South-South Exchange of Know-How is Essential for Africa’s Economic Future, Says AfDB President

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South-South investment and exchange of know-how are key sources of growth and prosperity in Africa – and Huajian Group of China’s experience in Ethiopia is really edifying.  

That was the message the President of the African Development Bank Group, Donald Kaberuka, gave in his address at the opening of a high-level seminar on September 7 in Tunis.

The central questions at the seminar were: “What lessons can the African Development Bank learn from China’s cooperation ties with Africa in general, and Huajian Group of China in particular, to sustainably boost investment in the continent? What has Ethiopia done differently to be able to attract one of the largest shoe manufacturers in China to successfully transfer technology and create jobs in the country?”

Huajian Group of China, a shoe-manufacturing firm has established in Ethiopia in an effort to implement the country’s growth and transformation plan. Currently, the firm employs more than 800 workers and produces over 2,000 pairs of shoes, with the label “Made in Ethiopia”, per day for export valued at US $1 million per month.

Following a brief video presentation by the Guest Speaker, Helen Hai, Huajian Group Vice-President and General Manager, Overseas Investment, AfDB participants shared experiences on the growing economic relations between China and Africa, and discussed both how to scale up Huajian Group’s example in Ethiopia and how to replicate such a successful example in other parts of the continent.

Africa has one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world, averaging approximately six per cent. At this time, Africa needs to achieve prosperity and inclusive growth through the transfer of technology, and at the same time, to seek win-win partnerships. For participants, the presentation painted a different picture of what is typically said of Chinese investors. “We are really impressed. Africa can become an economic lion beside the Chinese dragon and the Indian tiger, if Huajian Group’s experience is replicated in Regional Member Countries,” some participants commented.

For Ms. Hai, “Africa needs China and China needs Africa. However there is need for strong political will, states of law and strong institutions in Africa.” She further stressed that Huajian Group was established in Ethiopia due to local labor costs and the supply of raw materials, but more importantly, due to the strong willingness of the government and the motivation of local communities themselves.

She also affirmed that she was neither an economist nor a politician, but the core of the company was its employees. “Discipline, teamwork and caring for our workers are key drivers of our company’s success,” Helen Hai told AfDB Board Members, management and staff.

Growing economic relations between China and Africa have paved the way for knowledge sharing, a key point in the Bank’s long-term strategy, and which no doubt led President Donald Kaberuka to invite Ms. Helen Hai to the Bank to share her experience and that of her shoe company. “Our continent is exploring ways of sustainable growth that fit its own realities. The Bank will endeavor to invite more private businessmen to share their experiences on common investment challenges and opportunities,” President Kaberuka concluded.

For both the Huajian Group and the Government of Ethiopia, light manufacturing offers a viable path for the country as it transforms its economic structure and strives for positive job creation. This public private partnership exemplifies the potential of African countries in becoming leaders in the manufacturing sector, especially light manufacturing and in creating millions of productive jobs.

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