The real story of China in Africa

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

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. chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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