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Chinese in Ethiopia: Localization

Are Chinese aid, trade and investment considering regional and local political, economical and social situations? Or they are simply doing business in all areas in a similar fashion without considering varying local differences? Are they easily adaptive to existing environments? How about their life with he community they live? How about their aid to Africa – Ethiopia? Any conditions attached to their loans and aid?

Many argued that China was concerned not with disseminating ideologies rather it was determined to support Africa for the reason that they both belonged to the same group, colonized and of the third world entity.

China is not propagating the developing African countries to follow its ideology. This is one of the evidences not to say it is pursuing imperialism as imperialists want to see their values spread where ever they go. Rather, China is making business and establishing political, and cultural relationships taking respective nations values as it is and with out trying to impose its own but respecting its and others wide spread values, even it is not trying to sell developmental methods but leaving to respective countries to do so if they like and found it important to do so.

What is more, these developing countries believe they are benefiting. They are right as investment is more than aid and the former by far is advantaging than the latter. The imperialists were advancing their interest only.

As democracy and human rights require a reasonable degree of economic development, these African developing countries are as their infant stage of development. Naturally, one cannot expect human rights and democracies to spread easily. The decades long attempts are almost doomed to failure. So, may be China is right to ignore it and to follow its own route.

China is not endeavoring to convert the African countries to communism so as to befriend then. It is adhering to an accommodative policy; dealing with the countries without interfering in their internal affairs.  No country, at present, follows Chinese socialism.


Generally, Chinese trade and investment path to Africa, Ethiopia so far does not show imperialism. It is, therefore, healthy to conclude that both are happy in the engagement and are benefiting although not necessarily at equal terms. The Chinese have created an alternative and relatively cheap market to Africans, countries and individuals. In one way or another, virtually all consumers seem happy by their existence. In other words, the markets the Chinese create are suitable to African countries and citizens as they are accommodative: the services and goods are cheap and relatively low quality but it is ok as majority of them cannot afford otherwise.  Although some of the products are low quality, due to their price many still continue to buy them with informed decision.

The Chinese government does not impose its ideology and does not attach any preconditions to its aid, investment, and any form of cooperation with African countries. Although all may not agree that the relations are perfect, at least it does not show they are repeating the history the West had been scrambling Africa for its resources under the guise of spreading ‘civilization’. They are not colonizing. The governments are willingly cooperating with the Chinese government and its companies for their benefit. The existing temporary trade imbalances are tolerable and expected.

Another point is that there are no major conflicts caused by their existence. Aside, minor misunderstandings and some expected labor disputes and similar civil and commercial cases; we cannot see major difficulties they encounter and they cause due to their settlement.

Chinese social life in Ethiopia: The VOA Amharic program found out that many Chinese enjoy their rest time in local bars drinking local drinks like tella, areqie, tej, etc. These are the places where do they entertain themselves.

The Chinese themselves are also opening Chinese restaurants in all over the country. They are introducing Chinese food and drinks. As the Chinese are influenced by the local customs, they in turn are playing a great role in spreading theirs, too. They are living the Ethiopian society’s life. Many want to continue living there. A legal expert of the Ethiopian Investment Agency told me in an interview that many Chinese ask for trade license. However, only few of them do enter into the business they intended to be involved. Many of them are using the license as a pretext to live there a cheaper and happy life.


How are Chinese viewed by the local community? There is no question that the two governments are very much friends. Even the community likes their existence there. They are active workers and create no problem aside few, expected and tolerable problems. The cultural and language problems are not taken as such big barriers. Some have started life there that they got children from Ethiopian women.


Some Ethiopian musicians sing praising Chinese working in Ethiopia. In addition to many local azmariwoch, (traditional singers that use public lyrics) a famous vocalist by the name Abdu Kiyar has a famous and widely accepted music entitled CHAI ‘ENA.  His music – Chay-Ena- (has two menings: one, in Amharic, it means have the skill and knowledge, don’t say I can’t. Second, Chay-ena=China). The music strongly acclaims Chinese attitude to work in sharp contrast to Ethiopians’ towards work habit, in general.  E.g., one music’s lyric can be translated as: while we were simply looking at the traffic jams for centuries, the Chinese came and built a flyover that resolves the very problem. It also praises how friendly they are with the Ethiopians, their attitude of working in collaboration to each other for their better future. In this connection, I learned from a VOA Special program on China-Ethiopia relations that there are also few Ethiopians who sing Chinese music in night clubs.


These seemingly simple scenarios and simple cases taken together do make a case to interpret and understand the Chinese themselves’ life there and their widespread involvement in almost all walks of life in all corners of the country.

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Monday, 24 June 2024