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Ethiopia shoe factory widens footprint of China in Africa

DUKEM, Ethiopia--A steady drone of machines hum as workers assemble shoes in a Chinese-built industrial park outside Addis Ababa, the first in Ethiopia by the Asian giant deepening its presence in Africa.

A handful of Chinese supervisors at the Huajian factory watch hundreds of Ethiopian workers trim leather, glue soles and lace up boots in the Eastern Industry Zone in Dukem, 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of the Ethiopian capital.

It marks a shift in China's traditional investments in Africa, which mainly involve heavy infrastructure development and oil production, while for Ethiopia it offers an alternative to export of unprocessed raw materials.

“The two sides have a commitment, they say 'you should have something, I should get something,'” said Qian Guoqing, the deputy director of the Eastern Industry Zone.

Huajian, one of China's biggest shoe manufacturers, plans to invest up to US$2 billion (1.5 billion euros) in Ethiopia to make shoes for export to Europe and North America.

Construction of the industrial park started in 2009, and rows of three-storey green and yellow buildings now stand on a patch of the expansive land. The government says it plans to build five more industrial zones throughout the country to attract further foreign investment.

When completed in 2014, the US$250 million project will host over 80 factories and create 20,000 local jobs. Currently six Chinese-run factories operate in the zone, including a car assembly plant and a plastics factory.

However, analysts say large-scale investment in Ethiopia has risks and its financial benefits are still uncertain.

“It's not a risk-free strategy and it's not necessarily clear that it will work,” said Stefan Dercon, development economist at Oxford University.

“The Chinese ... take the opportunities now in Ethiopia where they make the trade-off between very high rewards. That's pretty risky in the first few years of doing this, and we'll have to wait and see.”

To minimize risks and attract investors, the Ethiopian government is offering four-year tax breaks, cheap land and free electricity to investors in the industrial zone.

But challenges abound: foreigners complain of poor telecommunications, overbearing bureaucracy and the absence of a port in the landlocked Horn of Africa country.

Cultural differences, the language barrier and a poor work ethic among the locals also pose hurdles, said Paul Lu, Huajian's human resource manager, but noted that the availability of labour and raw materials were key attractions.

“We came to make shoes and we had to consider the resources — Ethiopia is very rich in leather,” said Paul at the factory's entrance, where about two-dozen people were waiting for job interviews.

May 21, 2012    smeq2002@
For the language barrier, who speaks English better, Chinese or Ethiopian? I did not see the advantage of Ethiopian to work like robots for the Chinese poor salary. Ethiopians have good work ethics, check in the west. So pay good to get good. Otherwise do not expect to get slaves in this era. You are late.
May 21, 2012    habesha.eth@
Come on, let’s be honest. Habesha worked hard outside their country not in Ethiopia as the payment might be one reason though. The truth is most people don't have good work ethics. The language barrier doesn't mean Ethiopians r poor in English, but they found difficulty to communicate Chinese and Ethiopian which means they don't have easy language which is common for both. So, don't take it as a negative thing to Ethiopian only.
Good luck ETHIOPIA, WE'LL SEE MORE SOON ...
October 18, 2012    mekuriyawdemise@
I have refereed a research that indicates Chinese firms are paying an average of 50 USD to Ethiopian employees which the research also clearly shows it as 1/20 of the wage of Chinese workers who work in the same firm at the same level. Nevertheless, they are still trying to complain as if Ethiopians have not yet developed a good working habit. That is in no uncertain terms unfounded allegation which emanates from unflinching selfish egoism. Let them go back to their country if they have no any merit for this nation.
December 24, 2012    mekileet@
One should understand the importance of salary on wages, so we Ethiopians have a great and good working habit, but the salary which are paid by both domestic and foreign investors are not fair thereby enforce our work habit.
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This April 19 photo shows people working on the assembly line at Huajian shoe factory in Dukem, Ethiopia. Huajian is one of six Chinese factories operating in the Chinese-built Eastern Industry Zone — Ethiopia's first industrial park — which the government hopes will attract private foreign investment and boost the country's manufacturing and export sector.

(AFP)

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