12 Sep

Can Ethiopia be Africa’s leading manufacturing hub?

With Ethiopia having the second biggest population in Africa, it is under growing pressure to tackle unemployment. The BBC’s Alastair Leithead visited the country to find out how it is tackling the problem.

The factory workers sing Ethiopia’s national anthem in unison as one shift ends and another prepares to begin.

Outside, a fleet of passenger buses pulls into Hawassa Industrial Park, as thousands of textile workers – most of them women – switch places.

The new arrivals take up their stations behind sewing machines, ironing boards and cutting tables as the shirts and suits start taking shape.

The park, claimed to be the biggest in Africa, is 140 hectares (350 acres) of factories, with a water treatment plant and its own textile mill.

Six months after opening in southern Ethiopia, 10,000 people already work here, and at full capacity it is expected to provide 60,000 jobs.

“The pay isn’t great,” says one 20-year-old, who trained for six months to sew and cut.

“But it’s not just about money. Opportunities are being created for people like me across the country.”

There’s an optimism among the workforce that this is a good spring-board for running their own businesses in the future.

And it is just one of more than a dozen industrial parks being built across Ethiopia.

“Expanding and building world class industrial parks is a model we have chosen,” said Arkebe Oqubay, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s special adviser and the architect of Ethiopia’s industrial revolution.

‘Learning from China’

With Africa’s population predicted to double by 2050, providing jobs is the key to taking advantage of a vast, and expanding young workforce.

“The population is growing by about 5% so we need to create close to one million jobs every year,” said Mr Arkebe.

“Population growth…is not only a challenge, but also an opportunity…if it’s linked with quite rapid economic growth.”

Ethiopia is building for the future, and the scale and ambition is impressive.

Not just industrial parks, but vast affordable apartment blocks are being built, along with a new national road network and an electrified railway line to the port in neighbouring Djibouti.

“We can learn from China that making investment in the long-term, in infrastructure, is quite important. We have seen China emerge from low level, into being a manufacturing powerhouse,” said Mr Arkebe.

Read more: BBC