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Chinese factory in Ethiopia ignites African dreams

By  : INDICS Operator Updated  :   2018-04-12 13:52:23


Demis Degef, 27, tells how the factories changed the course of his career.

In 2012, Degef graduated from Addis Ababa University with a degree in clinical nursing but could not find a job. He later chose to join Huajian and learn shoe-making.

His college education and English language skills came in handy. Two months later, he became a team leader. After a year and a half, he found himself in Dongguan city, where Huajian sent him to its base back in south China for training. Now he is in a management position.

Degef remembered how he worked to improve his Chinese in China. "Every night after I returned to the dormitory, I listened to online Chinese conversation in bed," he said. When the training was over, he was ranked top among his peers.

Today, Degef speaks fluent Chinese. In 2017, he was appointed head of a workshop at Huajian's second factory in Ethiopia and his salary was 20 times what he got five years ago.

To date, Huajian has selected more than 500 Ethiopian employees for a training of six months to two years in China. They are expected to be the future managers of Huajian in their home country.

For 27-year-old Esrael Etefa, the Chinese firm has changed local people's working ethics. "For many Ethiopians, it does not matter if we are late for work. If we do not feel like working, we just ask for a leave," he said.

"However, while working in the factory, I gradually realized that if we are casual about work, we will damage the company's productivity, which will also affect our own incomes," Etefa said.

Etefa has a Chinese name -- "Fazhan," or development. "I like the name because of its meaning," said Etefa, "The company provides a platform for many of our people to develop ourselves."


Few had expected Ethiopia to become a manufacturing base. Today it is embracing a labor-intensive, export-oriented manufacturing industry catering to developed markets.

Every year, in the two Huajian factories alone, about 5 million pairs of shoes, made for brands like Marc Fisher, Coach and UGG, and labeled "Made In Ethiopia," are shipped to the U.S. and European markets, fetching the East African nation some 31.08 million U.S. dollars in foreign exchange earnings in 2017.

Following China's experience, Ethiopia now plans to increase the number of its industrial parks to 15 by June 2018 as part of its efforts to boost manufacturing and export.

Within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, China has also built and financed a 4.2-billion-dollar Ethiopia-Djibouti electrified rail line to boost Ethiopia's industrial exports.

"The industrial parks lying on the path of the rail line will be a game changer for both countries and in general for the region, enhancing economic transformation and easing transportation of goods," said Ahmed Shide, Ethiopian transport minister.

"Africa has abundant labor resources. More importantly, the locals love to work here very much," Zhang Huarong, Huajian founder and chairman, said.

For the Huajian case, it is an integration of China's technique advantages with Ethiopia's low-cost production advantages, achieving win-win cooperation, he added.

At the close of the day, in the Chinese shoe-making factories Ethiopian workers have finished their work and are getting ready to go home, laughing and chatting with co-workers, confident about their future.

"Since I began working at Huajian, I have my own house through my own efforts," said the buoyant Degef, "The life of my whole family is secure now."

In his book "The Quest for Prosperity: How Developing Economies Can Take Off," Justin Yifu Lin, former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank, said, "The quick success of Huajian Shoe Factory in Ethiopia shows that the (Chinese) recipe can also work in other developing countries."

Ethiopia, which lacks capacity to improve transport facilities and business environment for the whole country, can build industrial parks to attract investments, Lin said.

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