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Ethiopia opens up as Hailemariam visits

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From left: Foreign Affairs minister Sam Ongeri, Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn, and Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi at a breakfast meeting at Hotel Inter-Continental  in Nairobi with members of the business community on November 23, 2012. Photo/ANTHONY OMUYA

From left: Foreign Affairs minister Sam Ongeri, Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn, and Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi at a breakfast meeting at Hotel Inter-Continental in Nairobi with members of the business community on November 23, 2012. Photo/ANTHONY OMUYA  Nation Media Group

By Peterson Thiong'o The EastAfrican

Posted  Saturday, November 24   2012 at  15:11

In Summary

  • Four months after the death of Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia is opening up to foreign investors after years of its seemingly closed door policy.
  • Addis’s strategy is said to be shifting from security and political relations to economic focus, with Kenya first on a list of countries it wants to court.
  • Ethiopia is looking to open up the country to foreign investors, as it cements its position as the world’s fastest growing non-oil economy.
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What is Hailemariam Desalegn, the Ethiopian Prime Minister up to in East Africa? This is the question being asked after his two-day visit to Kenya that left in its wake an elaborate agreement between the two countries.

Four months after the death of Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia is opening up to foreign investors after years of its seemingly closed door policy.

A look at Mr Desalegn’s itinerary in Kenya — a visit to milk processor Brookside Dairy, the Aga Khan Hospital, a tour of mobile phone company Safaricom, a breakfast meeting with leading business executives — highlighted Ethiopia’s game plan.

Addis’s strategy is said to be shifting from security and political relations to economic focus, with Kenya first on a list of countries it wants to court.

Ethiopia is looking to open up the country to foreign investors, as it cements its position as the world’s fastest growing non-oil economy.

This strategy could have informed Mr Hailemariam’s decision to grant Kenya, a longtime political and security ally, access to sectors that Ethiopia had closed to foreigners.

In his first trip abroad, the Ethiopian leader signed the deal that opens up agriculture, manufacturing and tourism, a move the country hopes will help address its unemployment challenge.

Sources who spoke to The EastAfrican said the Addis Ababa agreement was signed only months after Kenya agreed to grant Ethiopia special concessions to operate some of the 33 berths it plans to put up at the Lamu port.

It will be the first time that Kenya is allowing a country to operate a berth at any of its harbours, a testimony to the importance of the economic partnership with Ethiopia.

The arrangement highlights the growing economic partnership between the two countries over the past year, a relationship punctuated with an agreement to develop joint infrastructure projects.

Ethiopia, with an average economic growth of 11 per cent over the past nine years, is keen to tap into Kenya’s expertise in capital markets and ICT.

“We would like learn and see greater partnerships between Safaricom and Ethiopia as we work to grow our ICT sector. We believe this will be mutually beneficial to the people of Kenya and Ethiopia,” the Ethiopian premier said during his tour of Safaricom.

Ethiopia is also seeking employment for its young population. “We are targeting companies that are involved in capital intensive sectors like agriculture and manufacturing,” said Mr Hailemariam.

In a move that may suit Kenyan banks, the prime minister said his country will remain closed to Western banks.

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