News / Africa

Ethiopia Draws Asia Manufacturing Interest

The interior of George Shoe Factory, located in the industrial zone of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (VOA)
The interior of George Shoe Factory, located in the industrial zone of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (VOA)
VOA News

For a long time, economists have discussed East Africa's chances to "get a foot in the door" of global manufacturing. China, as the world's leading hub for mass production, has become expensive due to rising labor and energy costs. Meanwhile, East Africa offers a large young and cheap labor force. Until recently though, delays at ports, bad roads, power outages and political instability have prevented a shift from happening. But now, the Ethiopian government is building new industrial mega-zones that have successfully attracted some foreign investors who are moving manufacturing from China.

He Pingting, who goes by the American name Claire, gives a tour of the new factory building of George Shoe PLC. The Taiwanese shoe manufacturer started operating some months ago and recently exported its first container: 15,000 pairs of pink and light-blue women's shoes made in Ethiopia.

He Pingting says the main challenge is the language barrier.

Workers construct shoes at the George Shoe Factory, located in the industrial zone of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (VOA)Workers construct shoes at the George Shoe Factory, located in the industrial zone of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (VOA)
Workers construct shoes at the George Shoe Factory, located in the industrial zone of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (VOA)
Workers construct shoes at the George Shoe Factory, located in the industrial zone of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (VOA)

"We have so many stitchers. So, there are so many skills they need to learn. But, you know, teach them is a little bit hard because the language. …but no matter, we have a translator here and they're very collaborative," she said.

The factory is filled with a scent of glue. Young men and women in blue overalls sit in front of sewing machines and along assembly lines. Seven hundred Ethiopians work under Chinese and Taiwanese supervision: eight hours a day, six days a week for 800 to 1,200 Birr a month, which is about $60 (US), a fraction of a laborer's wage in China.

Bole Lemi industrial zone

The factory building lies on the outskirts of Addis Ababa in a new gigantic 156-hectare industrial zone, called Bole Lemi.  It is only one of a handful of new planned zones across the country. After the completion of the second phase - another 186 hectares - Bole Lemi may offer up to 100,000 jobs.

Ethiopia is feverishly working on becoming the world's newest hub for manufacturing and has good chances.

"Pakistan, Indian, Taiwan, Korean, Chinese. All are there," he said. "You see the under-construction area, sheds are already contracted out. All leased now, all are leased. For instance this one, about 11,000 square meters, the next one 5,500 square meters. And we focus on this area for garment, especially garment, for garment and shoe, glove," said Shiferaw Solomon, the director-general of the Ethiopian government's Investment and Industrial Zone Corporation.
Behind Shiferaw Solomon outside the factory building, construction workers are working on two dozen new sheds that are to be ready by the end of August, a bit behind schedule. According to the Ministry of Industry, 20 foreign companies have secured factories at the site.

Fast growing economy

Ethiopia currently has one of Africa's fastest growing economies. Unlike others, it is not driven by natural resources, but large public investments with foreign money. Shiferaw is optimistic that the government's new industrial mega-zones and expansion of the textile and leather industry will give the country another push.

"We have abundant lands, abundant labor forces, materials, raw materials. Now, we're at a stage of opening up," said Shiferaw Solomon.
Driving out of the industrial zone, he foresees the potential his country has for the entire region. Already a rising political power, with a massive peacekeeping force in Somalia and other parts of the region, Ethiopia - Africa's second-most populous country with more than 90 million people - is now also heading towards a new economic age.

"I'd like and I hope to see in the future Ethiopia is one of the competing countries, interesting countries and it serves as a hub for African at large," said Shiferaw Solomon.

But the development comes with a price. Shiferaw says Addis Ababa and the entire country will suffer from power shortages for one or two years when all companies are operating.

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Comment Sorting
by: Hussein Najee from: Yemen
August 21, 2014 1:12 PM
I am Ethiopian-Yemeni, traveled all my life and haven't seen a country transform as Ethiopia. Where I was born in Dire Dawa, we had ONLY one high school; today, there are ten. Also universities. Mind you, I didn't say a university.
In life, there will always be some who think the grapes are sour OR the glass is half full. C'est la vie!!!!

by: Zemen from: Vancouver
August 04, 2014 12:12 PM
VOA, considered by most Ethiopians as being a trusted source of information, is becoming a mouth piece of the Ethiopian government. VOA reports only what appears rosy and good, little critical reporting. Even when there is a report that appears critical it is slanted to minimize damage to the Ethiopian government.
In Response

by: Yoty Poty from: Earth
August 05, 2014 5:50 PM
Way to go hater! So? in your opinion any news of progress undertaken by the government should not be reported by VOA ?
In Response

by: Yehualashet from: Addis Ababa
August 05, 2014 12:37 AM
Sounds some people get sick when they read good things about Ethiopia. Ethiopia is developing and people like me-who live in Ethiopia- are very optimistic and glad to see their country transform in front of their eyes.

Someone who lives in Vancouver, who doesn't bear the brunt of the problems in Ethiopia, may be interested defaming the country for some cheap personal propaganda.

by: Concerned individual from: Saudi Arabia
August 04, 2014 9:10 AM
Ethiopia is good as a country and has a lot to offer. Unfortunately corruption is at high rate and amongst the highest in the world. You can't do any thing unless you bribe corrupt officials. There are many investors who left the country due to this problem.

In Response

by: Alex from: Canada
August 04, 2014 4:18 PM
Both of you guys are extremists. The truth is in the middle.
Yes there is some significant growth but Ethiopia will not be a middle income country in 10 years. Corruption is not as bad as it used to be but Ethiopia is NOT the least corrupt country in Africa.
In Response

by: Reality Check from: New York
August 04, 2014 10:43 AM
"Concerned Individual," comedy... Concerned that your negative Diaspora opposition propaganda is not working.
The facts:
- Double digit economic growth last ten years (World Bank)
- Infant mortality reduced by over 60% (UN report)
- HIV incidence rate reduced 90% (UN 10 year study)
- Near 90% primary school enrollment, and free (UN report)
- Middle income nation within 10 years (World Bank report)
- Even Ministers arrested when corrupt, rated least corrupt in Africa (The Economist)
- 32 new universities, medical schools, hydroelectric dams, highways, high-rises, tens-of thousands of new public housing annually...
Talk all you want, then weep with bitter anger!

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