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Oct 11, 2019

The presence of Chinese workers who are helping to build the billions of dollars of infrastructure across Africa is one of the most contentious points in the China-Africa relationship. These workers are often seen as unwelcome guests doing jobs that could or should be done by locals.

There is a myriad of reasons why they've been brought to places like Kenya, Ethiopia and dozens of other countries across the continent. Sometimes they bring a skill that's hard to find locally other times it comes down to cost and convenience. Chinese project managers often face crushing deadlines to complete their builds and it's faster, easier and even cheaper to deal with a compatriot than someone who doesn't speak their language or share a common background.

Although it's impossible to quantify how many Chinese workers are present in Africa, as there are no reliable statistics only estimates, their impact is undeniable. But too often in the discussion about Chinese workers, the focus tends to be entirely on the African side of the equation and how these migrant workers are taking opportunities away from locals. While there's no doubt, in some cases, that's true, the problem with that discussion, though, is that it dehumanizes the Chinese. They essentially become this inanimate presence rather than understand who these Chinese workers are and how do they feel about being in countries that are strange to them and both physically and culturally far from home.

Oxford University postdoctoral researcher Miriam Driessen set out to do just that in her compelling new book "Tales of Hope, Tastes of Bitterness Chinese Road Builders in Ethiopia." And what she found in her research may come as a surprise to many who have never spent much time to think about who these workers are and how they feel about what they're doing in a country like Ethiopia.

Many came to Ethiopia with bursting with idealism about the idea of helping an underdeveloped country modernize. But that optimism often turned to disillusionment, bitterness and a feeling of disenchantment.

Miriam joins Eric and Cobus to talk about her new book and the challenges confronting Chinese migrant workers in Ethiopia.

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MIRIAM DRISSEN'S BOOK: "Tales of Hope, Tastes of Bitterness Chinese Road Builders in Ethiopia"

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