by Xinhua writer Zhu Shaobin
NAIROBI, June 25 (Xinhua) -- Two decades ago, Lotfi Lajmi was a mechanic repairing cars in Tunisia. Today, he is a successful businessman who ventured out as a transporter and then diversified into contracting, advertising and real estate.
Lajmi attributes his success to his early engagement with one Chinese company which came to his country after China started its transformational reform and began to open up.
Chinese hydropower engineering and construction company Sinohydro was in Tunisia, hiring local mechanics. Lajmi got the job and he says a new chapter in his life began.
After his contract ended, the quick-witted Tunisian took a bank loan and bought four second-hand vehicles Sinohydro was disposing of. It was the start of his own business as a transporter.
In 2015, Lajmi worked with Sinohydro on a contract once again. This time, it was to build a major dam.
"Would you believe that?" he said incredulously. "Twenty years ago, I was just a mechanic repairing vehicles for Sinohydro."
Lajmi attributes his success also to learning from the Chinese way of work -- toiling hard to create wealth under the reform and opening-up drive.
BIGGER PICTURE OF BROTHERHOOD
The Tunisian's success is a tiny part of the China-Africa cooperation story. Four decades of reform and opening-up have seen numerous Chinese-built projects in Africa, changing the landscape of the continent and boosting economic development.
In this period, Africans and Chinese worked together to achieve common development. The engagement is testimony to the mutually beneficial cooperation over the years.
Lajmi and Sinohydro are old friends now.
"He was our first choice in choosing a local partner," Xue Mingxing, manager of Sinohydro Corporation Engineering Bureau 15's Tunisia project, said.
"When we see our African staff grow up and achieve success, we feel genuinely happy for them."
The First Highway Engineering Co., Ltd under China Communications Construction Company was among the first Chinese firms to arrive in Africa in 1980, two years after the reform and opening-up started.
It has built roads in Burundi, Cameroon, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa alone, the company undertook more than 80 municipal projects, and paved over 80 percent of the city's roads.
In recent years, major cooperative projects include Kenya's Nairobi-Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway, the Ethio-Djibouti Railway, and Cote d'Ivoire's Soubre hydropower plant.
UNIQUE ENGAGEMENT IN AFRICA
China has become Africa's most important business partner in two decades, a report by U.S. consulting firm McKinsey in 2017 says. No other country has such depth and breadth of engagement on the continent, covering trade, investment, infrastructure financing and assistance.
Since the turn of the millennium, the China-Africa trade has been growing at approximately 20 percent per year, while China's direct investment has grown at an annual rate of 40 percent over the past decade, the report says.
"When China opens up to the world, the world also opens up for China," Ndrianja Ratrimoarvony, a Madagascar-based researcher on China-Africa relations, said.
Ratrimoarvony said the reform and opening-up policy has facilitated the flow of capital and technologies into China. The establishment of special economic zones has proved to be a key factor in driving the nation's economic take-off.
The presence of Chinese telecom giants like Huawei and ZTE are easily discernible in Africa. "Even in towns and villages, you get to see many Chinese people doing business," Ratrimoarvony said.
Their commercial activities have become part of the continent's social and economic lives, embodying the strengthening Africa-China cooperative relations, Ratrimoarvony said.
NEW GROWTH MOMENTUM
Stephen Ndegwa, a public policy lecturer at the United States International University Africa in Kenya, said as China deepens the reform and opening-up, it will inject new growth momentum into Africa.
With the Belt and Road Initiative open for countries to join in, eastern and southern Africa, in particular, will see more cooperative outcomes under this vision.
(Xinhua reporters Liu Kai in Tunis, Wang Shoubao in Addis Ababa, Jin Zheng in Nairobi, and Wen Hao in Antananarivo contributed to this article.)