The real story of China in Africa
It was a pleasant surprise to hear the announcements in Chinese on an Ethiopian Airlines flight fromWashington to Addis Ababa. It shows the welcome arms Ethiopia is extending to Chinese.
In fact, the cab driver taking me toWashington’s Dulles Airport in the morning was excited to learn that I was going to Ethiopia. She said I should also go to her hometown Uganda, only a short distance from Ethiopia, where Chinese are also welcomed.
While poverty and diseases still haunt many African nations, the continent’s economy is taking off in a big way, and China has been part of that in the past decade.
There has been plenty ofWestern criticism, often stereotyped, about China’s involvement in Africa. A former NewYork Times reporter wrote a book this year simply based on some brief and random chats with several Chinese living and working in Africa. The one-sided narrative in the book is from the same prejudice people often hear.
What I have found in the last few days in Ethiopia defymuchof the Western narrative. Chinese companies are not only welcomed, but also play a major role in job creation, and economic and social development.
YonasGetachew, who has been handling contract management for the Ethiopian Branch of ZTE, a telecom giant from China, talked about how happy he is to come to the office every day, as he learns newthings in a very good working environment.
He is very proud to be a ZTE employee because the company has not only helped build Ethiopia’s telecominfrastructure, it has also been practicing good corporate social responsibility, such as donating books to the local community. His pride is on his face when he said his good salary allows him to support his family.
Getachewsounded more than a ZTE employee when he said China’s economic achievement in the past decades has set a good example for his country.
While ZTE has hired more than 100 Ethiopians, Huajian, a Chinese shoe manufacturer, has about 3,200 local employees in its factory in the Eastern Industry Zone, about an hour drive from the center of Addis Ababa. Its own future industry zone to be built in Addis Ababa is expected to boast more than 50,000 employees, most of them locals.
As I arrived before the dinner hour in the Eastern Industry Zone, manyHuajian Ethiopian workers were playing ping-pong, basketball and soccer in the factory compound.
Huajian is one of some 20 Chinese companies operating in the Eastern Industry Zone. Other companies include auto, packaging, textile and garment, steel and cement factories.
The first industrial zone in Ethiopia has been expanding, another 130,000 square-meters s being constructed to meet the growing demand in a country where power outage is more than a daily occurrence and lack of infrastructure is a big challenge.
Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest nations, faces enormous challenges in poverty reduction and development. And undoubtedly China’s development experience in the last fewdecades has fueled the optimism of Chinese entrepreneurs about a promising future for Ethiopia. With 96 million people, Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa, and could be an important player in the global supply chain.
Likemy pleasant surprise on the Ethiopian Airlines flight, I have also been amazed by how many Ethiopians, whether at ZTE orHuajian, speak Chinese, albeit at the very basic level. That is certainly a sign of friendliness.
Chinese companies are still mostly newto operating in this foreign land, and misunderstandings due to cultural differences do occur. However, there are not the tensions that Western news media like to play up. The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA. email@example.com