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China helping Ethiopia get out of poverty

By Andrew Moody | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-22 07:37

I find myself back this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, one of my favorite African cities despite the challenges it faces being obvious, not least its visible poverty.

The Ethiopian government itself is keen to get away from the image of Live Aid - the 1985 concert that raised money to deal with the country's famine disaster.

The country has certainly avoided similar disasters since and moved on to a large degree.

One of Ethiopia's aims is to lead the way for Africa to become the manufacturing workshop of the world.

About 50 kilometers outside of the city stands a shining example of what might be possible for the rest of the continent.

Chinese shoe manufacturer Huajian set up a factory there in 2011, and it now makes shoes for some of the world's leading brands.

China helping Ethiopia get out of poverty

The company - which may have made the shoes you are wearing now - is based in the Eastern Industrial Zone, which is an industrial park that could have been transported from almost anywhere in China with a reliable electricity and water supply not available elsewhere around the city.

It is not surprising that industrialization has proved to be a big theme at the Africa-China High-Level Dialogue and Think Tank Forum, which I am attending with delegates and participants from both China and Africa, at the African Union headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.

The meeting was addressed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who emphasized the importance of eradicating poverty.

Although there is clearly an ongoing debate as to whether the success of Huajian have been replicated sufficiently elsewhere in Ethiopia, the one country that still proves that it is the right strategy is, of course, China.

Since reform and opening-up in the late 1970s, more than 700 million people have been lifted out of poverty as the country has emerged as the world's second-largest economy.

In fact, one of the focuses of interest at the forum has been the new book, Up and Out of Poverty, which is a collection of speeches and articles made by President Xi Jinping almost 30 years ago when he was Party chief of Ningde prefecture of Fujian province.

While Xi held the position, the fortunes of Ningde were transformed from one of the most impoverished areas of Fujian to being one of the most economically successful.

Xi makes clear in his writings that he never doubted that the building blocks of a successful economy were the way out of poverty.

Much of the success of Huajian was down to Helen Hai, a Chinese born, UK-trained actuary who was put in charge of setting up the factory, and recruited local graduates and taught them how to make shoes.

The workers in their smart uniforms benefit from training programs and modern facilities, even including tennis courts.

They have certainly been lifted out of poverty and what has happened in Addis Ababa is testimony to what can be achieved with a certain will.

Yet this is not typical of even the rest of Ethiopia, never mind the continent.

The message from this week's forum was that the Made in Africa journey was at least worth making.

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