Traders in Global Value Chains: The Case of Togolese Female Traders and African Print Textiles

  • Beletchei Ebia

Student thesis: Phd


This PhD thesis analyses the African Print Textile (APT) trade in Togo, West Africa, through global value chain (GVC) theory. Togo has been a centre of the APT trade since the early 20th century, when a Dutch textile company enlisted Togolese traders to help market Dutch wax cloth to West Africa. In return, these female traders acquired monopoly access in the marketing of this prestigious cloth throughout the larger region. Today, Togo retains its status as a hub of the APT trade and these ‘Nana-Benz’ traders still have ties to the Dutch manufacturer of wax print. However, the flood of Chinese-manufactured APT that has inundated West African markets since the early 2000s—much of it, ‘imitation’ Dutch cloth—has led to a dramatic restructuring of the cloth markets. My thesis explores the evolution of this market since the arrival of Chinese APT and the competition among the cloth supplied by each value chain. It asks the following over-arching research question: What is the role of traders in GVCs and how is their role changing as a result of the restructuring of North-South and South-South APT value chains in Togo? Conceptually, the paper builds on growing attention to South-South GVCs, specifically through attention to the previously largely overlooked role of traders. Research findings are based on qualitative interviews and participant observation in the textile markets of Togo’s capital, Lomé. Over the course of 12 months in 2020-2021, I conducted more than 100 interviews with traders, wholesalers, and street sellers of APT, as well as with state and port officials. In addition to making repeated visits to the shops of traders, I circulated in Lomé’s formal and informal cloth markets. While quantitative assessments of cloth imports and sales were difficult to access, I was able to draw on rough estimates of cloth imports, which complemented my qualitative findings. Because the research was carried out during COVID-19, I was able to study the effects of the pandemic on APT value chains and to observe where value chain strengths and vulnerabilities lay. Perhaps not surprisingly, the South-South chain proved more resilient than the North-South chain and even flourished during the time of COVID. Analytically, the thesis makes several novel contributions to the GVC, and related global production networks (GPN), literature. First, it explores the intersection of North-South and South-South value chains in a context where such intersection remains poorly understood by GVC/GPN scholars despite its increasing relevance today. Second, it argues that traders take the place of lead firms in APT value chains and govern the chain through a regime that is diffuse and rhizomatic rather than hierarchical and top-down. Third, it suggests that traders’ ability to link formal and informal markets gives them special advantage in a region of the world where 80% of the economy is informal (while also indicating that informality remains under-appreciated by GVC/GPN theory). Fourth, it analyses upgrading on the distribution side of APT chains and suggests that GVC scholars have missed an important opportunity in focusing more on production- than distribution-side upgrading. Overall, the thesis points to the significance of distribution activity, both for understanding the nature of South-South GVCs and for development policy in an area of the world where distribution rather than manufacture is economically predominant.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRory Horner (Supervisor) & Tanja Bastia (Supervisor)


  • GVCs
  • Global South
  • Traders

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