Wilson Wu has big plans for the free-trade zone he manages in Igbesa, a scruffy town in Ogun State, about 60km from the frenzy of Lagos, Nigeria’s huge commercial capital. Casting his gaze over what is today a small cluster of industrial warehouses surrounded by mud roads and bush, Wu can see an altogether brighter future. “We will have a five-star hotel, a golf club, a Walmart,” he says in a well-rehearsed pitch. “It will be like Dubai.” An electrical engineer by profession, Wu’s journey to West Africa followed an assignment as a young man to Myanmar, where he worked for Power Construction Corporation of China, a state-owned group, upgrading the electricity grid. In 2011, hungry for more adventure, he packed his bags and headed for Nigeria, where, still barely 30 years old, he was tapped to manage the Ogun State free-trade zone, a private-public project in which the local government provides the land and Chinese enterprise the capital. Wu is one of hundreds of thousands of Chinese ...

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