Archive for May 28, 2012
By James Melik
While Europe is struggling with recession, it is a very different story in Africa where the continent overall is expected to enjoy growth of 6% in 2012.
But there is concern that the fruits of economic expansion and foreign investment are not being evenly shared around.
One example of Chinese investment is a shoe factory just south of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, on a huge industrial site known by locals as China Town.
Two production lines make 2,000 pairs of shoes every day for global brands, including Guess and Tommy Hilfiger.
Despite perks such as the factory having its own canteen and tennis courts, and the workers being supplied with their own uniform, the workers often receive a wage which is only a fifth of what a worker in an indigenous factory would receive.
The shoe factory is run by the Huajian Group, whose vice president Helen Hai says that instead of receiving higher wages, the workers are trained in shoe-making skills.
“I took 86 Ethiopian graduates to China to teach them how to make shoes,” she says. She is adamant that after their training, workers can choose to remain or to work for other shoe factories.
“We offer tennis courts, uniforms, food – and in the future we will also offer free accommodation,” she says. “And we are also in the process of applying for a Fairtrade certificate as we definitely treat our workers fairly.”
She adds: “In the past China has given a lot of money to African countries, but now we want people here to have the capability to make goods themselves – that is why training is always the core in our strategy.”
Shoe manufacturing has something of a tradition in Ethiopia, and another smaller factory is run by Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu.
“I wanted to show that it is possible for a local person to be globally successful,” she says, “And that is exactly what we have done.”
It is a powerful idea which has provided an example for many young women and men in Ethiopia.
Her Sole Rebels company employs 75 people, making the soles of shoes from recycled car tyres and the uppers from Ethiopian spun cotton.
“The culture of recycling has been in Ethiopia for a long time, and recycled tyres have long been used for shoes,” she notes.
She explains how it is her ethos to employ local people, and says that 99% of the shoes they produce are exported.
“This is a local grass-roots business that we built from scratch. We have a brand and authenticity,” she says.
She is also proud that her company is certified as Fairtrade.
“We pay our people four or five times what other people are paying,” she says, adding that she is not worried about her workers getting trained and then going to work for Chinese factories – because they will not get paid as much.
Helen Hai says the Huajian Group plans to invest $2bn (£1.3bn) in Ethiopia for a variety of reasons, including Ethiopia’s “good economic policy”.
Its competitive labour in the global market was also an attraction – compared with China, it is one-seventh cheaper to employ someone in Ethiopia.
The good supply of raw materials – leather for making shoes – and its good geographic location, allowing easy access to Europe and the rest of Africa, were also factors.
“We signed an understanding with the Africa Development Fund,” she says.
“We will jointly invest $2bn in the next 10 years – which will create job opportunities for 100,000 people.”
She maintains that the biggest challenge for investing in Ethiopia is that people are not familiar with doing international business, although she is confident that will change over time and her company is working closely with the government to solve that issue.
Long-time Africa campaigner Sir Bob Geldof says people should not worry about Chinese investment in Africa and rebuffs the idea of economic colonialism.
“China is not interested in that. Africans are not going to go through that kind of experience again, ever,” he says.
“Shut up, get down here, get on with it and it is mutually beneficial. You can talk about what sort of government works best, about values, about rights.
“Those things are being talked about. When they are ignored, there is no growth, just instability, war and hunger.”
He further maintains that democracy is not a prerequisite for growth.
“How do we know that? Look at Singapore or China. Business leaders there work with whatever government they have to – their job is to create business.”
Gebrselassie overnight could only finish seventh in the 10,000 metres in an event in the Dutch city of Hengelo which Ethiopia was using as a qualifier for the Olympics.
The 39-year-old two-time Olympic 10,000m champion – who had already failed to post a qualifying time for the marathon – admitted his hopes had been dashed after his disappointing performance against 12 of his compatriots.
“The Games in London, is over for me,” he said.
“I ran a good race till the last lap. I felt good but I manifestly didn’t have the speed to compete against my rivals.
“That’s life. I am not disappointed,” added Gebrselassie, whose epic defeat of Kenyan great Paul Tergat at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, his second Olympic title, is one of the great finishes of all time. Indeed for the ever cheerful Ethiopian great it is to be his last track race.
“The ‘spikes’, it is finished for me. I am 39. I have failed to qualify for the Olympics. And there is a very strong younger generation in Ethiopia now.
“I tried to qualify for my fifth Olympics. And I don’t regret trying to do so. “I simply came up against stronger rivals on Sunday.”
Tariku Bekele and Leleisa Desisa Benti finished first and second respectively – with the former posting the best time in the world this year of 27min 11.70sec – to book their tickets for London.
The third spot is being kept for Bekele’s older brother and world record holder Kenenisa, who has been struggling for several months with a calf muscle problem.
Gebrselassie said that he felt he was handing over the baton of Ethiopian track running to a golden generation.
“I am leaving the track in a calm frame of mind because there is a super generation taking over,” he said.
“I haven’t in any case run on the track since the Beijing Games (2008).
“Ethiopia will be stronger in London.
“I gave all that I had. It is why I am not sad or disappointed. I am always happy to run. These next months, I will devote solely to marathons and half marathons.
“In three years, I envisage a political career. I would like to become a member of parliament.”
Gebrselassie, a four-time world 10,000m champion, had come into the race boosted by his victory in the 10km Great Manchester Run in northwest England last week in 27min 39secs.