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What Ethiopia should learn from China?

What Ethiopia Could learn from China

Ethiopia’s economic rise is said to be modeled after the so called the East Asian Tigers among which China stands out as a nation that is shaping up to be a global economic superpower. The way Ethiopia had been managing its economic growth for the past decade and half is said to resemble what the Chinese and other East Asians had done some forty years back. Some reports have gone to the extent of claiming that Ethiopia is already the China of Africa. But there are many things that Ethiopia could have capitalized on, had it emulated the Chinese properly. It ranges from economic activities to technological advancement, and form nurturing traditional values to preserving cultural heritages.

Writing about China and not mentioning the Great Wall is like diving into a pool and getting out dry. And hence, let us begin from the Great Wall of China. Located in Beijing, more of a political capital of China, the Great Wall is undoubtedly the center of attraction in this nation of thousand years of history; that is apart from its significance as a show of might for the Chinese.

Beijing is also home to different small fragments of the Great Wall, which was built starting from the seventh century BC by various emperors that led China after that. Among which the Qin Dynasty is prominent. Almost 22 thousand kilometers long in its circumference featuring wave of climbing stairs across its length, the Wall is one of the most visited spots in China today. Surprisingly, perhaps eerily similar to the Taj Mahal of India, many of the visitors of the Great Wall are the locals (Chinese), who are highly motivated to take pictures with visitors having a darker skin tone (can’t say why).

Attracting more than 10 million tourists a year, the Great Wall of China is still intact and looks to be in a good shape to go on for years as one of the wonders of the world. You might feel tired but, the motto in Mandarin “One can’t say I am a hero until climbing the Great Wall of China” inscribed on the stone wall motivates people to climb the last chapter of the wall which is frequented by tourists. Well, you will have something to show for your heroism as well: a medal with your name engraved on it, which you can get for 30 Yuan at the end of your climb.

Much more amusement is yet to come when visiting the Forbidden City, which served as a palace for Chinese emperors for more than 500 years before being turned into a museum. The complex is a collection of different residence and ceremonial buildings at the center of Beijing, past the Tiananmen Square (Tiananmen literally meaning Gate of Heavenly Peace). The palace complex, famously displaying the picture of Chairman Mao Zedong, the face of communist China and its transformation, is preserved as if it was built not more than a decade ago. The square separates Beijing from the Forbidden City which closes at about six in the evening after sending off the last of its visitors.

There is definitely a lesson to be learned for Ethiopia in the way the two places are preserved to last these long. But, what is more important is China is the main source of tourist flow to these locations, where words like Ni Hao and Xie xie plus Bàoqiàn serve you better to get around than hello, thank you and I am sorry.

The Chinese domestic tourism subsector generates more than seven billion dollars a year and it is much more than that of the Chinese outbound tourism. The Chinese spend about 120 billion dollars in outbound tourism as well in 2017.

Apart from this, most Chinese citizen seems to feel a sense of belongingness to these tourist sites, which is truly a rare thing in Ethiopia. Preserving the country’s precious heritages like the rock-hewn churches of Lalibella and other attractions could really use a page or two from the Chinese rulebook.

The Chinese mentality of making a museum out of different ideas is also another lesson. The Heyuan museum of dinosaurs and the Shenzhen Museum of the Chinese Reform and Opening Up history are also important lesson for Ethiopia. Even ZTE Corporation, the Chinese telecom multinational, has a museum of it own where it displays its growth path incorporating old and new products. And almost all institutions in China have a display of some sort showcasing their activities and products.

One that can be mentioned in this regard is the Chinese traditional medicine museum located at the Loufu Mountain, where the Loufoshan traditional medicine ‘factory’ is situated. Located past the White Lotus lake neighboring the prestigious “Chongxu Ancient Temple’’ of the Tao, the museum displays different medicine products and their recipes, and the traditional garden and medicine cleansing pond used by pioneer Chinese traditional medicine man— Ge Hong.

What is more interesting here is that it is even easy for a tourist to get along without even a tour guide because of the signs describing everything including background information. On the sides of the Loufu Mountain and the White Lotus Lake, Chinese poets and literary geniuses poured their beautiful words in praise of the evergreen lake and its surrounding. The area also has a lodge where people can stay. This makes tourists stay longer and spend more.

Following on the footsteps of Ge Hong, generations of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners have passed over the wisdoms of traditional medicine among whom the current head of the Loufushan TCM manufacturing pharmaceutical company is one.

One can say a lot about traditional Chinese life; and the same about modern China.

What one might find pertinent to the Ethiopia’s way of doing industrial parks is the hi-tech industrial park located Heyuan, the hometown of the dinosaurs. Heyuan is a Guinness World Record holder for the largest number of fossilized dinosaur eggs found in the area. There is a museum that displays the eggs, the fossils and dinosaur footsteps.

Heyuan Hi-Tech Development Zone is a dedicated industrial zone in the Guangdong province of China where ZTE and Alibaba have set up shop.

“We are one of the best industrial parks in Guanzhou and we are important to connect the bay with the mainland China,” says Zhu Xiaoqiang, deputy director of the Industial Zone adding: “We are emerging in material science and innovation as well as military and precision technologies.”

Heyuan, a small city getting support from the bigger Shenzhen in the same province, is now attracting many employees to come and seek jobs in the industrial parks and high-tech zones. Within 15 years since its establishment, the park has enhanced the Heyuan area from hinterland to a developed city.

“The future is very promising,” says Xiaoqiang.

He is also hopeful that, especially with the Belt and Roads Initiative of the Chinese government, they would come to Ethiopia to invest in the high-tech industry.

The park is also playing an important role in poverty alleviation in the province, where more than 20,000 people have been lifted out of poverty because of jobs that pays a minimum of 12,000 RMB annually. And this is being done through two major mechanisms: business creation and job creation. E-commerce for agricultural products marketing is a new venture that is pushing more poor above the poverty line.

But, visiting ZTE’s 5G technologies innovation products and deployment system, one would see that, unless investments are made on the future, it would be in vain exert efforts to only pull the poor out of the poverty line. As African scientists and technology researchers point out repeatedly, if African nations cannot venture into future technologies because of their limitations to finance, they have to join hands to be competitive in the future.

Indeed Ethiopia still has a long distance to go to claim the adjective “the China of Africa” and there are many lessons to draw from China apart from Industrial Parks and an economic model.