This is the Africa Business Fellowship’s (ABF) daily blog from the 10th Biennial Corporate Council on Africa’s U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Addis Ababa.
The Corporate Council on Africa is the leading organization in the United States that promotes trade and investment on the African continent. For only the second time, the Council is hosting their Summit in Africa- in Ethiopia, one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
This conference is a milestone in many ways. The 10th Summit is the first time the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry have collaborated on a conference and this is the largest event of its kind that brings the United States' and Africa's private sector together. The conference attracted 1200 registrants, a huge jump from previous years, perhaps the largest harbinger of increased interest in U.S.-Africa business collaboration.
There was a brief nod to other countries involved in investment in Africa. Symbion Power CEO Paul Hinks welcomed delegates from Turkey and China declaring that all countries have a shared interest in investment in the continent. The latter is the currently the largest source of FDI in Ethiopia and is expected to increase their investment, perhaps up to four-fold in the next year according to a senior Ethiopian official I spoke with.
While it is a U.S.-Africa Summit, Ethiopia is using the forum as an opportunity to showcase its potential. At the Doing Business in Ethiopia panel, a distinguished group, including the Director General of Ethiopian Investment Commission Fitsum Arega, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and Ernst & Young Ethiopia Managing Director Zemedeneh Negatu painted a promising picture of the country’s growth: increased life expectancy, expanded access to primary and secondary education, declining poverty rates, and the various opportunities in the power, tourism, and agriculture sectors.
Black Rhino Group’s Brian Herlihy presented the firm’s experience investing in Ethiopia - USD1.3 billion into a petrol pipeline between Ethiopia and Djibouti. He shared an anecdote about contacting Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn about the project. The Black Rhino team was hesitant to reach out to the Ethiopian leader noting his busy schedule but was surprised by the Prime Minister’s willingness and response, “What is a country but a collection of projects?”
As an Ethiopian-American, the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) “Creativity In Motion” campaign was perhaps the highlight of the panel. When the video premiered last year, I was filled with pride, THIS was the branding I and many others had waited for. JICA is helping Ethiopian products reach a niche market in Japan including iPhone covers, clothing, and quality leather products.
“Ethiopia confounds every expectation,” said Noah Samara of Yazmi in his keynote address, quoting a travel writer’s take on the country. With the facts and figures presented today, expectations are sure to be high.
Adedana Ashebir is the African Leadership Network Program Director of the Africa Business Fellowship. She is based in Nairobi. Follow the U.S.-Africa Business Summit using #AfricaBizSummit.