Ethiopians have been impressed by Chinese company's hard work, speed of delivery, practical design and reasonable price
At midnight, beside the entrance of Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, passengers look up at the scaffolding to find out where the slight roar of construction work is coming from. In the darkness near the construction site, they can make out a sign with the letters CCCC.
Workers of China Communications Construction Co are working day and night on the expansion of the Ethiopian capital's airport in order to provide convenience to passengers as early as possible. Since it first came to Ethiopia in 1998, CCCC has worked at full speed with high standards on many major infrastructure projects in the country. Known to nearly every household in the East African country, the company plays an important role in the cooperation between China and Ethiopia.
Ethiopian government officials inspect the progress of the expansion of Bole International Airport by China Communications Construction Co. Photos Provided to China Daily
Wen Yingzheng, general manager of the East Africa Regional Headquarters of China First Highway Engineering Co, a division of CCCC, has worked in Ethiopia for 20 years.
His first project, also CCCC's first project in Addis Ababa, was the Ring Road around the city, when the company was called China Road and Bridge Corp. At that time, it was the largest highway project contracted by a Chinese enterprise in East Africa. The road, with a total cost of $98 million, was started in 1998 and completed in 2003. It was a landmark construction project for Addis Ababa - a road that leaves poverty behind and leads to modernization and opportunities for Ethiopia.
It's apparent how such infrastructure projects have transformed the country. Indeed, a China Daily reporter rode in the cab of a big-rig truck carrying roofing supplies from Djibouti to Dire Dawa, the main entry logistics hub in Ethiopia. The 240-kilometer journey took six to seven hours during the night, then an additional two and a half hours the next morning. In many places, the road was steep and unpaved, so the trucks often traveled at 10 km/h or less. Yet, until the recent construction of the Chinese-built Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, almost all of Ethiopia's imports and exports were carried on that road.
"When I first came here, the entire city (Addis Ababa) was even less developed than a county in China," says Wen, who has witnessed the rapid development of the country in the past two decades.
He recalls that when Chinese staff first came to the country, things were really hard for them. "I cannot forget the scene when we waited in a line in front of one landline telephone to call our families in China during Spring Festival, and each of us had five minutes to speak," he says, adding that the employees couldn't afford to fly back and had to write to their families most of the time.
Hundreds of local residents came to the site when they were assembling the streetlights. "They had never seen this before. People doubted whether the government should spend money building such advanced roads. Now take a look at the traffic jams. The road is not enough."
Like most Chinese companies, CCCC is much appreciated for its fast delivery of services. After the Ring Road, CCCC had its second project in Ethiopia - the Ethio-Chinese Friendship Road, which was started in 2003, just before the second FOCAC meeting was held, in Addis Ababa. The construction of this 33-km road took only 78 days, though it was originally planned to be completed within a year and a half.
"It was sensational news at that time, because people thought it was a miracle. And it has never required any repairs during the past 15 years," Wen says.
Ethiopians have been impressed by the Chinese company's hard work, speed of delivery, practical design and reasonable price. Many communities in Addis Ababa came to the company with a request to build a self-funded community road, and they all offered to pay before the work started. Up to now, more than 60 percent of the roads in the capital are constructed by CCCC.
The company has also become a partner to the city's government. On several projects, the government changed contractors to CCCC after people complained about the slow construction affecting their commute.
The company has provided more than 60,000 jobs in the country, which has an unemployment rate of 45 percent. CCCC East Africa Co currently has about 600 Chinese workers and 10,000 local employees. It not only selects talented people from among graduates of local universities such as the University of Addis Ababa, but also trains local employees and teaches the most advanced techniques and skills.
Some of the Ethiopians have entered the management team of the company, while the expertise of others has helped them find good jobs elsewhere or start their own companies.
CCCC is described as the cradle of Ethiopian technicians in terms of road and bridge construction. "Most of the senior technicians working on Addis' infrastructure were first cultivated by us," Wen says.
The Addis Ababa-Adama expressway, the first in Ethiopia, is a decisive project for CCCC. The first phase of the expressway, cofinanced by the Export-Import Bank of China and the Ethiopian government, was completed in May 2014, when Premier Li Keqiang and former Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn cut the ribbon together at a ceremony. The second phase was completed in 2016, with the total length of more than 100 kilometers.
The project has already boosted the economy along the expressway. For example, the country's first industrial park, the Chinese-owned Eastern Industrial Park, is along the route. CCCC has also invested in the construction of its own industrial parks in Addis Ababa to help the country realize its goal of establishing a manufacturing base in Africa.
"Ethiopians are very friendly people. We put ourselves in the shoes of Ethiopians. We understand them, and we do everything for their benefit," says Wen. "It's ultimately a win-win situation. If it is not, it can never last long."
The company now seeks more opportunities in areas other than infrastructure to get more involved in the deepening cooperation of China and Ethiopia. Wen says CCCC also plans to invest in the country's agriculture sector, including growing and processing.
"No matter if it is a country, a company or an individual who wants to cooperate with others, the best policy is to present your own value," he says. "Strategies do not matter. What matters is the benefits you can bring to your client."
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The Addis Ababa-Adama expressway, the first in Ethiopia, is a decisive project for CCCC in Ethiopia.