Creating job opportunities and improving export earnings to remain relevant in a changing and competitive environment were the major talking points of the sixth edition of the Ethiopian Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Forum held last Wednesday at Hilton Addis Hotel.
The breakfast meeting was organised by Precise Consult and was attended by more than 60 executives of private companies and no less than five state company executives. Abraham Tekeste (PhD), minister of Finance & Economic Cooperation (MoFEC), was a guest speaker. He stressed that jobs and exports are his primary preoccupation.
The mood at the meeting was engaging, and the Minister entertained questions from the CEOs.
In a rare event where ministers meet CEOs from different lines of business, issues that slow down efficient trade, manufacturing and exports were among the most important points raised by the leaders of the companies.
During the meeting, Abraham pinpointed that the significance of the economic growth of the country, which has been growing in double-digits in the past decade, is also qualitative and not only quantitative. This, according to him, has brought a change in the narrative of the country from being fatalistic to one of aspiration.
“Before the 1990s, people were so desperate and gave up,” he said. “Now, as almost everyone aspires to achieve something, growth and transformation will thoroughly nurture the economy.”
The Ethiopian CEO Forum started in 2013 to create a platform to inform business leaders about the economy as well as business trends. It also tries to create face-to-face networking and matchmaking opportunities among these leaders and other entities such as government and the international community.
This year’s forum was held for two days before the conclusion of the budget year. The primary aim was discussing the role of the local private sector in the country’s transformation and job creation.
“Although sometimes I am persuaded to allocate public resources towards creating jobs, I say, this is not my job as it is the domain of the private sector,” Abraham said. “The private sector should create jobs, whereas my responsibility is making sure the government creates policies that support investments and export development.”
Many assessments indicate, in the second edition of the Growth & Transformation Plan (GTP II), that private sector development is given a better emphasis than what has been done during the first edition of GTP.
An assessment done by the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce & Sectoral Associations found that the second GTP identifies the role of the private sector in the agricultural, industrial, and mining sectors as well as in infrastructure development.
Nevertheless, lack of access to adequate finance and inefficient government bureaucracy were major headaches to the majority of the country’s private sector firms, according to attendees Fortune spoke to.
Despite all these drawbacks, the perception of the private sector towards Ethiopia has changed over the past decade, Abraham said, citing the first sovereign bond issued in 2014 that was oversubscribed by 260pc.
“The terms were much better than our peers, so the gains we have made have changed the perception of Ethiopia, and it has put the country on the radar of investors on a global scale,” he said.
A week ago, the United Nations Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD) put the country at the top of the list in the continent for attracting 3.2 billion dollars of foreign direct investment (FDI) last year. This was 46pc higher than that of 2015, making the country the second largest FDI host country among landlocked nations.
Moreover, the economy grew by eight percent last year although it is the lowest in a decade.
Abraham believes that the next step of the economy should be sustaining the gains made thus far.
“Diversifying the economy and creating job opportunities are necessary to keep the economic growth,” he said.
The no less than 30-minute keynote speech by the Minister was followed by concerns and questions raised by different participants in the areas of oil, leather and mobile phone industries as well as information technology and justice.
Levi Girma, partner and shareholder of Techno Mobile, is among the participants who have questioned why the government put all its attention on the textile and agricultural sectors instead of other booming industries such as mobile phone assembly.
“We have exported over 40 million dollars this year, I don’t know how we would not be considered a meaningful sector,” he said, explaining the extent of momentum the industry he is currently engaged in has created in the economy.
“The reason why we had a policy is to prioritise what is essential for the economy,” the Minister replied. “This does not mean that other sectors are not important.”
Although Levi’s concerns are not yet solved, he seemed very happy with the response he got from the Minister.
“I don’t expect a solution in such meetings,” Levi, who has been a member of the Forum since its establishment, said. “I came to the Forum just to know how the status of every sector is and to exchange ideas.”
Munir Duri, CEO of Kifiya Financial Technology Plc, agreed with Levi.
“Even though the Forum was more of a stage for networking, the discussion points concern every sector of the economy,” he said.
The Forum, whose members are more than 100 business leaders, has welcomed an average of 90 CEOs from throughout the country ever since it started. The absence of participation from the international community and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) is also one of the major drawbacks of the Forum.
“Bringing leaders of SOEs has become very difficult for us since we started the CEO Forum,” Henock Assefa, founder of the Forum and managing partner of Precise Consult, said. “It would be beneficial for the Forum if such high contributing entities join the platform we set.”
Ever since it was founded in 2013, the CEO Forum has continued to grow and has brought in many executives every four months. Previously, Arkebe Oqubay (PhD), special adviser to the Prime Minister, Khalid Bomba, CEO of the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, Esayas Woldemariam, managing director of International Services at Ethiopian Airlines, and Solomon Tadesse, former CEO of the Ethiopian Tourism Organization, were the guest speakers at the Forum.
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