by Aklog Demissie (email@example.com)
The Ethiopian Diaspora Business Forum was held on July 14, 2012 at George Washington University in Washington DC. The forum heard from Zemedeneh Negatu, managing partner of Ernest and Young Ethiopia and one of the highly respected business professional in Ethiopia, and other business people from Ethiopia on issues ranging from investment opportunities to ICT revolution in Ethiopia . One thing that distinguishes this gathering is the optimistic views that they wanted to radiate about Ethiopia in general and the specific topics of business and investment in the country. But these detached and deluded elite represent a small portion of the country’s elite and they are often labeled as people with a comfortable plan B if their small plan A of doing business in Ethiopia fails.
I am not merely making reckless accusations against a forum based on different ideology but rather common interest shared with many in the forum. We all want our country prosper and our people achieve a sufficient standard of living that improves in time. But we have to be pragmatic and call things as they are. Ethiopia in its current form is not suitable for investment at all, there is no such thing as ICT revolution in Ethiopia because there is no ICT to begin with.
I respect the positive influence Mr. Zemedeneh was able to create in Ethiopia because even a single job created because of his involvement is helpful to the country. But on the other side the millions that the investors spend on corruption to create that single job opportunity is enhancing the corrupt system making the total contribution of Zemedeneh and Co. a zero sum. In another post I argued that Ethiopia is not a suitable investment destination by pointing out facts like it has a bad Ease of Doing Business (EDB) rank in the world that even deteriorated last year, lack of transparent financial sector, wide spread corruption, political instability and lack of skilled man power and infrastructure . Despite the attempt of the forum to gold paint the facts in Ethiopia based on good intentions, the clear fact in the country remains that it is not suitable to business at all. United Nation recently released a world investment report for 2012 and it showed foreign direct investment (FDI) to Ethiopia falls by $80 million to be $208 million while Ghana with 25 million population had a FDI of $3.2billion showing an increase of about $700 million from previous year and Kenya amassed FDI of $335 million showing an increase of $150 million . This showed complete lack of confidence by investors to look in the direction of Ethiopia.
The forum also held a panel on ICT revolution in Ethiopia though many including me argue the non-existence of ICT and telecommunication in Ethiopia. In his well written article Timo Deresu labeled the ICT in Ethiopia politically biased, bureaucratic, unfairly expensive and comparatively backward . Even in comparison to other African countries such as Kenya or Rwanda, Ethiopia’s ICT is lagging behind in at least a decade. As a result the panel discussion on ICT was a total waste with no use for the country, the professionals and investors as it lacks adequate topics as well as speakers with hands on experience of the case in Ethiopia. I appreciate the forum for including ICT in their forum, since the topic is important for the development of a country in the 21st century. I would suggest that the panel discussion be held by inviting people from the government ministry, any opposition party participant interested in the topic, private ICT companies, professionals and activists to discuss the issue openly and if possible agree towards a national ICT plan.
In conclusion, despite the commendable effort to energize the business community towards investing in Ethiopia by considering important topics, the Ethiopian Diaspora Business forum is to far from reality to be effective organization.