BY GIRMACHEW GASHAW
The guest of The Ethiopian Herald for today is Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh, the President of Djibouti Chamber of Commerce which is one of the leading figures of the Djiboutian business community. After earning a degree in International Business in 1988, Youssouf began to gain experience in business activities. He then established his first company specialized in the import-export of food products.
Then in 1994, attracted by the fish production, he took over the management of the large fish market of Boulaos and started to export fishery products to the countries in the region. He has a taste for contact and faces many other challenges while diversifying its activities, especially with the creation of the Dawaleh Construction Company. Thus, beyond its activities in the building and public work, Dawaleh Construction is one of the companies in Djibouti pioneers in real estate development.
From 1993 to 2003 he was an Associate Member in the General Assembly of the Djibouti Chamber of Commerce (CCD) during the presidency of the late Said Ali Coubèche. At that time, Youssouf pleaded the cause of the private sector in the National Assembly as Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and then as Chairman of that same committee. Man of action and conviction, Youssouf, President of the Consular Institution since December 2013, is to use his best endeavors to further the interests of the private sector and contribute to the country’s economic development through the CCD. The Ethiopian Herald spent a few hours with Youssouf to know more about the bilateral relations of the CCD with its counterpart in Ethiopia to accelerate trade relations avoiding possible challenges. Have a nice read!
Would you tell us about the relation between the Djibouti Chamber of Commerce with its counterpart Ethiopia?
It is a really strong relation. Thank you for this question. Djibouti and Ethiopia Chambers of Commerce are almost now building brotherly relations. I was elected in 2014. Since then I have met Engineer Melaku Ezezew who is President of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce twice to exchange ideas, views on ways of strengthening the relations that we have.
Ethiopia and Djibouti are linked with various infrastructures. Is there any development progress in this regard?
The two countries have a strong cooperation in terms of infrastructure such as electrified railway line, power and telecom interconnections that contribute to a possible economic integration. It is a role model to other countries in horn in particular and the continent in general. The common infrastructure investment showcases that there is a real integration between both sides. This is a good opportunity for business communities to maximize benefits.
We have to improve the infrastructure in order to elevate the activities of the private sector as it is the engine of the economy. Leaders of the two countries put in place a strategy, a vision for 30 years. But as a private sector we must also be convinced that Djibouti and Ethiopia are linked forever and nobody can separate us. The two countries have also developed strong ties in many sectors such as in security, trade, economy, training and education, infrastructure and energy. We did build infrastructures together for a lifetime. Power, fiber optics, water interconnection, electrified railway line, and soon the natural gas pipeline would also link the two countries.
These connectivity and ties provide the two countries the potential to contribute for economic integration in Horn of Africa. Anyone can easily guess the paramount importance of the Ethio-Djibouti relationship beyond the bilateral ties to the regional integration at large.
Previously, Ethiopia and Djibouti were developing new ports in order to ease shipment processes. Would you tell us a bit further about it?
So far, we have already developed seven ports. The ports serve as the main gateway for trade for Ethiopia, handling 95 percent of the country’s trade. As a gateway to the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, Djibouti’s ports also service trans-shipments between Djibouti and the coastal countries. And as you are aware the biggest and high ships are coming to Djibouti. If you see Djibouti, for example, now we can have vessels coming from China with 20,000 containers. That is very important for Djibouti.
Those containers were designated as one part for Djibouti and the rest for transshipment. The same thing has happened for the empty containers. Djibouti became a hub also for logistics, not only for Ethiopia but also for other coastal countries that cannot have this kind of vessels – new generation vessels that can come in those countries. At present, Djibouti imports 85 percent hydroelectric power from its neighbor, Ethiopia. This is one of the genius ideas that made the Ethiopian government beneficial as it gets an income in the return like Djibouti earns an income renting its ports.
The hard currency payment that Ethiopia expends to get port service is an electric service cost for Djibouti. This is a win-win situation for both countries and we want to emphasize that the strong economic integration should further be continued.
Ethiopia has already developed industrial parks in various parts of the country so as to address the possible challenge investors would face? Do investors in your country have a tendency to engage in these parks?
In Djibouti we have the free zone and you have industrial parks. The full free zone focuses on the development of industries such as the logistics, marine, construction, automotive, and home electrical industries. The project also creates major business opportunities for Djibouti and East Africa as the region’s export manufacturing and processing capacity is expanded in key sectors such as food, automotive parts, textiles and packaging.
Those industrial parks make a standby in the free zone of Djibouti before they make the final export of their product. They do not have to wait for a vessel or to store it to a different destination. This is one area of cooperation. We (the private sector) are working on this to put this in place. The port authorities, Ethiopian Investment Commission and the Industrial Parks [Development Corporation] of Ethiopia want to put all this relation for a good and finally create a very strong relation with the private sector.
The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is created with a vision of fighting drought and spurring development in the horn countries. How do you rate its tasks?
IGAD, since Workneh Gebeyehu (Ph.D) was assigned as an Executive Secretary; is coming up with a range of development alternatives which are imperative to uplift the horn of Africa in different arenas. The IGAD business forum is one aspect that the private sector is highly engaged in. It will give for the private sector to have the same module or the same perspectives to make integration for the region. We are also putting in place an IGAD arbitration center. If a dispute comes between private sectors of different countries, we will have our own arbitration system in order to address the dispute before the two parties go to the international arbitration center.
The other important point that Gebeyehu introduced for the horn countries is the need for technical and vocational training. These Days, without formal education, the youth in the horn of Africa have no access to technical and vocational training. The vocational and informal training can be done to equip communities and individuals with the skills and competences needed to enhance employability, productivity and income without undue emphasis on educational certificates.
The vocational training must be in the same standard between Djibouti, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan. And for that we have to put in place a curriculum so that many of our schools can be governed on that standard. It is good for them if they could get jobs in the country they belong to. Otherwise, it might be a good opportunity for them to go and work abroad. Providing standard vocational training for the youth residing in the horn of Africa is quite imperative as they will have the chance to go abroad and engage in any type of work in order to lead a stable life there.
Africa is now preparing to implement the Africa Continental Free Trade Area. So how are Djibouti and other African countries ready to implement this free trade zone?
As you are aware, eight African countries have already started the AfCFTA. I think we are not part of these eight. The next step is to put the procedures in place. Some of them are clear and might be good for east African countries. They began the reduction in their tariffs starting with a linear reduction on 90 percent of tariff lines leading to the elimination of tariffs on intra-regional imports over a period of five years. However, we hope that Ethiopia with the infrastructure that we are putting in place, with the opportunities that we are making, we will not be late to be part of this integration.
But an African continental free trade agreement or free trade area must be something that might be a concern for everybody. It will not be something for a developed country from Africa. Like South Africa, if they want to keep us as we are and we receive products, we are not interested. We want to have a win-win partnership. One of the significant points that the AfCFTA must be clear is how the quality of products coming from other African countries must be equivalent with the same product produced in that country. That is the reason why we are a little bit behind and worried. However, the private sector is working on it. Governments have already signed the agreements. We just work for the implementation and it will come soon for the benefit of all of us.
What do you advice for these African countries to further accelerate the investment in Africa with the private sector investment?
In my opinion, it might be good that intra-African trade must be more developed than ever before. That will make sense when we are talking about AfCFTA. Intra-African trade has increased in recent years to 15.4 percent and even less than that as we do not have real statistics. Nevertheless, Asia and Europe are still the main trade partners of the continent.
High dependence on trade in primary goods, high product and market concentration of exports and weak regional production networks are among the main challenges of African countries. If we develop intra-African trade, I am sure that Africa will be developed and the rest of the world will be concerned about investing in our continent.
Do you have any figures that show us the trade volume between the two countries?
I don’t exactly have the statistics. Djibouti imports fruits and vegetables from Ethiopia. The two sides are always assessing gaps so as to develop improved mechanisms to enhance the supply of fruit and vegetable to Djibouti. Accordingly, dozens of Ethiopian Fruits & Vegetable Exporters have agreed to supply more than 20 types of high-quality products to major Djiboutian markets, both high-end and the mass markets. Coffee and Khat for example are the most common agricultural produce that Djibouti imports from Ethiopia.
As we are from one family, we address those challenges encountered through conducting thorough discussion among ourselves. This way we settle grievances. Djibouti and Ethiopia have gone a long journey over the past so many years. That gives sense that if we have got some concerns that need to be plain; we sit together and make things trouble-free.
If you want to add any more points, please take a chance.
Long life Djibouti-Ethiopia relations!
THE ETHIOPIAN HERALD SATURDAY 11 MARCH 2023