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Chinese engineers dig deep into Africa’s infrastructure ambition

By Ronald Ssekandi and Yuan Qing  KIRYANDONGO, Uganda(Xinhua) -- Thousands of miles away from home, and deep underground in northern Uganda, 27-year-old Wang Jian every day traverses tunnels at a construction site under River Nile, the world’s longest river.

Fifty-three meters underground, Wang, a civil engineer from China’s Hunan province, receives situation reports on the ongoing construction of Karuma Hydro Power Dam, Africa’s first underground hydro power plant.

Outside the tunnel, Shen Jianjun, 47, was giving orders and directions to local employees who hope to draw from his 27 years of experience in civil engineering.

Several hundred meters away is 30-year-old Hou Fuqiang, the chief engineer of the 1.4 billion U.S. dollar project. Seated in a shared office, Hou scrutinizes a pile of reports on his table.

Hou, like thousands of other employees both in and outside the tunnels, are determined to ensure that the first power be produced by mid next year.

They are among the thousands of Chinese engineers working to change the face of Africa by developing the continent’s much-needed infrastructure.


When Wang learnt of his assignment to Africa, he was perturbed, and friends of the young graduate were quick to remind him of the war and disease there.

Shen’s family had similar concerns. “My family did not agree with me, they have the impression that Africa is not very stable, has many diseases and most importantly it is very far away from home,” Shen said.

“But when I came here I found the place safe, the local people are friendly and there are a lot of fruits,” Shen said.

This is a similar situation that many Chinese engineers went through after being assigned to Africa.

Wang, like Shen and thousands of others colleagues, had to fight thoughts of leaving loved ones thousands of miles behind and working in a remote corner of Africa.

Indeed some of their fears are not ungrounded.

For Wang, his greatest fear was malaria, a disease that has largely been wiped out in China, and indeed it struck six of his colleagues. Some persistently fell sick until they had to leave the project and return to China.

Despite the many challenges, most Chinese engineers have decided to stay here until accomplishing their mission.

Wang told Xinhua that when he wakes up every morning, what is on their mind is achieving the goal of completing the construction on time. To that end, the Chinese engineers and local employees often work long hours with few breaks.

It is the work attitude that many locals are hailing the Chinese for.

“When the Chinese came, it changed the attitude of youths here towards work. They used to come out of bed late but now by dawn, everybody is out working,” Thomas Belly Okello, a resident of Karuma town, told Xinhua.

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