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Thursday, 09 December 2010 10:37

Last Word: Explore Africa For Unique Opportunities

By Kester Kenn Klomegah and Professor Zenebe T. Kinfu

MOSCOW, December 10, 2010 (Buziness Africa) – After serving as Ethiopian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation since July 2006, Professor (Dr) Teketel Forssido returns to Addis Ababa, capital city of Ethiopia, in January 2011. 

Last Word: Explore Africa For Unique OpportunitiesEarlier before his diplomatic appointment by his president, he had worked as a university lecturer in agricultural science for several years at Haromaya University formerly known as Alemaya University, one of the oldest universities in Ethiopia. He had also served as a Minister of Agriculture and previously held two ambassadorial positions in Yemen and India. In a wide-ranging pre-departure interview with Buziness Africa, Professor Forssido speaks about some achievements in Russian-Ethiopian relations, developments in economic diplomacy between Russia and Africa, and about future perspectives.


Read his interview fragments below....


Buziness Africa: As you are about to leave your post, what were your main priorities of your government with Russia and ex-Soviet republics over the past few years?

Forssido: Thank you very much for giving me this chance to say a few words in this pre-departure interview. I am leaving my post as Ethiopian ambassador to the Russian Federation after serving here since July 2006. During these few years, we have placed emphasis on economic diplomacy simply because there was a paradigm shift in foreign policy, so now it is important to engage Russia a bit more aggressively and to promote the economic interests in many areas we think are appropriate and viable for our country.


Further, we have seriously looked for technology transfer to push the economic agenda and intensify our work in tourism sphere. The results in the sector can be described as admirable due to the support I have enjoyed from my staff, travel agencies that have cooperated with us and Ethiopian tourism delegations that have visited and participated in exhibitions to promote Ethiopian tourism. Apart from Russia, we have also worked with Belarus and Ukraine where we focused on education and human resource development, and we are closely looking for emerging economic as well as business opportunities in these republics. With the remaining ex-Soviet republics which have shown relative signs of improving their economies, we continue in the mean time, to maintain our good political relations.


Buziness Africa: How would you assess the changing economic situation in Russia and say if these changes have presented some business opportunities for your country? And how do Ethiopian politicians view contemporary Russia?

Forssido: We see Russia as a reliable partner and we value our relations, Russia has its own right to strengthen relations with individual countries. As you know, Russia has been playing an important role in politics and in the economy, now has ascended onto the global arena. The Ethiopian political elite view Russia as a global partner in a multi-polar world, and taking efforts at becoming stronger and stronger. The Russian leadership has taken economic issues very seriously, pushing the country’s economic interest abroad and those concerning the African continent.


Our political elites and the business community have been following closely the developments in Russia, not only after the collapse of the Soviet Union but even before that, simply because Ethiopia has always been a long-time friend to this country. Russia still plays an important role in peace-keeping by sending troops and military equipment, and offer tremendous help in political reconciliation in Africa, so that is why Ethiopian government considers Russia as a strategic partner and ally.


Buziness Africa: What is the current level of economic cooperation between Russia and Ethiopia after various exchanges of delegations? What about the private sector participation by foreign investors including Russian businessmen in Ethiopia’s economy

Forssido: The level of economic cooperation between the two countries has significantly improved. Russian tourism has also taken off as we intensified our strategies to popularize the country's exotic destinations among Russians and that has worked well for us. From Ethiopia, we have exported coffee, spice and flowers to the Russian market.


On the otherhand, Russia's exports to our country include among others, chemicals, fertilizers, machinery, and some manufactured products. We have been encouraging private business people to invest in Ethiopia. Now, there are several companies (I referred to them as interest groups) that are showing keen interest in our country. Some have established themselves there in agro-processing industry, hotels and tourism, real estates and so on while others continue to identify other viable areas.


Russia has the technology to share and we are very much interested in transportation sector especially in railways construction in Ethiopia and many other areas. Russians are very good at railways education, operations, management and maintenance. Really, we are expecting them to come and we have telling them about these opportunities and new radical ways to catch up. We believe that Russians have to work with Africa otherwise, they will be far left behind as the trends have already indicated explicitly.


Buziness Africa: Russia’s trade with many African countries has, over the years, been unbalanced. Do you think that Russia should open its market to African goods and review laws to facilitate trade with African countries? What are your views about these issues that have been under debate among trade policy experts?

Forssido: It’s worth to point out the general trend in trade that African countries import from Russia more than they export to Russia, and as a result, there have been imbalances in trade figures. The main reasons why Russian businessmen and potential investors are not doing brisk business as generally expected are quite obvious. In a certain way, Russians have been transacting various business with African countries including Ethiopia not according to our expectation. First, understandable as it is, African expectation is that the level of Russian investment should be as high as those of India, Turkey and China. It seems to me personally and I still think it is the popular observation that Russians move at their own pace and so we should not blame them if they have not engaged Africa compared to China and many other countries.


Traditionally, Africans transact businesses to Europe, the United States and Asia. The mentality is that people look at the conventional markets in United States, Canada and Europe and so forth. Unfortunately, that is the popular views of Africans. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many still consider this vast and untapped market as not an important market to do business. The potential in Russia is so unbelievably great.


One reason pointing to this can be attributed to lack of required vital information flow and closely related to this is the way Russia, the ex-Soviet republics and as a whole Eastern Europe are portrayed in the media. That is why media channels such as Buziness Africa magazine, which primarily seeks to bridge the information gap, is important and I advise my colleagues and Russians to support and patronize this magazine.


Yes, it’s very difficult to penetrate the market, there are requirements (customs rules, trade regulations and investment rules, and the bureaucracy is a very long one) but the challenges can be surmountable, the first thing is to take the first step to familiarize with all these requirements in practice rather than to imagine them as obstacles for economic partnership. Here, you have to design strategies and to learn how to engage. Some say we have to change the people’s mentality and their conventional way of thinking. With out doubts, Russia has significantly changed. There are a lot of different western and European investors working and exploring opportunities presently in the Russian market.


The other problem is that Russian businessmen think that business can be done from government to government levels (at the state levels) but in many countries business at the state levels has been complimented by private participation. Using government as an umbrella can be alright, but again in many countries, such as India, China and elsewhere, businesses are run by private investors backed by the necessary legislations. The government, of course, has to clear the way for smooth business transactions. Russians are counting on the authorities to do business, but if they always rely on the state, business can be ineffective. That’s why Russians businessmen are slow as we have seen it, and so in this area, there should be an element of liberation.


There are various ways to open the market for Africa. One surest way is to use the existing rules and regulations. The preferential treatments for agricultural products exist but Africans don’t use them. Then, individual countries have to negotiate with Russian government for their products to enter the market. Further to that, the African regional economic blocs can be useful instruments because these blocs are very important and can work with their counterparts to facilitate trade between Africa and Russia.


For instance, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the COMESA and SADC zones in Africa, goods and services move freely, and now I think these blocs should look into the line of working as regional economic blocs with Russia. At the moment, China has done a lot in Africa despite worldwide criticisms. China is not the only player on the continent, but also India, Turkey and other serious players. But, when we talk about Russia, I think it’s not comparable. China has largely involved in Africa, practically in all sectors as we can see. We expect that Russia can do more if they want to, looking at their huge potential capability. They still have their own priorities, anyway.


Buziness Africa: And now, your final words to the diplomatic community you are leaving behind? And also what do you have for the Russian Foreign Ministry, especially the African department and to many of your Russian friends?

Forssido: I would like to say my final words to all my colleagues who are here promoting Africa’s interests that they continue to think seriously about the collective image of Africa among Russians and in Russia. There is the need to adopt a refined approach towards many issues as well as to project our countries’ good image through our individual work especially in investment, trade, education, culture and tourism. In fact, don’t neglect tourism and hospitality sectors because these are very important business areas and can be a backbone for economic diplomacy we are looking for. Russians are quality (big-time) spenders and friends frequently traveling to Africa.


I would like to say to Ministry of Foreign Affairs RF, especially officials at the African department, that Russia should be more responsive to issues of African concern. Africa has moved away enormously and is no more a continent of instability and poverty. Africa has diversified investment opportunities and we are interested to see many individual businessmen investing in Africa. The entire Russian leadership should also see Africa as a reliable partner.

And of course, to all my Russian friends, the doors are widely open and Africa should not be grossly overlooked, the returns on investments there can be great. In subsequent years, I would like to see many potential Russian investors to land and be grounded in Africa. We are ready to help them. And my final gratitude goes to the staff of Buziness Africa for their initiatives to serve the African community and Russian readers with economic information. Thank you all ! (Buziness Africa/2010)


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