King George VI St, piazza
Home to the 3.2 million year old “Lucy,” an upright Australopithecus humanoid which was excavated in 1974 by American paleoanthropologist Donald C. Johanson, the National Museum boasts a splendid collection. It also houses the throne of the late Emperor Haile Selassie.
MESKEL SQUARE of 3.8 million is the headquarters of the African Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and has more UN diplomatic missions than any other city in the world outside NewYork and Geneva, they certainly have a point.
In addition, Ethiopian Airlines is fast becoming the biggest on the continent with more destinations than any other African carrier. It also links Addis to Europe and to the US and Canada with direct flights to Washington, DC, Toronto and starting in June, to Los Angeles.
The image of Ethiopia held by many in the West runs counter to the current picture. Construction projects dot the Addis skyline and an initiative to create more paved roads throughout the country is bearing fruit. This is all part of the government’s five year (2011-2015) Growth and Transformation Plan. The next five year plan is expected to be unveiled later this year.
While the GDP might be just $47.3 billion, which works out to $1,300 per capita (2013 figures), it is growing around a robust 10 percent each year. Agriculture still dominates the nation’s economy with coffee production accounting for 10 percent of the GDP.
Gebrselassie has dreams of opening an Hyundai parts plant near Addis but admits the company’s standards are extremely high. Surprisingly his factory wouldn’t be the first. For the past three years the Chinese automobile manufacturer Lifan has been building cars under the name Yangfan Motors.
Everywhere there is evidence of Chinese investment. The Addis Light Rail Project (AALRP), which will crisscross the city when it opens in the spring, is one example. Its 39 stations – 25 above ground – is funded by a $475 million loan from China and built by China Railway Group Ltd., the world’s second largest construction contractor.
The Chinese government also gifted the people of Ethiopia with the $200 million African Union building. The twenty story office tower – the tallest building in Addis – adjoins a conference center with a 2,500 seat assembly hall. Representatives from the 54 member nations reside in the Ethiopian capital contributing to the multicultural experience.
On the outskirts of Addis the Chinese shoe manufacturer Huajian has built a factory which employs more than 1,750 people. The company produces shoes for Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, Naturalizer and many more well-known brands. The Ethiopian operation is reportedly shipping more than $1 million worth of shoes to Europe and the US each month.
Chinese companies have long recognized the opportunities Ethiopia presents. Labor is cheap and nonunionized, which is something that former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned could be exploited by foreign investors when she visited Africa three years ago. Some interpreted her comments as a veiled dig at China. Perhaps most encouraging is that Ethiopia has enjoyed a stable government since 1991 – something not every country on the African continent can claim.
In It for the Long Run
The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, was behind the ambitious development plan now being orchestrated by his successor, Hailemariam Desalagn. It was Zenawi who laid the first stone in the controversial project known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
The dam was initially funded by the sale of bonds to wealthy ex-patriot Ethiopians and high-income residents. Gebrselassie