China and Africa: An enduring friendship for a shared future

By Chi Zao (People's Daily Online) 14:17, September 21, 2023

Tanzanian children cheering the arrival of a train along the Tazara railway, 1967. File photo by Xinhua.

1976, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: A hurtling locomotive made its way through the lush Selous Game Reserve, transporting goods from the port city to landlocked Zambia's Kapiri Mposhi. During this period, the Chinese-constructed Tazara railway stood as the longest in sub-Saharan Africa. It provided the only means for Zambian bulk traffic to access the sea, bypassing apartheid-era South Africa and white minority-ruled Rhodesia.

In the 1970s, 50,000 Chinese workers united with Tanzanians and Zambians to build the "Great Uhuru Railway." Named after the Swahili word for freedom, "Uhuru," this railway laid the groundwork for decades of cooperation and goodwill between China and Africa. To this day, a cemetery in Dar es Salaam, containing the graves of 70 Chinese experts, technicians and workers who passed away while supporting Tanzania in its national development stands as a testament to the deep bond shared between the Chinese and Africans.

2023, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: A modern passenger train traverses the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway, Africa's first electrified transboundary rail line, designed by Chinese firms. The railway has slashed the transportation duration for goods from more than three days to under 20 hours, cutting costs by at least one-third. This has greatly streamlined import and export processes for Ethiopia, a landlocked nation in the Horn of Africa.

These two railways symbolize the enduring bond between China and Africa, ushering in an era of prosperity and independence for African states. Chinese-African relations have been built on a foundation of mutual respect and friendship, a principle that still underpins the collaboration between the world's largest developing nation and the continent home to the highest number of developing states.

The Chinese mentor and his African students

Deng Qinghai, a Chinese railway expert, has been working in Africa for over a decade. He is teaching Mulugeta Tadese, 25, how to operate a freight train. Photo by Chi Zao.

Located on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Indode Cargo Station is an important transportation hub along the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway. Although its official inauguration was in 2018, the station played a crucial role as a freight center in 2016 when Ethiopia was hit by a devastating drought and consequent food scarcity. During this period, the station facilitated the movement of a staggering 888,000 tonnes of grain to help feed the affected population.

Approximately 200 individuals are employed at the station, with only five of them being Chinese. A majority of the top-tier roles are entrusted to local personnel.

Deng Qinghua, a 53-year-old experienced train driver from China's southwest Sichuan Province, has dedicated nearly a decade of his life working in Ethiopia. He was present at the commencement of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway project and currently mentors local individuals on cargo train operations.

"I began teaching African youngsters to drive cargo trains in 2022, and I have so far taught nine African students who are exceedingly hardworking. I'm hopeful they'll soon acquire the requisite expertise to independently manage the railway,” said Deng.

Mulugeta Tadese, a 25-year-old who trained under Deng, has now earned the credentials to operate the cargo train independently.

“Trains have always held a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, I loved looking at pictures of trains in books and dreamed of seeing one for real. Now I am operating a train in my country, and I couldn't be prouder," said Mulugeta.

Mulugeta admitted that sometimes he is a bit afraid of his Chinese teacher, Deng, because he can be very strict when teaching him how to drive the train.

“My teacher tells me that one day I will be in charge of the cargo train and the railway. I need to be very careful and study hard so that I can be a master and teach my people,” said Mulugeta.

Despite Deng's reputation as a tough teacher, Mulugeta affectionately refers to him as "my Chinese father" because of the way he cares for and treats Mulugeta.

"I've grown fond of these kids. I'm getting too old to stay in Africa forever; these kids are Africa’s future. I hope they can pass on the information and technologies I taught them to the African people and that the railway can help them flourish,” said Deng.

While Mulugeta has been at the helm of the freight train for nearly a year, he hasn't yet experienced a ride as a passenger. He aspires to achieve certification for driving passenger trains, while a journey to Djibouti for vacation is high on his bucket list.

Friendship among youngsters

Chinese engineer Xie Yongping and his Ethiopian coworker Lulseged Belay are close friends despite their divergent athletic passions. Photo by Chi Zao.

The longstanding friendship between the Chinese and the African people has expanded to touch every aspect of their daily lives.

Chinese road engineer Xie Yongping, 31, has devoted over two years to projects in Africa. He is affiliated with the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation's Fuzhou Survey and Design Institute in Ethiopia. Lulseged Belay, a 27-year-old Ethiopian, has collaborated closely with Xie for over a year and has become his closest friend.

"Ethiopia is one of my favorite countries because of its stunning natural beauty and vibrant culture. I enjoy making friends with young locals, and we go to parties, drink coffee, and study each other's languages," said Xie.

In contrast to his lighthearted Chinese friend, Lulseged is a serious young man and dedicates substantial hours to learning about road design. He and Xie spent much time together studying, discussing their work, and striving to achieve their shared ambition to become globally recognized engineers.

"I enjoy talking with my Chinese friend. He has helped me learn Chinese, and we have been exchanging ideas about our respective projects, which is fantastic," he said.

Both individuals are avid sports enthusiasts: while Xie excels in basketball, Lulseged is fervent about soccer. Their shared moments often revolve around playing these sports, imparting their individual expertise to one another.

“Although our athletic interests are somewhat different, we make time to play together. We are from different nations, but our love of knowledge and interest in learning about diverse cultures have brought us together, and we are great friends,” said Xie.

(Web editor: Tian Yi, Wu Chengliang)


Related Stories