Representatives of the Ethiopian government are currently visiting Israel. The timing of their visit is less than ideal; a month ago, an unsuccessful coup took place in Ethiopia, in which the Ethiopian chief of staff and several senior administration officials were murdered. Here in Israel, the wave of demonstrations by Ethiopian immigrants in Israel that began after an off-duty policeman shot Solomon Teka to death has not yet subsided.
Ethiopian Ambassador to Israel Reta Alemu Nega nevertheless believes that this is the time to bolster the economic partnership between Ethiopia and Israel. "The Beta Israel community (Ethiopian Jewry, S.L.) has educated and active members who can play an important role in the relationship between the two countries, and they are already working at it. In addition, they can operate in Ethiopia as locals without the restrictions that apply to foreign investors, they speak the language, and they understand the culture. When they go to Ethiopia, they are treated as part of the community.
"In the five months that I have been here as ambassador, many of them have told me that they are interested in working and investing in Ethiopia. I regard them as people with one foot in Ethiopia and one foot in Israel. Their roots in Ethiopia are still strong."
"Globes": Some of the people you are talking about came here as infants. Others were born in Israel.
Alemu: "Someone who is familiar with his past has a strong basis for building the future. The future for them lies in economic relations between Israel and Ethiopia."
Some of the young people that Alemu is talking about are present at our meeting: five young businesspeople of Ethiopian origin who founded JerWay a short time ago. Together with the ambassador, they were the ones who initiated the delegation's visit.
The Ethiopian minister of foreign affairs and other ministers were scheduled to come to Israel and take part in a conference with many participants. At the last minute, the level of the participants was downgraded to deputy ministers. JerWay asserts that the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs was responsible for this by creating bureaucratic difficulties.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in response, "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both in its headquarters in Jerusalem and through the embassy in Addis Ababa, were in constant contact with the Ethiopian embassy in Israel, and with the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which organized the event and the delegation. We welcome this delegation, which will contribute to advancing the economic ties between the countries, in accordance with Minister of Foreign Affairs Yisrael Katz's policy of advancing the economic aspect of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' operations. The change in the delegation's composition is an internal Ethiopian matter totally unrelated to the Israeli side. We will be glad to host the Ethiopian foreign minister in Israel at any time, as was made clear to the Ethiopian side. We regret the cancellation of the economic conference, and are still handling the formal aspect of the visit, which will include a meeting between the Ethiopian deputy ministers and Israeli ministers, among other things. Ethiopia is an important country in Africa, and we assign it a key role in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy of returning to Africa."
Regardless of its level, the Ethiopian delegation will try to upgrade commercial ties between the two countries, which currently amount to a few tens of millions of dollars a year.
What economic partnership can there be between the two countries?
"We see great potential in Israel in agriculture, health, education, science, technology, and innovation. In addition, Ethiopia has potential for investments, first of all because of its size in term of its economy, population, and area, and also because of its location in Africa. If we look at the larger picture, Africa is developing, and Ethiopia is developing. This is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with a market of 110 million people and a growing middle class.
"In education, for example, in the past 20 years, a country with three or four institutions of higher education has become a country with 45 institutions and more than 500,000 college graduates each year, most of them in professions like engineering, medicine, and computer science. The active workforce numbers 54 million people, and is relatively cheap. We also have extensive tax exemption agreements with the US, Japan, Canada, Turkey, and other countries. Ethiopia is a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), giving it access to a market of 350 million people." The Ethiopian economy has been growing by over 10% a year for the past decade.
Investors are anxious about instability, and you experienced an attempted coup just a month ago.
"It failed. There has never been a successful coup in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the most stable places in Africa. There was an orderly democratic handing over of power last year between former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and current Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed. The government is now working on a series of deep reforms for achieving both political and economic change."
"Cotton and sesame crops on a high level"
In recent years, Ethiopia has appeared on the radar screens of investors from all over the world. Alemu says that the country is currently attracting investors from China, Turkey, India, the US, Germany, and other countries. Israelis are also investing in the country, but insufficiently in his view.
What can attract investors to Ethiopia? Highly developed road infrastructure and 17 industrial parks with paved access roads, electricity, and water. Ethiopia is also regarded as a financial hub offering cheap energy, a high level of cotton and sesame crops, and tax benefits for various types of investors.
80% of Ethiopians make a living from agriculture, which naturally attracts most of the investments. Alemu believes that Israeli technology can improve output per land area and bring better health services to remote regions.
You are talking about a country in accelerated development. Is this reaching poor farmers in rural areas?
"I think so. For example, there is an Israeli who is investing in an avocado farm. He trains small farmers in the area of his farm, and buys their produce for export. Investors also have commercial cotton farms, and the small farmers around them can use their equipment and the know-how that they bring."
What do you expect to happen in the Ethiopian delegation's visit to Israel.
"I believe that beyond displaying the advantages of Ethiopia, connections can be made that will generate real activity."
"Solomon Teka's death is horrifying"
The Ethiopian ambassador visited the home of Solomon Teka's family two weeks ago. "His death was horrifying," he says. "I believe that Israel and its government will find an appropriate solution to the problem, and that the members of the community will handle it wisely. You are a society of people who came from different places around the world - a mixed culture and a melting pot. I believe that the government will adopt a policy to solve the problem. The community of immigrants from Ethiopia requires strong leadership that will solve matters pragmatically and wisely through peaceful means."
Does your visit represent a protest against Israel's policy?
"I visited the family to comfort them. We have very good relations with the Beta Israel community, but this affair concerns the community and the Israeli government, and we are not intervening in it. I only say that a peaceful solution is needed, and that the community should also strive for a solution by peaceful means."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 22, 2019
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