processors are traded

"I buy cheap shoes, because in Tanzania the people are poor," he says.

He buys the shoes wholesale for around 70 US cents and sells them at Kariakoo market in Dar es Salaam for $1.70, making a profit of around 40 US cents a pair, once shipping and tax have been paid.

It can be a highly lucrative business, but it is not without risks, he says.

"If you sell all the shoes you import into Tanzania, you can make a lot of money, but if you do not you can make a loss or only a small profit.

"There are a lot of other people doing this, so the profits are not guaranteed."


It is not just shoes that African traders like Siril Mallya are importing.

Dubai has established itself as the duty-free clearing centre for a dizzying range of goods from across the world.

Sultan Lootah from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Sultan Lootah says African traders love Dubai

It is likely that many of the goods found in African markets and shops are sourced in Dubai.

Whatever the trader is looking for, it can probably be found here.

Clothes from India, electronics, and cars from Japan, locks from China, mobile phones from South Korea, food from Indonesia, half-life size models of Santa Claus from an unknown destination.

The list is as endless as anyone's imagination.

Take Mr Mallya, who headed straight from shoe shopping to try to buy a JCB earth digger, which he was planning to rent out to Tanzania builders for $30 an hour.

Easy exports

If Dubai is good for African traders, then it is even better for Dubai's wholesalers.

At Lufti Trading, air conditioning units and fridge freezers jostle for space with washing machines, microwave ovens and food processors.

Most of this is destined for Africa, according to product manager Mohammed Kuthus.

"Our customers mainly come from Africa, from all over the continent apart from southern Africa," he says.

"We have streamlined the buying and documentation process so it's easy for them to export to Africa."

Stronger trade links

The trading links with Africa are of course not new, but go back centuries when sailing dhows carried goods across the Gulf to East Africa.

Today that trade continues, but on much larger scale, mostly by container ship and air freight.

Sultan Lootah from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says Dubai has a lot to offer traders.

"There is an extensive choice of quality goods from around the world," he says.

"Add competitive pricing and trustworthy dealers and it is not difficult to understand why Dubai has become the African traders' destination of choice."

Trade with Africa has increased by over 400% in the last 4 years, according to Chamber of Commerce figures.

And more traders from across the continent, like Mr Mallya from Tanzania, are expected to source goods here.

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