A new skyscraper has recently risen in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Built with Chinese money, the shining new home of the African Union, an EU-style body representing 54 African countries, is a symbol of the country’s rapid economic change.
The World Bank reports that this country of 94 million people, although still one of the world’s poorer nations, has seen sustained growth over the past decade, averaging more than 10 per cent a year, in contrast to the regional average of 5.3 per cent.
The effects are easy to see. All around Addis the streets are in chaos as a light-rail system is installed. It is on target to begin transporting passengers next year. China is paying for this too. The nature of “Chinese” funding to Africa is complex, sometimes involving direct financing from Beijing, in other cases involving private funding from companies based in China. The light-rail project is backed by China’s Exim Bank.
Cranes swing into action each morning, erecting new hotels and office blocks to add to the long list of international chains that have opened or expanded here: Hilton, Intercontinental, Radisson Blu, Sheraton and Monarch are all doing strong business alongside African counterparts.
And, according to some, there aren’t enough of them. The Awash International Bank projects that unsatisfied demand for hotel beds in Ethiopia in 2015 will run to 1.3 million – a demand fuelled by an increase in tourism, business travel and the work of the African Union.
Outside the city, major rail links are under construction, including one by a Turkish company, Yapi Merkezi, worth a reported €1.3 billion: the 389km Awash-Woldiya project will connect lines from Mekelle to Hara Gebeya and then Addis to Djibouti.
Ethiopia is funding its own development too. The Blue Nile rises in Ethiopia before flowing on to Egypt and Sudan. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will harness the waterway as the largest hydroelectrical plant on the continent when complete. Cairo is unhappy, fearing that the damming of the Nile will have major impact on Egypt.