The yellow and grey main building of the Addis Ababa railway station was a grand sight under the morning sunshine. It has become a local landmark, a station employee told. Young couples often use it as a backdrop for their wedding photos, and TV shows like to shoot scenes here.
Getachew Betru, general manager of the Ethiopian Railways Corporation, said that it was almost as big a visitor attraction as the 3.2 million-year-old skeleton of “Lucy” at the National Museum of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has a population of almost 100 million people, the second largest in Africa. However, lack of infrastructure has long held back the inland country’s economic development. Ninety-five percent of its imported and exported goods are transported via ports in Djibouti.
After its completion in October 2016, the China-built and operated Addis Ababa-Djibouti Standard Gauge Railway has become a lifeline for Ethiopia and Djibouti’s development.
At the same time, in southern Addis Ababa, a Chinese-built industrial park has also been helping the African country with its industrialisation drive.
Ethiopia has forged a strong partnership with China through cooperation in many areas, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu said on February 9. Addis Ababa has built a multifaceted and mutually beneficial relationship with Beijing, according to a statement from the Ethiopia Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
“China, bilaterally and through the Forum on China Africa Cooperation, has been undertaking fruitful economic partnership aimed at achieving sustainable economic development in the African continent,” the statement quoted Gebeyehu as saying.
Up to Standard
After boarding the green and white train, the Global Times reporter saw many local passengers and some European tourists.
One university student in Addis Ababa told the Global Times that it used to take her 10 hours by bus to get to her hometown in Dire Dawa, a city in eastern Ethiopia. With the new train, her travel time has been reduced to six hours, and a ticket costs only 308 Birr ($10.80), and she is happy she can “go back home frequently.”
Christina, an Italian tourist, told the Global Times that she has been to Beijing and Shanghai and tried China’s bullet trains. The Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway is similar to the trains in China and is very comfortable, she said.
“Such a railway is very convenient for us tourists. For Ethiopia and Djibouti, it is very significant,” another tourist said.
The Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway railway has now been operating for three years, and is run according to China’s railway standards. In that time, it has transported 150 million passengers.
The Railway is jointly built and operated by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation and China Railway No.3 Engineering Group Co Ltd. It is the first cross-country electric railway in Africa, and also the longest in the continent.
It is also the first electric railway run completely according to China’s standard, in every aspect from technological standards, devices, construction to management.
The Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway has opened up a channel to the sea for Ethiopia and greatly boosted logistical efficiency for the two countries.
Getachew Betru said that the railway has reduced the transportation time from Addis Ababa to Djibouti from several days to less than 20 hours. He hopes the railway will help Ethiopia attract more companies and more investment.
During the recent Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU), many representatives hailed China’s infrastructure construction projects in Africa.
Bob, an official from the AU, said that the railways that China built were great, efficient and low-cost. More and more African countries are hoping China will assist them in building good infrastructure facilities and are willing to learn from China’s experience in building railways in order to accelerate their industrialisation process.
Bob noted that African countries are grateful for the chance to learn from China, and that the experience is priceless.
Yuan Qiang, an official from the joint-venture company managing the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, said that there are currently more than 600 Chinese employees operating the railway.
The company has 1,000 employees in Ethiopia and Djibouti. In three years, there will be around 3,000 Ethiopian employees working on the railway.
Currently, local employees are receiving training in a range of fields from technology to management. Through this training, the company hopes Ethiopia will be able to manage the railway itself after six years.
“The training is not easy. The railway is managed in a ‘semi-military’ way. But many local people do not have any knowledge of management and operation of railways,” Yuan said.
“In the first stage, we have to emphasise the sense of time and responsibility again and again”
He said, “It is not only China’s railway technologies and constructions going out, but we also have to practice Chinese standards through an operation.”
Lidia Mekuria, a local train attendant, said that after 45 days of training, she gained a thorough knowledge of etiquette and first aid. She said that she loves her red uniform and her family is proud that she is working on the railway.
Change for the Good
There are several industrial parks along the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway. Outside the Eastern Industry Zone, located in southeastern Addis Ababa, the Global Times reporter met a group of local young people who are looking for jobs here.
They said that they want to work in a Chinese company so that they can learn a skill.
Jiao Yongchun, deputy chief of the management committee of the Eastern Industry Zone, said that over the past five years, the zone has brought about great changes to the area. “It has created 13,000 positions for local people.”
The region used to be a wasteland, and even cars were rarely seen here. But now, the town of Dukem has been transformed into a city thanks to the growing population.
At the Lida (Ethiopia) Textiles Jean Factory from East China’s Jiangsu Province, hundreds of local employees were busy working on the assembly line.
A local worker told the Global Times with excitement that he used to be a farmer, but after working at Lida factory, he could earn more and learn jeans-making skills. He feels that he is improving every day at the company, and changing his life for the better.
Inaugurated in 2010 by Chinese investors, the industry zone is the only overseas economic and trade cooperative zone that is supported by Ethiopia at the national level. The Eastern Industry Zone has attracted at least 85 companies to build factories that manufacture clothing, textiles, shoes, cement, medicine and automobiles, media reported.
Mohamed Shakir, an official from Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Global Times that Chinese elements can be seen everywhere in Addis Ababa, including the newly built airport, highways, railways as well as the headquarters of the AU.
China has been helping Africa get through its infrastructure and financing bottleneck, and this assistance can benefit regional integration in Africa as well as the continent’s industrialisation.
He noted that every project between China and African countries is running successfully.
Chinese companies have built 75 zones for economic and trade cooperation in 24 countries along the Belt and Road routes, contributing more than $2.2 billion in taxes and creating almost 210,000 local jobs by the end of 2017, according to official figures, Xinhua reported in April 2018.
The Global Times reporter learned that some local residents had been persuaded by some Western voices seeking to smear China’s name. Some of them even throw livestock on the railway in order to hinder trains and then demand compensation.
In such cases, Chinese companies will communicate with local governments to resolve these conflicts. Just as in other countries, Chinese companies in Ethiopia are faced with the challenge of changing local people’s opinions about them. Meanwhile, transferring technologies and building modernised systems are also problems these companies face.
Moreover, some local companies worry that their own interests are being hurt. How to change the thinking of people from these companies and coordinate their interests is a new challenge for Chinese companies.