The Political Economy of Chinese Private Foreign Direct Investment in Ethiopia: A Case Study of Eastern Industry Park

Chinese outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) in Africa has increased significantly since the turn of the century. After the global financial crisis, the emergence of a variety of Chinese private firms (mostly small and medium-sized) relocated their industrial capital in the form of OFDI to Ethiopia’s manufacturing sector.

With the increasingly supportive ‘Go Out’ (zou chu qu) policy that the Chinese government is promoting, ferocious competition in the domestic market due to increasing globalisation and the experience and skills that Chinese private firms have accumulated has meant the nature of private OFDI in Africa is becoming far from one-dimensional and is growing increasingly dynamic.

This presentation will take Eastern Industry Park (EIP) as a hub of Chinese firms to explore the nature and dynamics of Chinese private investment in Ethiopia. The presenter will share some first-hand preliminary findings she conducted in the past one-year fieldwork in Ethiopia (six months in the Eastern Industry Park).

It is argued that Chinese private investors respond actively and flexible to the changes in Ethiopia’s national development strategy and economic transformation; however, how they adapt is not a simple story. The convergence of interests between the Ethiopian government and Chinese investors does occur naturally. Rather, the hidden politics involved are highly sophisticated.

The interactions between the Ethiopian government, Chinese investors, local communities and labour have become more diverse and dynamic, which generates new contradictions, collaborations and conflicts. The management of Chinese private FDI in Ethiopia is a product of ‘an ongoing learning process’, which is developmental, progressive but sometimes painful.

Weiwei Chen, PhD Candidate in Development Studies, SOAS, University of London. She was affiliated with the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) as the Chinese Investment Advisor when she conducted fieldwork in Ethiopia (2017/18). She was also previously the National Research Consultant (Ethiopia) during her fieldwork in Ethiopia for the (UN) International Trade Centre-PIGA project. Weiwei’s academic interests include Chinese Small-Medium Enterprises’ (SME) internationalisation, Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurs in Africa and Chinese Private Overseas Foreign Direct Investment (OFDI) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).