Ethiopia’s distinct path to development, with help from China
is the most stable state in the dangerous neighbourhood of the Horn of Africa,
despite recently facing its worst protests in decades. The Ethiopian People’s
Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power since 1991, having
toppled the military Dergue regime (1974-1991).
The country is touted
as an economic and developmental success story. Growth rates have
approached 10% annually for over a decade, compared to just 3% in the early
1990s. GDP was $54,8 billion in 2014, up from roughly $30 billion in 2010,
although with almost 100 million people, per capita GDP languishes at $550
compared to the $1,700 average in sub-Saharan Africa.
narrative, at times simplistic and exaggerated (glorifying the ruling party),
has nonetheless translated into tangible results. And China is a major chapter
in this story.
While large parts of
Addis Ababa reveal a city under heavy construction and transformation, the most
significant major improvements have occurred in rural areas, home to 80 million
people, through government providing better agricultural inputs, building roads
and investing in education and health.
The poverty rate has
dropped dramatically from 45.5% in 1995 to 29.6% in 2010. Ethiopia’s Human
Development Index has improved by 45% over the past 15 years. In this same
period, life expectancy at birth increased by 15.8 years, mean years of
schooling rose by 0.7 years, expected years of schooling by 6.3, and gross
national income per capita doubled.
Trade and investment
Trade and investment
between China and Ethiopia has also mushroomed. Annual bilateral trade volumes
multiplied thirteen-fold between 2003 and 2013. China has become not only
Ethiopia’s biggest foreign investor but also its largest trading partner.
investment projects, like the African Union’s shiny new headquarters, dot
Addis’s urban landscape. Its 100-metre high tower dominates the capital’s
skyline. Costing $200 million, the building was entirely financed by Chinese
grant money and implemented by the China State Construction Engineering
Corporation, revealing Beijing’s ambition to strengthen its influence in
Another symbol of
development – Addis’s 32-kilometre light-rail system - was recently completed
in just three years by China’s Eryuan Engineering Group.
Chinese involvement in
major Ethiopian infrastructure projects spans transport, energy and
telecommunications. About 70% of the road network in Ethiopia – including
the Ring Road around the capital, the Ethio-China Friendship Road and the Addis
Ababa-Adama Expressway – has been built by Chinese companies.
The China Railway
Engineering Corporation and China Civil Engineering Construction recently
completed the 750km-long Ethiopia-Djibouti electrified railway line which cost
$3,4 billion. Another huge contract, for the major expansion of the Addis
Ababa Bole International Airport, was awarded to the China Bridge and Road
Energy is another key
area of Chinese-Ethiopian collaboration, although most projects currently exist
only on paper. The 300 MW Tekeze Dam, considered Africa’s highest concrete arch
dam (or ‘the Three Gorges of Africa’), was completed in 2009 with the
involvement of Sinohydro.
Next to the partially
completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Gibe III on the Omo River was
inaugurated in 2015 and is expected to produce 1 870 MW. Dogged by major social
and environmental concerns, the World Bank, African Development Bank and
European Investment Bank withdrew from the project in 2010.
That same year, the
Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation and Dongfang Electric Machinery
Corporation (a Chinese state-owned enterprise) signed a Memorandum of
Understanding (MoU) to provide electrical and mechanical equipment (turbines),
while Italian building company Salini was awarded the actual dam construction
contract. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is believed to cover 85%
of the $495 million project.
Eximbank is financially supporting high voltage transmission lines to Addis
Ababa to be implemented by another Chinese company. Chinese operators will
build power transmission lines for the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile
Telecommunication Equipment has helped upgrade and modernise Ethiopian
telecommunications. By establishing a large mobile network in Addis and eight
other cities, ZTE has boosted mobile telephony from one million to 15 million
users between 2007 and 2012, despite criticism over the poor quality of the
network and the installations.
With new, more rigorous
quality controls, the market has been opened to other operators, including
France Telecom. Given its firm grip on the economy, the Ethiopian government
shows exceptional ability to readjust to unbalanced and detrimental situations.
There are strong
political ties between Ethiopia and China. The ruling Communist Party of China
sent delegations to the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front
(EPRDF) organisational conferences (in 2008, 2010 and 2013) and signed an
MoU on Exchange and Cooperation with the party. Close links exist between
Ethiopia’s Parliament and China National People’s Congress.
unlike China, enshrined multi-party democracy in its constitution, its growing authoritarianism
and its heavy clampdowns on dissent also draw some parallels with China.
government claims to have a “Developmental Democratic Model” unlike many
Southeast Asian countries, including China. It says democratic rule must accompany
rapid development to stave off national collapse. Yet democratic progress in
Ethiopia has stagnated in the aftermath of the 2005 election crisis that left
nearly 200 people dead. The future will tell if Ethiopia can transfer its
developmental successes to the democratic realm.
Read the occasional
paper on which this article is based here.