Angry workers spurn Ethiopia’s ‘industrial revolution’

Workers operate sewing machines at a garment factory at the Hawassa Industrial Park in southern Ethiopia. (AFP)
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Updated 04 February 2020

Angry workers spurn Ethiopia’s ‘industrial revolution’

  • The country faces challenges in creating a robust manufacturing sector

HAWASSA: Zemen Zerihun thought he’d left farming behind and found the ticket to a better life when he began a job cutting fabric for a clothing company at a massive industrial park in southern Ethiopia.

But the 22-year-old ended up quitting within months, weary of working eight hours a day, six days a week and still not making ends meet earning $35 a month.

Managers were so strict they would go into bathrooms and yank out workers deemed to be taking too long, he said.

His supervisor would loudly berate him as “slow” and “lazy” when he failed to keep pace on the production line, he told AFP.

“After I joined the company, I suffered,” he said. “The supervisors treat you like animals.”

Experiences like his highlight a major challenge facing Ethiopia’s push to embrace industrialization and become less dependant on agriculture.

By attracting foreign investors through cheap labor, it wants to follow the model of China and other Asian nations in creating a robust manufacturing sector that can offer badly needed jobs for its young workforce.

But despite high unemployment, young Ethiopians are not going along with it, preferring to quit rather than stay in jobs where they feel underpaid and disrespected.

Thousands of employees have already walked out of the country’s new and burgeoning network of industrial parks.

At the Hawassa Industrial Park, where Zemen worked, staff turnover in 2017-18 “hovered around 100 percent,” according to a May 2019 report from the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University.

The added recruitment and training costs are a main reason why, in the eyes of manufacturers, Ethiopian labor has “turned out to be considerably more costly than the government had initially advertised,” the report said.

Government officials say they are taking steps to address workers’ concerns while balancing them with industry representatives’ interests.

But labor organizers argue the measures are too little, too late, leaving them no choice but to begin unionizing the parks — a development Zemen says is long overdue. “The government needs to pay attention to what is happening in the industrial parks,” he said.

“They think they are giving everyone good jobs, but some of the workers, they are really struggling.”

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sees industrial parks as an important engine of growth that can help stave off unrest ahead of elections tentatively planned for August.

Yet the strategy was adopted several years before Abiy came to power, after the government realized in 2014 that agriculture couldn’t provide enough jobs for a booming population, said Arkebe Oqubay, an architect of the strategy and now special adviser to the premier.

Ethiopia is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies but youth unemployment remains a major problem.

The World Bank estimates that 2 million people enter the workforce every year.

Despite long-running efforts to restructure the economy, officials estimate that manufacturing still only makes up 10 percent of economic activity.


Saudi PIF unit SEVEN to build theme parks and entertainment centers across the Kingdom

Updated 25 February 2020

Saudi PIF unit SEVEN to build theme parks and entertainment centers across the Kingdom

  • Plans include 20 entertainment destinations, 50 cinemas and two large theme parks in prime locations across the Kingdom
  • Each complex will feature several entertainment and leisure choices including cinemas, play areas, rides and F&B outlets

LONDON: The Saudi Entertainment Ventures Company (SEVEN) plans to develop theme parks and entertainment centers around the country.
Plans include 20 entertainment destinations, 50 cinemas and two large theme parks in prime locations across the Kingdom, the Public Investment Fund unit said in a statement on Tuesday.
Each complex will feature several entertainment and leisure choices including cinemas, play areas, rides, F&B, attractions and more. 
“We are committed to realizing the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 to accelerate the creation of world-class entertainment assets in the Kingdom that support economic diversification, create new jobs, and contribute to socio-economic progress,” said SEVEN Chairman Abdullah Al-Dawood. “Our complexes will position the Kingdom as an entertainment, culture and tourism hub of the region.”
The new attractions are planned for cities that include Jeddah, Jazan, Taif, Tabuk and Yanbu as well as the Holy Cities of Makkah and Madinah.
In the capital the entertainment center at Al Hamra will serve the densely populated suburbs of north east Riyadh, with some 2.5 million people living within a 30 minute drive. In Dammam and Al Khobar, SEVEN is also developing new waterfront attractions.
Entertainment is expected to be a key driver for Saudi economic growth over the next four years according to a report released this week by CBRE, the international real estate broker.
In addition to the new entertainment centers announced by the PIF, a number of other high-profile projects are underway, including the Qiddiya Entertainment City, The Red Sea Project, AMAALA, Al Ula, King Salman Park and Riyadh Sport Boulevard.
The retail and hospitality sectors are expected to benefit from the entertainment boom with total retail space in the capital expected to reach 3.5 million square meters (sq m) of gross leasable area by 2024. By 2024, Jeddah’s retail market is expected to witness considerable supply growth, reaching over 2 million sq m. 
As of 2019, the Kingdom received about 59 million tourist trips and these figures are expected to continue to increase to 100 million tourist trips by 2024.
“It is clear that Saudi Arabia remains one of the game changers in the entertainment sectors globally,” said CBRE MENAT Managing Director Nicholas Maclean.