ADDIS ABABA, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- As Ethiopia embarked on huge infrastructure development, the engagement of Chinese companies, from road to railway infrastructure construction sectors, is widely considered as a connecting bridge to the East African country's aspirations.
Ethiopians, who have recently witnessed modern road and railway infrastructure projects built with Chinese technologies and standards, speak highly of Chinese engagement in Ethiopia's booming transportation sector in particular and the country's development in general.
The East African country recently awarded a contract agreement to Chinese construction giant China Railway Construction Corporation-21 Group (CRCC-21) to built a much-awaited road project in the country's western part, an area known as the source of Ethiopia's major export commodity coffee.
Courtesy to the road project's strategic significance to Ethiopia's overall development, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir gathered in the western town of Jimma, some 350 km west of the capital Addis Ababa, to witness the official commencement of the project with a corner-stone laying ceremony.
The 79 km Jimma-Agaro-Dedesa road project is said to be a "high-quality road project" with 1.3 billion Ethiopian birr (about 46 million U.S. dollars) construction budget.
Coffee growers in Jimma town and its surroundings also regard the road project as a gateway towards better economic importance and integration to markets across the country.
Haji Hussien, a coffee farmer from Agaro town, told Xinhua after attending the corner-stone laying ceremony on the outskirt of Jimma town that farmers in his area sell coffee products at a very low price due to the lack of convenient transportation to major coffee markets.
"We offer one kilo of coffee in Jima and Agaro for close to 60 Ethiopian birr (about 2 U.S. dollars), while the price is more than double in the capital Addis Ababa," Hussien told Xinhua.
"I hope we will get the fruits of our labor with the help of this road," he said, urging the road project's swift completion.
CRCC-21, which has previously completed two other road projects in Ethiopia, also stressed its commitment to "mobilize all resources that are available to finalize the project in time and up to the standard."
"Our presence in this country gives us lots of opportunities to contribute to Ethiopia's development as well as to further strengthen the partnership between China and Ethiopia," Zhuang Jidong, President of CRCC-21, told Xinhua.
Chinese companies, as the pioneers in Ethiopia's road infrastructure development sector, have so far realized remarkable road projects starting from the Addis-Adama Toll Expressway, which connects Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa to Adama, capital of Ethiopia's largest regional state Oromia.
As the first-of-its-kind road infrastructure project in Africa's second populous country, the expressway is also seen by Ethiopian experts as a proof to Ethiopia's positive gains from the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as the initiative aspires to see a better integrated and connected world.
Costantinos Bt. Costantinos, professor of public policy at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, told Xinhua in a recent interview that the 500 million U.S. dollars Addis Ababa-Adama expressway, which has become the first toll expressway in Ethiopia and East Africa, "signifies Ethiopia's cooperation with China in the implementation of the BRI."
"The initiative, which underscores the importance of infrastructure projects such as railways, highways, and airways has brought various opportunities for Ethiopia as well as Africa's infrastructure development over the past few years," Costantinos said.
The 85 km expressway, which was inaugurated in May 2014, was funded partly by the Export-Import Bank of China and built by China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) using Chinese technology and standards.
Residents of Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, now cherish the Chinese-built Addis Ababa Light Rail, a 475 million U.S. dollars project built with Chinese technology and currently operated by a Chinese team.
The light rail, which was 85 percent funded by the Export-Import Bank of China, has so far transported more than 100 million city dwellers crossing the city since it went operational in September 2015, according to figures from the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC).
Anteneh Habtamu, who works in the Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE), always takes the light rail to and from his home located on the northern edge of the city.
"Living in Addis Ababa where the traffic congestion often gets worse as we waste hours in the taxi in daily basis, the coming of this railway is wonderful," Habtamu told Xinhua.
"There were times that I was in a quarrel at office, only for being late. This has never happened since I started to use the light rail," he said.
Apart from the highly-regarded Addis Ababa Light Rail, Ethiopians are now also effectively utilizing the Chinese-built Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway (or Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway) that connects landlocked Ethiopia and the Red Sea nation Djibouti.
Considered as Ethiopia's long-term solution to increasing export commodities and reducing import costs, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway is Africa's first transnational electrified railway.
Since the 752 km railway commenced its commercial freight and passenger services in January this year, it has so far transported more than 65,000 passengers and 30,000 containers of various types, according to ERC.
KEEN INTEREST FROM CHINESE COMPANIES
Amid Ethiopia's aspirations to further transform its road and other infrastructures, Chinese companies are also showing keen interest to contribute to Ethiopia's ambitions.
China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), which has seen its stock in the Ethiopian construction industry rise fast taking part in landmark projects, including the Addis Ababa ring road project, the Addis Ababa-Adama toll expressway as well as extension of the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, had in Oct. this year revealed its plan to open a regional office in Ethiopia.
In an interview with Xinhua, Deputy General Manager of CCCC east Africa branch Wei Qiangyu, said "the new regional office to be located in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa will have a technology and innovation center, equipped with modern laboratories, to help us competently and timely execute a number of railway, airport, road and building construction projects we have in Ethiopia and beyond."