Interview: Ethiopia can be starting point for Africa investment

By Yi Whan-woo for Korea Times

Solidarity is the driving force behind African countries that launched a single economic bloc last year and which aim to be a global powerhouse by 2063 under their Agenda 2063 sustainable development plan.

In that regard, Ethiopia can be a starting point for Korean investors and businesses to tap into the African market considering its history as a symbol of collective African identity, according to Ethiopian Ambassador to Korea Shiferaw Shigutie Wolassa.

The pan-African colors — green, gold and red — were inspired by the Ethiopian flag with horizontal tricolors and the national emblem in the center.

This is because Ethiopia, apart from Liberia founded by former African American slaves, was the only African country that was not colonized by European powers, and its flag is seen as sign of solidarity toward freedom and independence.

The Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa is where the 55-member African Union (AU) as well as other international organizations and embassies are located.

This makes the city home to the third-largest number of diplomatic missions in the world, only after New York and Geneva.

“We’re the gateway for the African market. Potential investors should come because seeing is believing,” Ambassador Shiferaw said during a recent interview with The Korea Times.

He underlined that Ethiopia’s location in the Horn of Africa, in the northeast of the continent, gives the country “a competitive edge.”

“We’re in the middle of Africa, Europe and the Middle East, making it easier for traders to sell their products to the European and American markets,” he said.

Shiferaw came to Korea in January and presented his letter of credentials to President Moon Jae-in in March.

He is the latest newcomer among ambassadors from 20 African countries that have embassies in Seoul.

His three biggest missions are to bolster investment and business opportunities in Ethiopia, facilitate exchanges in education and technology, and to promote Ethiopian culture and tourism.

Bilateral relations date back the 1950-53 Korean War when Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie sent three successive battalions drawn from his bodyguards to fight as part of the U.N. forces.

The two countries established full diplomatic ties in December 1963.

The following is an excerpt of the interview.

Q1: What are your goals as Ethiopia?s new ambassador to Korea?

A1: I will focus on three issues. First, I will closely work with business communities, especially those that want expand their business outside of Korea.

A significant number of Korean investors have already started their businesses in Ethiopia.

However, I plan to invite more Korean investors to Ethiopia because Ethiopia’s investment potential remains untapped.

The second area that I wish to focus on is education and technology transfer.

Education is a key area for economic development and Ethiopia would like to share Korea’s experiences in the development of education.

I plan to expand scholarship programs for Ethiopian students.

Around 400 students are granted scholarships from the Korean government and expanding scholarship programs will enable the creation of more opportunities for Ethiopian students to study in Korea.

Last but not least, I will work on cultural exchanges and tourism.

As you already know, Ethiopian soldiers participated in the Korean War. Most of the Korean young generation do not know of Ethiopia’s involvement during the Korean War.

I will promote Ethiopia to the Korean young generation through cultural exchanges. Tourism is also one sector to be promoted to the Korean people.

Q2: Why is Ethiopia an attractive choice for Korean investors?

A2: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is currently conducting massive economic and political reform in Ethiopia after taking office in April 2018.

Under the economic reform sector, the Prime Minister has reiterated his plan to open up hitherto government-owned public enterprises such as telecommunication and airlines.

The new administration has announced that it wants to sell stakes in state-owned public enterprises in the hope that the private sector will boost an already fast growing economy and create jobs for the hundreds of thousands of young Ethiopians entering the job market each year.

The major economic development engine of Ethiopia is the Ethiopian government’s clear policy which is agriculture-led industrialization.

It is a development strategy that aims to achieve initial industrialization through robust agricultural growth and close linkage between the agricultural and industrial sectors.

The Ethiopian government is focusing on modernizing productivity in the agricultural sector and growing export-oriented light manufacturing.

Thanks to this clear direction in economic development, Ethiopia has registered a double-digit economic growth rate for more than a decade.

About 65 percent of our 100 million population is aged below 29 years old. And Ethiopia’s competitive young labor force will make it suitable for labor-intensive light manufacturing.

Due to these factors, Ethiopia has become a preferred destination for foreign direct investment and an emerging hub for manufacturing in Africa.

The Korea Industrial Zone in Ethiopia is under progress to attract more Korean investors. The Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in Seoul is fully committed to encourage and assist the Korean business community in every way possible to involve itself in investment in Ethiopia.

The embassy will strive to invite as many Koreans as possible to witness the real renaissance that is currently taking place in Ethiopia.

Trade is another area to focus on.

I will promote more Ethiopian products, so that more Korean companies will import more diverse Ethiopian products to Korea. It is believed that Ethiopia’s high value agricultural products such as coffee, sesame seeds, flowers, textiles, leather and livestock can be destined for the Korean market in greater numbers than now.

Due to Korea’s position in the Asian market, Ethiopian products will be headed to other neighboring countries as well.

Q3: Please share some of the tourist attractions in Ethiopia.

A3: Ethiopia is highly diverse country. There are more than 80 different ethnic groups and languages.

This makes Ethiopia one of the most fascinating countries in Africa to visit due to the extremely dramatic landscape and incredible cultural diversity.

Ethiopia is a land of astonishing geographic extremes, plunging to 116 meters below sea level in the Danakil, and rising over 4,300 meters in the mountains.

In addition, Ethiopia has become the most attractive tourist destination because of country’s warm and constant weather and many tourist attractions.

To attract more tourists to Ethiopia, the government is developing tourism industries in order to provide proper and safe hospitality to visitors. At the same time, the government is also trying to maintain Ethiopia’s culture and historic sites.

There are nine UNESCO World Heritage sites; Aksum, Fasil Ghebbi, Harar Jugol, Konso Cultural Landscape, Lower Valley of the Awash, Lower Valley of the Omo, Lalibela, Tiya and Simien National Park.

We also have three intangible cultural heritages — Meskel, Fichee-Chambalaalla and the Goda system.

Even though the number of tourists from Korea is increasing, the embassy will try to attract even more Korean tourists to Ethiopia.

Thanks to Ethiopia Airlines’ direct flight from Incheon to Addis Ababa five times a week, Korean tourists can easily access Ethiopia.

I suggest Koreans visit Ethiopia and be amazed and surprised by what they are going to witness in the country.

Q4: How can Ethiopia, based on its relations with Eritrea, help the two Koreas to continue to improve their relations?

A4: The Prime Minister has achieved remarkable results since he took office. He has negotiated and made peace with Eritrea; and freed all opposition leaders and political prisoners.

These impacts are huge and exchanges of peoples have begun.

A remarkable economic impact is also expected by using Eritrea’s ports.

What happened between Ethiopia and Eritrea seems very similar to what is going on between the two Koreas.

It can be said that there is commonality of thinking of both countries’ leaders.

Source: Korea Times

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