KUWAIT: For the first time after seven months as head of mission, Ethiopia’s envoy Abdulfatah Abdullahi Hassan sat down for an interview with Kuwait Times. The new Ethiopian ambassador to Kuwait presented his credentials to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Jan 22, 2019. The envoy said he is here to make the life of every Ethiopian in Kuwait more vibrant, and wants further cooperation and diplomatic and bilateral ties with Kuwait.
“I was appointed by the newly-installed government of Ethiopia to assist our compatriots and further strengthen our relationships in all aspects,” he said. The envoy said Kuwait and Ethiopia share a lot of common interests in many areas including culture, trade and commerce, tourism and manpower, among others. According to Hassan, Ethiopia and Kuwait have a long history of cooperation since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1967.
“Our diplomatic relations with Kuwait are very strong. We share lots of issues of common interest. Ethiopia is strategically located in the African region, where multinational companies thrive. Geopolitical issues are important for both countries, and it is common knowledge to many that when it comes to international issues, we share the same stands with Kuwait, such as in the global affairs of the United Nations and Afro-Arab regional groupings,” he said.
According to Hassan, bilateral relations are growing steadily and cordially. He also lauded the wise leadership of His Highness the Amir of Kuwait for the stable political and economic climate, not just in Kuwait but also in other GCC countries. “We enjoyed the generosity of HH the Amir, especially when he financed several infrastructure projects in Addis Ababa including the airport terminal, which turned into reality through the Kuwait Fund,” he said.
Fastest growing economy in Africa
Ethiopia enjoys being labeled as one of the fastest growing economies in Africa – second to Nigeria – attributing the growth to the new and wise leadership of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle-Work Zewde. “We diversified our economy and it’s doing well now, thanks to several economic initiatives initiated by our prime minister. We registered double-digit economic growth in the last decade or so and we are still growing.
The World Bank has commended Ethiopia for creating a large number of jobs and opportunities for our people and for welcoming the largest foreign direct investment in the country, thanks to several reforms implemented by the new government, not to mention in the telecom sector. We have several industrial parks from which many of our compatriots have benefitted. We have several international brands that consider Ethiopia as their second home,” Hassan said.
Kuwaiti investors to Ethiopia are also growing, from none in the 1970s to around 21 new licensed investors in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. “We want to attract more Kuwaiti investment to our market. Ethiopia is now very competitive; the good news is that our manpower can attract more and more employers than ever before, because they are now being trained and prepared for the job market,” he added.
The volume of trade between two countries has been increasing as well, despite the fact that there is no trade protocol between the two countries. “Before the 1970s, the trade relationship with Kuwait and the balance of trade was in favor of Ethiopia. Recently, however, the situation has changed – the balance of trade is now in favor of Kuwait. For example, bilateral trade in 2014 totaled $945 million, with only $2.86 million for Ethiopia against $942 million for Kuwait. We import 100 percent of our oil and gas products from Kuwait. Ethiopia sends first-class coffee and livestock products to Kuwait. There is a huge disparity, and we hope to balance our trade in the coming years,” Hassan said.
Wooing Kuwaiti tourists
Ethiopia is also trying to attract Kuwaiti visitors with its new tourism slogan ‘Land of Origins’ and emphasizing the physical proximity of Ethiopia to Kuwait. Hassan said the country is rich in natural resources; the climate is cool with an average temperature of 22-25 degrees Celsius throughout the year. “Geographically speaking, we are 3.5 hours away from Kuwait. Our country has been known even before the ancient and biblical eras. We have the best and most fantastic sceneries, plus several UNESCO natural and cultural world heritage sites. We are also known as the cradle of humanity, as we are considered the very first ancient civilization in the world,” he said.
“We are a country that embraces all cultures and religions, and we are also proud that we were never colonized by anyone. We refused being colonized – in fact we have a victory celebration every 6th of April to commemorate the bravery of our ancestors when the Italians tried to invade and failed,” Hassan said. He said Kuwaitis can visit Ethiopia with visa on arrival. Addis Ababa also has regular flights to and from Kuwait daily.
Kuwait Times asked if the Kuwaiti market is open for Ethiopian domestic helpers. “Not yet – we are waiting and renegotiating with Kuwaiti authorities. In the near future, perhaps. We also need to train and update our people and hope we can come up with a bilateral agreement similar to that signed by the Philippines and Kuwait. But I want to stress our workforce can provide the best manpower ever – we are training our people so that when they are deployed, they are ready and more competitive.
We want Kuwait to know that Ethiopia is also open to sending skilled and semi-skilled workers and not just those in the domestic labor sector,” Hassan said. Ethiopians in Kuwait number around 30-35,000 – around 90 percent of them engaged in domestic work. Some are engineers, while the rest are in the hospitality business.
By Ben Garcia