Turning Ethiopia Into China’s ChinaPublished Posted on | By TZTA News
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Ethiopian workers walking through the parking lot of Huajian Shoes’ factory outside Addis Ababa in June chose the wrong day to leave their shirts untucked. The company’s president, just arrived from China, spotted them through the window, sprang up, and ran outside. Zhang Huarong, a former People’s Liberation Army soldier, harangued them in Chinese, tugging at one man’s POLO SHIRTand forcing another worker’s into his pants. Amazed, the workers stood silent until the eruption subsided.
Zhang’s factory is part of the next wave of China’s investment in Africa. It started with infrastructure, especially the kind that helped the Chinese extract African oil, copper, and other raw materials to fuel China’s industrial complex. Now China is getting too expensive to do the low-tech work it’s known for. African nations such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tanzania want their share of the 80 million manufacturing jobs that China is expected to export, according to Justin Lin Yifu, a former World Bank chief economist who teaches economics at Peking University. Weaker consumer spending in the U.S. and Europe has prompted global retailers TO SPEED UP their search for lower-cost producers.
In a country where 80 percent of the labor force is in agriculture, manufacturers don’t have to worry about finding new workers. The population of about 96 million is Africa’s second-largest after Nigeria’s. Cheap labor and electricity and a government striving to draw foreign INVESTMENT make Ethiopia more attractive than many other African nations, says Deborah Brautigam, author of The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa and a professor of international development and comparative politics at Johns Hopkins University. “They are trying to establish conditions for a transformation,” Brautigam says. “It could become the China of Africa.” Foreign DIRECT INVESTMENT in Ethiopia jumped 3.4 times to $953 million last year from the year before, according to estimates by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Huajian’s 3,500 Ethiopian workers produced 2 million pairs of shoes last year. Located in one of the country’s first industrial zones—which offer better infrastructure and tax exemptions—the factory began operating in January 2012. It became profitable its first year and now makes $100,000 to $200,000 a month, Zhang says—an insufficient return that he claims will rise as workers become better trained. Beneath bright fluorescent lights and amid the drone of machines, workers cut, glue, stitch, and sew Marc Fisher leather boots destined for the U.S. market. Supervisors monitor quotas on WHITEBOARDS, giving small cash rewards to winning teams and criticizing those who fall short.