Lives change after Africans ‘catch a job’
Seven years ago, Damis Degef didn’t have a job. Now the 28-yearold Ethiopian is a manager at the Huajian shoe factory on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He is married and has a young daughter, with another child on the way.
Huajian now has 6,000 local workers and only 200 Chinese staff members. “If the factory were not here, maybe those 6,000 people would not have any work. So it is a very good opportunity for our country,” Damis says.
Zhang Huarong, the chairman of Huajian, told the Daily Mail: “My goal is to create 30,000 jobs in Ethiopia by 2020, with exports reaching $1 billion (860 million euros; £767 million) to $1.5 billion.”
The shoes, made for such high-end brands as Gucci, Michael Kors and Guess, are 100 percent for export — with 95 percent going to the United States because they can be sold there tariff-free under the African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000. Workers can make from $50 to $150 per month, depending on their skills — good salaries in Ethiopia.
Before he came to Huajian, Damis was majoring in clinical nursing at Addis Ababa University. “At that time in our country, it was not easy to catch work. So when I came to the shoe factory, I was not choosy. I just wanted to catch a job. I started from a line worker, step by step.”
After six months, he was chosen to be a supervisor and worked in that position for a year. The company then sent him to China to learn the Chinese language for 18 months, as well as to learn the many skills needed to make shoes and to understand the company’s culture.
“Six or 10 years ago, there was not any investment in Ethiopia, so it was hard for a worker to catch a job. Now, so many foreigners invest here. When someone graduates, they can get a job,” he says.
“Maybe that job is a small thing, but, the key is to catch it. I needed to catch one job, then I needed to work hard. With hard work, I could upgrade myself,” Damis says.
He adds that to become a senior manager, the most important thing is to be determined to cooperate with your colleagues and boss. He says he loves working with Chinese colleagues because they work very hard. “I appreciate the opportunity to learn management and Chinese in China. What you have learned cannot be robbed by others.”
Liang Huyi, manager of public relations for Huajian Group, says: “Our boss wants most of the senior managers in the company to be Ethiopians, rather than Chinese. Most Chinese in management are merely technical supervisors.”
Tao Huixing, director of the managing committee of the Eastern Industrial Zone near Addis Ababa, estimates that the unemployment rate in Ethiopia is about 45 percent. “High unemployment would lead to violence among the anxious youth. If we produce 15,000 job opportunities, 15,000 families will benefit from them,” he says.
Other young Africans working for Chinese employers or on Chinesebuilt projects tell similar stories of how getting a steady job changed their lives.
For example, Alice Nikisita got a job as a secretary for China International Water and Electric Co, which is building the Isimba Dam on the Nile River in Uganda.
“Before, I did not have a reliable job, just short-term contractual work. This has been a great opportunity because it is a job with a monthly payment,” she says. “I’ve also got international exposure. I was chosen to go to Beijing to represent CWE in a singing contest. I came in second. I also got to visit the huge Three Gorges Dam. This has changed my life.
“CWE is developing the surrounding areas a lot. They have constructed schools and given the children scholastic materials. They have built roads and public services. The roads especially help the people a lot because it helps them transport agricultural products to towns,” she says.
Nikisita also says people “are opening their own businesses. The government is encouraging this a lot, especially in agriculture. You can earn your own money as a person, rather than trying to be employed by someone else.”
Salia Mohammed got a job as an attendant on the new, 759-kilometer standard-gauge railway that runs from Addis Ababa to the port at Djibouti, giving land-locked Ethiopia access to the sea. The railway was built by China Railway Group Ltd, known as CREC, and China Civil Engineering Construction Corp, and was funded by the Export-Import Bank of China. CREC and CCECC formed a joint venture to operate the railway and to train local employees to take over operations in 2024. For exports and imports, the railway supplements an old, two-lane trucking road, which is unpaved in many places.
Salia says: “In our country, people go to university, but just stay home after they graduate. For example, I graduated in structural civil engineering, but I could not get a job because there is a shortage of jobs. To get a job, you have to have experience, but you cannot get that experience unless you work. The jobs are occupied by a few people.
“At first, I was not happy to take this job because I wanted to work as an engineer. But it is better to work than not work. However, I’ve come to love this job because I can serve people. When you see them satisfied, it is a big thing,” she adds.
“This railroad will change our country. Before, people had to travel on buses that were not air-conditioned from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa,” Salia says. “It was very hard on the disabled and people with kids. This train provides service with quality. I want to train many others about how to use this technology, about how to use this railway.”