A Wilder Tale of Africa That You Would Not Believe

When I finished the project with CRCC, I hurried back to Addis Ababa with Fu for another project. This time it was building a factory for CGCOC (Chinese Geo-engineering Corporation Overseas Construction Group). We arrived in the rainy Addis Ababa at about 5pm and our boss treated us and another two Chinese people in a Chinese restaurant in downtown Addis Ababa. Afterwards all of us headed for the camp of CGCOC, which was in the edge of a satelite city of the capital, called Dukem. There was a big walled area called Eastern Industrial Zone, which was the biggest Chinese industrial zone in Africa. Inside there were tens of Chinese factories operating, with thousands of local workers employed. Everyday we had on average 10 workers working for us. I could clearly feel that workers there were not as kind as those in Motta. Most of them worked only for one day or even just half a day and then quitted. Most of them just received their salary and went, without any problem. However, one day there was this guy who worked for only half a day but wanted the salary for a full day. As I was the one responsible for the communication with the workers, I had to put on such a fierce fight with him. Several times, because of a lack of workers, early in the morning I had to go to the gate of the Industrial Zone, in front of which there would always be tens of people hanging around every morning, looking for jobs. I would shout “Who want jobs? Construction! work! 60 Bir a day!” Then crowds would form a circle around me and I would explain the details to them and answer their questions as loudly as possible. Those willing to join would come to me and I would have their names written down and let them form a line and then lead them to our construction site. It was quite a funny process.
Dukem was not a big place and since there were so many Chinese people and investments here, the locals there had learned some Chinese words from their contact with Chinese people. Sometimes we went to buy helmets, gloves, construction material or simply a bottle of juice in the town, people would answer us in Chinese!…… They might not speak a word of English, but they spoke some Chinese words! OMG…… On my way back to Addis Ababa from the previous project in Motta, we met a guy in the bus who spoke quite some Chinese. He turned out to be working for Sinohydro, a state-owned Chinese company specialized in constructing hydropower plants and dams. In Addis Ababa there are even more Chinese people and more locals spoke Chinese. Many workers I recruited spoke some Chinese, such as “bu xing” (It won’t do), “mei you” (There isn’t any.) and also “sha bi” (stupid.)…… That was pretty shocking! Actually, the current president of Ethiopia studied in Peking University and spoke fluent Chinese. He lived in China for quite a while and got used to Chinese food. When he was not president yet and had difficulties in his career, he often went to Chinese people’s homes for some Chinese food…… That’s one of the reasons why China has good relationship with Ethiopia I guess. Actually, before him, one ex-president had even better relationship with China. As I heard from my boss, in the capital there were about 30 000 Chinese people and in the whole country the number was about 10 000. I heard that Ethiopia had the largest Chinese investment among all African countries, because its good relationship with China and the fact that it was a safe and politically rather stable nation. However, Ethiopia is a landlocked country. The products manufactured here were difficult to export to other parts of the world. For this reason, China invested hundreds of millions of dollar in Djibouti, actually about 1/3 of the GDP of this tiny neighbour of Ethiopia, to renovate the habor there and to build a railway to link the habour and Ethiopia. I got acquainted with the manager of a four-star hotel in Addis Ababa, who was Chinese. The owner of the hotel was a famous Ethiopian runner, a world champion. He hired a Chinese manager simply to attract Chinese customers and it worked! There were many Chinese people, mainly those on business staying there. I talked with some of them and they honestly told me that in China, business was not easy anymore. The price of labour had gone up and the regulations were strengthening while in Ethiopia there were still so many chances. “Basically no matter what business you do here, you can make good money” was the original word.
My boss more than once asked me if I would like to go to Somolia with him. He had some business there and would love to explore the chances of more. If in Ethiopia there were many chances, then in Somalia there were many more! That was like a virgin land for business, because obviously because of the security issues, hardly any people would like to invest or do business in Somalia. I did not say yes to this invitation because I wanted to head north to Egypt instead of going East. He thought I was concerned about the safety, so he assured me that once we entered Somalia, we would be 24/7 escorted by the presidential guards. He told me that he had a friend who was running some construction business in Somalia.
–How about the security of the construction site then?!!
–Well, the construction site was surrounded by armed guards with loaded machine guns. They formed the first circle. Then outside this circle there was one more circle, formed by soldiers and tanks to protect them. That’s how they did construction projects there.
The current president of Somalia sent his son to Tianjin, a city near Beijing in China and this son learned Chinese. He lived in China for six years and spoke it fluently. His Chinese name was Jie, which meant “excellent”. Basically in Somalia there were not any businessmen except some Chinese, many of whom were frequent guests of the presidential palace. Except the Chinese, who else would be so crazy as to do business there?! πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜›
Since my boss had been trying his luck in Africa for 5 years, he had had quite some experiences. His first project in Africa was the Parliament building of Lesotho, a tiny country totally inside South Africa. Then he did business in South Africa. I had never been to South Africa but I did hear it’s a beautiful, and sometimes dangerous country. πŸ˜› According to him, every year, there would be 30 to 40 Chinese people killed in this country. Armed robbery was a common thing. All the Chinese people living there, most of them business people, always carried some cash with them, not for themselves, but for the robbers. “When you are robbed, do not look at them! Head down and give them the money immediately and hands up!” He said. “Also, do not carry guns with you. Because if you carry a gun with you, once the robbers appear, by instinct you will immediately reach for your gun which normally was fastened on your waist and the robbers would instantly shoot you.” “I had a friend who just cashed about half a million USD in the bank and put the decks of notes in a bag. On his way home, he came across some robbers who pointed guns at his forehead. To hand them over half a million? He was not willing and wanted to resist. Before he even stroke, he was shot to death and half a million was robbed.” There were limits also. There were Chinese businessmen associations in South Africa. They ran a bit like a gang, with the members helping each other in many things. Once the vice chief of the association, a much reverend man got bugalary at his mansion and he was beaten with a gun and was seriously wounded. That night the members had an emergency meeting and decided to retaliate. Everybody donated quite an amount of money according to the size of their business. Eventually they gathered a large amount of money and bribed the police. When the police caught the culprits and put them into prison. They bribed the prison guards. One night the guards purposefully left the cell of these culprits unguarded and left the key of the cell there. The culprits opened the door and stole away. They bribed another guards who were at the watching tower. When those culprits got into the yard, the guards simply fired at them from the watching tower and killed them all. It’s a bit dark. Hopefully you won’t have nightmare after reading this post…… πŸ˜› πŸ˜€

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