New headquarters shows partnership entering era of hope: Ethiopia PM

Updated: 2012-01-30 07:59

By Wang Linyan (China Daily)

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New headquarters shows partnership entering era of hope: Ethiopia PM

 New headquarters shows partnership entering era of hope: Ethiopia PM

Located in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, the African Union's new headquarters is China's largest aid project to Africa since the construction of the Zambia-Tanzania railway in the 1970s. Ding Haitao / Xinhua

New headquarters shows partnership entering era of hope: Ethiopia PM

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - On a typical Saturday afternoon, Johan Strijdom stands by the side of a fountain, basking in sunshine in the spacious square where a landmark 20-story office tower overlooking a pearl-shaped conference center shapes the skyline of the Ethiopian capital.

During the last three years, Strijdom, who works with the African Union Commission (AUC), has watched the buildings rise from his office on the 6th floor of the African Union's old building, 50 meters from the square.

"I have seen this building since it was a baby. It's an absolute miracle. Every day I look out of the (office) window and see the change," said Strijdom, who is head of Social Welfare, Drug Control and Crime Prevention of the AUC. "The splendid professional coordination among the Chinese was incredible. They work day and night through shifts. I couldn't believe it."

The miracle in Strijdom's eyes is the AU's new headquarters. Fully funded by the Chinese government and built by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), the conference center and office complex is China's largest aid project to Africa since the construction of the Zambia-Tanzania railway in the 1970s.

On Saturday, one day before African heads of state were to hold their January meeting at the new center for the first time, visiting senior Chinese leader Jia Qinglin inaugurated the landmark building complex and handed over the "golden key" to AUC chairperson Jean Ping during a ceremony in front of AU heads of state and government, diplomats and representatives of regional and international organizations.

Jia, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said the building complex is "a gift" from the government and people of China to the people of Africa and shows China's support for African countries to gain strength through unity and integration.

"The towering complex speaks volumes about our friendship with the African people, and testifies to our strong resolve to support African development," Jia said.

"In response to a new international landscape, China and Africa have worked together to build a new type of strategic partnership featuring political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchanges."

It is widely believed that the new conference center will greatly improve the AU's institutional capacity.

The conference center's floor covers around 50,000 square meters and includes a large conference hall with 2,550 seats, a medium conference hall with 650 seats, five news conference rooms and two VIP rooms, among many other facilities. The building's mainframe is 99.9 meters high, signifying the date - Sept 9, 1999 - when the Organization of African Unity voted to become the AU.

Because the old premises, built in the 1960s, is too small to hold AU meetings, the AUC has tried for years to accommodate their offices in different areas of Addis Ababa and use the conference center of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa for the union's annual heads of state and government summit.

The project was one of the eight aid measures to Africa announced by President Hu Jintao at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2006. Construction began in February 2009 with the donation by Ethiopia of the land near the old AU headquarters and was completed on schedule on Dec 26.

Taking the new complex as a symbol of friendship from China, AU officials expressed gratitude to the government and people of China during the grand inauguration ceremony.

"They (the Chinese side) not only built this complex free of charge to the AU but also provided equipment and furniture We value this gift," said Jean Ping, chairman of AU Commission.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema, president of Equatorial Guinee and current AU chairperson, said the new complex shows who Africa's true friend is. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi added that the new center is a symbol of "the rise of Africa" and that the great hall is meant to convey a message of optimism and a new era of hope.

"China, its amazing re-emergence and its commitments for a win-win partnership with Africa, is one of the reasons for the beginning of the African renaissance," he said.

"Over the past decades, China-Africa cooperation has gone from strength to strength. The future of our partnership is even brighter. It is therefore very appropriate for China to decide to build this hall, the hall of the rise of Africa, the hall of African renaissance and the adjoining office building for us."

Zeng Huacheng, Chinese special representative to the project and one of the six Chinese people who received an award of excellence from Jia at the ceremony, recalled the experience of building such a high quality structure on a tight schedule.

"It has not been easy. About 90 percent of the materials are from China. And we have considered African culture and aesthetics in design and decoration. Innovation is the key for me to get my job done," said Zeng, counselor of China's embassy in Ethiopia.

"Most Chinese workers have spent four spring festivals here. Some could not go back home when their parents or spouses were sick."

The project has also increased local employment. Zeng said nearly 800 Chinese and 1,000 Ethiopians worked at the site during its busiest period.

"Ethiopian workers learn skills from Chinese workers when they work together. If they work well, we write letters of recommendation, which help them find better jobs easily in Chinese companies after they finish work here," Zeng said, adding that China will have a two-year technology cooperation with the AU, during which personnel from the AU will learn how to operate and maintain facilities.

Strijdom, echoing Zeng's comments, said that Ethiopian workers had told him that they learned a lot from the Chinese workers. The completion of the AU complex means a new start for Strijdom. "I'll move into the building in three months. It's much better equipped than my old office. I'm grateful," he said.

China Daily

(China Daily 01/30/2012 page11)