"I feel at home" - Botschafterin Mulu Solomon im Interview

Seit April diesen Jahres ist Mulu Solomon Bezuneh in Deutschland - seit 11. Juni ist sie offiziell die neue Botschafterin der Republik Äthiopien in Berlin. Unser Pressereferent Alexander Bestle hat die 60-jährige frühere Unternehmerin bereits am Rand des deutsch-äthiopischen Wirtschaftsforums im April in Addis getroffen und ein Interview vereinbart. Ende Juli war es dann endlich soweit. Wir danken der neuen Botschafterin für die Zeit, die sie sich für uns genommen hat.   

You arrived in Germany in April – is it your first time here in Germany?

I arrived in Germany on the 23rd of April/2019 to assume my post as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the Federal Republic of Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic and Ukraine. However, I have been to Germany a couple of timesmainly to participate in International conferences, to take short trainings, experience sharing and as a guest speaker.

When you travel somewhere you always expect something – what expectation were fulfilled in Germany. Are there any surprises in a good or bad way?

Germany has a very good reputation in Ethiopia. “Made in Germany” is always associated with high quality and best standard including in our education system. Germans are also known for their efficiency, effectiveness and precision. I was pleasantly surprised by how green the city is with its parks, gardens and forested areas. Berlin is also diverse, and you can see various cultures and nationalities. So far, I have met many people from all walks of life from the highest level to the lower level of government officials and workers, parliamentarians, business, think thanks and journalists, humanitarian associations, members of  the diplomatic community, universities at different conferences, some in business association offices. I found German people being very kind and helpful to me. I feel at home. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them very much for their being kind, helpful, straight forward. Another surprise which I took positively is that most correspondences, letters, documents and even agreements to be signed for banking purpose and for other organizations are in German language. But people are very kind to explain. I believe this encourages many of us to study German language.

Could you please explain our reader, what you did over the last years?

What I did over the past years has always been an interesting mix of academia, business, professional and humanitarian service as well as art. In the business area my experience is in private sector & government, in manufacturing, commercial farming, import export, distribution, construction, training and consultancy. In academics I worked as a lecturer/trainer, Entrepreneurship Chair Holder, chair of the council at EiABC- Addis Ababa University. In the social service, I have served more than 50 professional, business and humanitarian Associations at the national continental and International level, e.g. elected and served as President of Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association (ECCSA), Vice Chair of  COMESA Business Council, Vice President of Pan AfricanChamber of Commerce & Industry, Chair of the Governing Board Advisory Group on Effective and Efficient Humanitarian Response – International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Member of the Governing Board – IFRC, President of EEBS –Society of Entrepreneurs, member of Advisory Group for Sub-Sahara Africa (AGSA) to IMF -World Bank Group, TVET Africa expert group member, Tuning Africa – Higher Education Policy Advisory Group Member, Steering Committee Member -Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI), Founder and President of Ethiopian Women Writers Association. Trustee Board Member of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia (HFE), Member of Ethiopian Public Diplomacy, etc. I have also been training high level managers, government officials, association leaders, on countless courses like personal development, leadership, governance, entrepreneurship and have been a speaker in many international, continental and national conference on different topics of business, investment, etc. I have also been writing books, delivering inspirational speeches to universities, companies, associations, youth and women groups.

What are the biggest changes since Dr. Abiy came to power out of your perceptions – for Ethiopia? And for you?

In Ethiopia, major political and economic reforms are undertaken since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in April last year. The country has embarked on an incredible reform which led to the widening of political space in the country, release of thousands of political prisoners, allowing exile political parties to return home, participate in building the democratic process and increased participation of women in higher decisionmaking posts e.g. fifty percent of ministerial posts are taken by women and the countries president is women.

In the economic sphere, the Prime Minister took measures leading to opening up of some economic sectors which were monopolized by the Government. Partial privatization of Ethiopian Airlines, Ethio-Telecom, and Shipping and logistics sector are few to mention.

Personally, I have been provided with the exceptional opportunity to represent my country and work towards strengthening Ethiopia’s wide-ranging relation with our reliable partner Germany.

Ethiopia changed a lot in the last year – also Germanies perception of Africa changes a lot in the last years. Do you think it is a special moment to serve here?

German has always been and continues to be the most important and key supporter of Ethiopia in the economic, political, social and cultural spectrum. Germany has been providing significant support in knowledge-driven sectors, particularly, in the Technical and Vocational Training, university cooperation, information technology as well as construction and power generation. Since April last year, Ethiopia has embarked on an incredible reform and change. Thus, prospect of growth and development that awaits my country is enormous.  Germany’s positive change of perception towards Africa, is another great opportunity  that can be synchronized with the condition at home, especially in facilitating investment, business, technology transfer, employment of skilled workers(through the new initiative of Germany, …) Therefore, it is an exceptional moment to serve as Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Germany.

And what does that mean for you in concrete? Do you have a special mission?

My mission mainly focuses on elevating the already strong diplomatic relationship to a new high. This can be done by revising existing agreements and signing new ones with a view to create an enabling framework for all-inclusive cooperation. I would like to realize an enabling framework of cooperation within which all economic, political, social and cultural interactions can deepen. What does that mean for me? It does mean entrepreneurial approach of synchronizing my diverse knowledge and wisdom, in business, investment, academia, entrepreneurship and/or job creation, technology transfer, etc., with diplomacy and act in the Ethiopian athletes’ pace towards our mutual goal.

Where do you want to point your focus in the collaboration with Germany?

In addition to our continuous successful cooperation in bilateral, regional and international issues of common concern, I would like to link German to Ethiopia in a better way in regards to investment, trade, technology transfer and tourism. I would also like to strengthen the development cooperation between the two countries.

As a former entrepreneur – do you think you have a special approach to your agenda – different to a professional diplomat?

Investors, entrepreneurs even traders, require enabling doing business environment to invest or do any medium- or long-term business in a country. From my previous experience as the president of Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations (ECCSA), I know most of the problems and the vast opportunities. That helps me to facilitate by putting myself in the feet of the of the German investors and that of other countries we cover. I remember the public private dialogue (PPD), we had with Ethiopian government while I was the president, with a researched paper presented about ease of doing business in the country.  It was agreed that one-stop-shopping service to be provided to cut the unnecessary bureaucracy.Though, it has taken time, with the new change the government has gone through different reform processes including the Ethiopian Investment Commission and other related sectoral ministers. As I know the pain of the investors and other business people, I believe I can communicate better to the concerned parties of my country and also to the German partners to get the best out of each and every investment process.

Though, I am the new blood to the diplomatic world, I can say that business world is the most diplomatic world which considers win-win situation in a more efficient and effective way. I believe it is an advanced compliment to move forward faster in a tangible way i.e. down to business of mutual benefit for both our countries acting in a creative manner.

Entrepreneurship is one of the backbones of Germany economic success – what Ethiopia can learn from Germany?

Ethiopia can learn a lot from the flourishing entrepreneurship drive in Germany. Entrepreneurs (Mainly small and medium sized businesses) make a significant contribution to the overall growth of German’s economy, generates most of the employment and continue to have a strong equity base. These entrepreneurs follow unique approaches helping the country's workforce adjust to new industries, earn reasonable salaries and enjoy a high degree of job security. These are lessons Ethiopia want to learn from Germany. The fact that Germany spends a considerable amount of its GDP on research and development is a big lesson to be learnt.

To this end, Ethiopia has identified Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) as an integral part of its Growth and Transformation Plan. Ethiopia’s MSEs Development Strategy is designed to maintain the momentum of the rapid economic growth in the country by fostering entrepreneurship and lay a solid foundation for industrialized economy.

As head of the Chamber of Commerce you also worked on changing the structural environment for entrepreneurship and the private businesses. There are definitely more private businesses in Ethiopia than in Germany. With all the little shops and vendors of the informal sector – also nearly all the farmers are self-employed. What can Ethiopia do to make all these businesses more successful and potential employers in the future?

Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) Development Strategy of Ethiopia has been designed to maintain the momentum of the rapid economic growth being registered in all sectors, foster entrepreneurship, alleviate poverty and develop MSEs, which lay fundamental foundation for industrialized economy.

The Government need to give priority for youth, women and low-income societies economic empowerment. To encourage the enterprises’, access to finance, land, machinery provision, value chain system and market linkage supports need to be provided. In general overall support, supervision and mobilization of Micro and Small Enterprises should be strengthened because such enterprises are foundations for Medium and Large Scale ones.

Which role can Germany play in this field?

Germany can be a dependable partner in this regard by providing technical and financial support, encouraging German private sector to take Ethiopia as an emerging investment destination. SMEs in Germany can pass on their successful experience to their Ethiopian counterparts and engage in joint ventures or direct investment. Germans can be involved in business of their interest in Ethiopia to export to the enormous market of Africa, EU, USA, India, Japan and any other part of the world.

One of Germany’s focuses in its development work in Ethiopia is TVETat the moment. Ethiopia is proud of “copying” the German dual system. Where should be the next steps?

Ethiopia do follow the German TVET system. However there are challenges in its implementation and producing quality and skill manpower. The next step should be refining the implementation of the education system to realize equally skilled and productive manpower that can drive our development endeavors. Special focus should be given to training of trainers, teachers and mentors. Currently the government has introduced reform in the education system showing a new road map.

Main focus for Ethiopia is becoming a manufactural hub through building Industry Parks and promoting them all over the world. German companies are not the first moving in – are you trying to change that?

It is my mission to make sure that Ethiopia is viewed as a preferred investment destination for German companies. I will work hard to make sure that potential investors have all the information they need to make informed decisions. This can be done by organizing business forums, exchange trips and discussion panels etc.

Ethiopia offers a myriad of choices for German companies. Those strategic sectors identified by the government include; Leather and Leather Products, Textiles and Garments, Horticulture, Agriculture, Construction, Manufacturing, Pharmaceuticals, Tourism as well as power. The industrial parks that are built around the country with various specialization provide a one stop service and plug and play option to potential investors. Ethiopia similarly offers untapped opportunities in information technology and startups as well as small and medium enterprises.