Lives change af­ter Africans ‘catch a job’

China Daily European Weekly - - COVER STORY - By DAVID BLAIR XIAO XIANGYI Con­tact the writ­ers at david­blair@chi­

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.”

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