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Freelance journalist based in Istanbul. Keeping an eye on Turkish politics.
For more than a decade, China has invested in development in African states—building bridges, roads and all sorts of infrastructures, including football stadiums—in return for natural resources.
One of the Chinese investments in Africa is building a railway, the first electrified cross-border rail system on the continent. According to China, an altruistic project.
However, the new station, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is more strategic than philanthropic.
Jonathan Kaiman reports that improving transportation in one of the poorest areas of the world will allow China to rise as the dominant economic partner in a continent that is yet about to bloom.
Africa has become a significant economic opportunity. By 2034, the continent is expected to have the world's largest working-age population, and consumers will be spending $2 trillion a year by 2025.
In this scenario, a new railway will make a significant difference, connecting Ethiopia and the ports of Djibouti in 12 hours—a three-to-four-day road trip since 2009, when the old railroad collapsed.
While the U.S. has focused on aid, social programs, and conditional loans, Chinese companies have made money in Africa and created jobs and infrastructure. That's why, Kaiman argues, Africa is embracing China while moving away from the U.S.
But development comes at a price and Africa is already paying.
Ethiopians work 13-hour shifts in Chinese-run factories under propaganda posters imploring workers to "win honor for the country" and to "absolutely obey". They produce shoes that will be exported to the U.S. and sold by labels such as Tommy Hilfiger or Guess. Investors boast that for the cost of one Chinese worker, they can hire five Ethiopians. Also, the price of land in some parts of Ethiopia is increasing sevenfold.
There are hidden costs to a rapid economic development. And those will be paid by locals, not China.