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HomeSocietyChina and Africa: Cooperate in Solidarity

China and Africa: Cooperate in Solidarity

A Narrative from the Perspective of Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway

By Guo Chongfeng

The upcoming Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), scheduled for November 29th-30th in Senegal’s capital of Dakar, will be a grand gathering to mark China-Africa cooperation and solidarity. China and Ethiopia, an important economy in Africa, are each other’s Comprehensive Strategic Partner, with their practical cooperation leading the whole momentum of China-Africa cooperation.
Outstandingly, Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway represents an exemplary project under the Belt and Road Initiative jointly advanced by the two countries, and a flagship reflecting a broader China-Africa cooperation. It is the first standard-gauge electrified passenger-freight railway in Africa fully equipped with Chinese technology and apparatus. The transnational railway also marks an early realization of the massive plan to carry out “Ten Major Cooperation Projects” in Africa with support from China, announced by President Xi Jinping at the Johannesburg Conference of FOCAC. The project symbolizes, too, a landmark for China-Africa cooperation in production capacity, industrialization, and building three transport networks of railways, roads, and regional airways.
Since the onset of Covid-19, CCECC-CREC JV Project Office from the Chinese side has maintained close communication and coordination with the Ethiopian side, Ethio-Djibouti Standard Gauge Railway Share Company (EDR), to confront outbreak challenges, safeguard health for all staff, and meanwhile ensure the nonstop operation of the railway. Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway had transported over 1.362 million tonnes of freight including medical supplies and life necessities by the end of this October, by running close to 1,000 sets of freight train. It lives up to its reputation as an “Artery for Transport” and a “Lifeline for People”.
As the head of the Chinese management team, I have the firsthand experience of both the railway construction and China-Ethiopia friendship. I take it as great pleasure to narrate the development of Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway and share a few stories about our true friendship.
Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway leads to prosperity. Since it was open to business in 2018, the transport revenue has grown by an average of 40% annually. In October this year, its monthly transport revenue reached 9 million US Dollars for the first time, a year-on-year increase of 47.85% and a month-on-month increase of 47.35%, achieving the best result since the official start of its operation. In the near future, the transport revenue is expected to exceed 70 million US Dollars over the first 11 months of this year, and surpass 80 million US Dollars during the whole year of 2021. By then, Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway will realize revenue break-even and begin to gain profit.
In the meantime, the railway brings development opportunities to the areas along the rail line. The openness of Eastern Industrial Park Trackless Station in this May charts the course for the deep integration between the railway and industrial parks, and embodies the philosophy of “a railway driving an economic corridor”. The “last mile” for cargo transport has been opened up by the trackless station, that helps build a transport network with the railway as the mainstay and continuously linking the surrounding areas. The birth of the trackless station is highly consistent with Ethiopia’s Ten Year Development Plan by reducing the high logistics cost currently faced by enterprises in the industrial park and promoting the earning of foreign exchange through exports.
Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway leads to safety. Since its official commencement, the railway has scored good marks in operation safety. The Chinese management team has fully considered the unique seasonal patterns of Ethiopia and made careful deployment for safety arrangement. This year marks yet another victory in flood control through a sound flood-fighting plan, rigorous maintenance of facilities, and regular checks on safety threats.
Safety and security of the railway stand at the top of the agenda for both the Chinese and Ethiopian governments. On March 6, a ceremony was held at Lebu Station where the MoU on Establishing Security Safeguarding Mechanism for Major Projects under the BRI in Ethiopia was signed by Zhao Zhiyuan, Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia, and Demelash Gebremikael, Ethiopia’s Federal Police Commissioner General. On the occasion, the Chinese side offered security equipment to Ethiopian Federal Police for the common good of railway safety. On August 25th, the government of Somali Regional State legislated on railways in the country, that guarantees the safety of Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway from the institutional level. In addition, we also regularly organize “Love and Protect the Railway” events to bring local people closer to the railway in the hope of more voluntary local actions against vandalism.
Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway leads to wellbeing. The past three years of railway operation bears testimony to our emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility. The Chinese management team has helped create a large number of job opportunities for localities, with 4,315 locals employed to date accounting for over 90% of the total railway staff. Recently we decided to open a special rail transport service to towns and villages around the railway, a public service nearly for free. Moreover, there will be synergy between Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway and Ethiopian Postal Service Enterprise to launch express services. People will be able to mail their luggage and packages at any postal office or railway station for rail express.
As we often say in China, “Teaching one to fish is better than giving one a fish”. The Chinese management team has been devoted to building a multi-tier railway talent pool for the Ethiopian side. After intensive and extensive training programs at China’s Zhengzhou Railway Vocational and Technical College, 34 Ethiopian young trainees received official certification from the Ethiopian Ministry of Transport this May to become the first national electric locomotive drivers in Ethiopian history. As one of them, Ifa was born in a small Oromo village, and lived a hard life given a small amount of rural income of his parents and a big family to support. Fortunately, however, Ifa grasped the chance to work for Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway after graduation. After professional training, he has finally realized his dream and became a qualified electric locomotive driver. Ifa now enjoys a stable job, a happy marriage, and a decent life. He said, “Thank you for bringing great changes to my life, Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway.”
Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway leads to friendship. The project is the result of the joint endeavor of both Chinese builders and Ethiopian. We have always stood shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart to meet challenges. When asked about his thoughts on the railway work, Tsegu, head for electric work of Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, said, “Sometimes it is quite tough, especially at night when safety hazards are detected. But we are aware that the work is not easy for the Chinese, either. They are far away from their families, live and work with us, and teach us professional skills. We really want to master the skills as soon as possible to better maintain our railway.” Before the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese and Ethiopian staff always hold parties to jointly welcome the New Year, be it the Ethiopian or the Chinese. We sing and laugh, and witness the true friendship between China and Africa. If we cite Chinese metaphors, “our relations are more precious than gold, and the happy life sweeter than honey”.
The root of China-Africa cooperation lies in our peoples and their exchanges. As the Chinese management team of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, we will continue to collaborate with Ethiopian brothers and sisters, and contribute further to the development of the railway and our bilateral friendship. I wish Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway a brighter future! Long live China-Ethiopia friendship!

Guo Chongfeng is General Manager of CCECC-CREC JV Project Office, Management Contractor of Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, and Vice President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Ethiopia

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