Chinese Eastern Industrial Zone in Ethiopia: unpacking the enclave

Ding Fei, Chuan Liao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


This paper examines China’s engagement with Africa through economic zones (EZs). It moves beyond the conceptualisation of EZs as undifferentiated enclaves of foreign investment to a dynamic perspective on the locally negotiated process of zone development. Such a perspective entails critical unpacking of the specific zone regime to understand the diverse and evolving relationships among different state and non-state actors. Drawing upon empirical research on the Eastern Industrial Zone (EIZ) in Ethiopia, we explore the complex process of learning and adaptation by government, developers, investors, and workers throughout the development of a zone regime, with specific attention to capital–labour and expatriate–local relations. We find that despite the EIZ being a state-level cooperation project, private Chinese developers work diligently with the Ethiopian government to improve the institutional support for EZs. Chinese investors also collectively generate a management regime to enhance their overseas operational capacity and experiment with various tactics to transform local recruits into an industrial workforce. Local workers, with limited protection by official labour unions, turn to individual- and group-based agency to improve their working conditions. Despite the momentum created by multiple stakeholders, there are concerns regarding the long-term contributions of EZs to engender sustained industrial transformation and skills development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)623-644
Number of pages22
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2 2020


  • China
  • Economic zone
  • Ethiopia
  • capital–labour relation
  • enclave

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development


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