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December 30, 2011

China in Ethiopia: Let the Big Dog Eat.

Century upon century, Africa has inspired. The beauty, mysteries and vibrancy of the African continent has steadily catapulted novelists and poets to their best stories and verse for over 3000 years. And the very old, enduring and populous civilization of Ethiopia, even in all of Africa's drama and cultural diversity, and with its ringside seat at the Horn of Africa to both the rest of the continent and the Middle East, has always stood out. Me? I'm shallow, if romantic. I like the people--they are the handsomest on earth--and to hear Amharic suddenly spoken and flow over you in the middle of breakfast at the upscale Afterwords restaurant in Dupont Circle is like hearing Flaubert stand up and recite his best two sentences in a bowling alley. China, too, is discovering the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia--and state-sponsored China business and industry likely focuses on the landlocked country's non-oil natural resources, its livestock, coffee and other agriculture, and its human capital, which includes 80 million potential consumers. See at The Guardian today "Ethiopia's Partnership with China" and think about how a planned, careful and respectful investment approach--at least ostensibly--to a weaker nation could be a win-win. Some excerpts:

Ethiopia at the end of 2011 reflects the surprising complexity of Chinese engagement in Africa, how it differs from that of the west and – possibly of more significance to the continent – how central is the role of African agency.

China is no newcomer here. In 1972, China financed the Wereta-Weldiya road across Ethiopia's Rift Valley. Between 1998 and 2004, the Chinese contributed 15% of the cost of Addis Ababa's ring road (Ethiopia paid the rest).

Ethiopia is clearly in charge in this engagement. Chinese traders and shopkeepers, who are fixtures across many African cities, are absent on Ethiopia's streets. These positions are reserved for locals, and Ethiopians enforce their rules.

And China listens. A decade ago, Chinese companies building the ring road complained they couldn't find enough local skilled workers. The Ethiopian government asked China to establish a college that would focus on construction and industrial skills. The fully-equipped Ethio-China Polytechnic College opened in late 2009, funded by Chinese aid. Chinese professors offer a two-year degree with Chinese language classes alongside engineering skills.

Premier_Wen_Jiabao_and_PM_Meles_Zenawi.jpg

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, August 15, 2011. China had just given $55 million for food to drought-striken areas in Ethiopia's troubled western region. (Photo: China Daily/Xinhua.)

Posted by JD Hull at December 30, 2011 11:42 PM

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