The (now former) Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia, Lin Lin, sits with Mr. Wen, the head of CRBC in Ethiopia at opening of a new road linking a Chinese glass factory to a main thoroughfare. CRBC, a state-owned Chinese roads and bridge construction company, has broke ground on dozens of new roads in Addis Ababa since it launched its first Ethiopian project in 1998 known simply as “the ring road,” a name and a concept which ought to make residents of Beijing smile. The mayor of Addis Ababa and the head of the Addis Ababa Roads Authority also officiated. The mayor thanked the Chinese and compared Ethiopia to the US and China saying, “if there are no roads, there is no development.” The Chinese officials praised the EPRDF for their wisdom and for bringing development to the Ethiopian people. (No comment.)
In 2004, just three years after a peace accord ended Sierra Leone’s decade of nightmares, I was walking along Freetown’s Lumley Beach toward the Bintumani Hotel. War and neglect had destroyed everything: Freetown, the capital, had no reliable power grid and only a handful of paved roads. Its already struggling population was swelling with those displaced by the fighting. It was a tropical destination whose only visitors were foreign relief workers. And yet, standing there in front of me was a luxury hotel, glowing with the light of its own generators.
Inside, I found a lobby serviced by a Chinese-only staff, decorated with large red lanterns, and completely rebuilt from floor to ceiling with Chinese materials and technology. The hotel was deserted. They could not have been turning a profit. Were they crazy to be here?
“Chinese believe high risk can bring high benefit,” the hotel’s manager, Yang Zhao, would say.
And Chernor Jalloh, Sierra Leone’s Tourism Minister,, “The early bird catches the worm.”