China in Africa: plus ça change

Here in Ethiopia it is common for little children to shout ferenj when they see a white face.  I am told that this comes from the Amharic word for a French person, ፈረንሳዊ (pronounced färänsawi), because French people were among the first white people Ethiopians had seen.

Today G and I were running down a dirt track through a small village and a small girl, about 4 years old, saw us running past.   She shouted,

China! China!

I heard the other day that there were two old men sitting on a hillside in north Wello, watching the Chinese labourers building a new road.   They were old-timers, who had fought against the Italians in 1935, and then watched the Italians build the first roads across the Blue Nile gorge and up to Eritrea. (“What have the Romans ever done for us?”)  As these men watched the Chinese roll out the tarmac, one of them said to the other:

The Italians are back. Only now they have narrower eyes.

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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