The two millennia-old friendships between Ethiopia and India is probably one of the oldest ties in history, as Axumite traders in the 1st century AD traded with Indians through the ancient port of Adulis. However, fully fledged bilateral ties were launched in the mid 20th century. The two countries enjoyed a longstanding friendship in multiple areas of cooperation, especially in trade and education.
Ethiopia was the first African country to open its Embassy in India, New Delhi in early 1950s, while the rest of the continent is under European colony. The early connections of trade between the two countries were then followed by cooperation on Education, as Ethiopia was in desperate need of expanding literacy. Consequently, the cooperation keeps on getting stronger as India embarked on sending scores of teachers to Ethiopia, who were decent enough to serve in the country's remotest suburbs.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, is one of the serving Heads of States that paid a visit to Ethiopia in the age long historic ties of the two ancient states. In his latest visit last week, the President vividly underscored the importance of friendship between the two countries.
“The choice of Ethiopia as the focus country of my first visit is a reflection of not just the importance we in India give to your country [Ethiopia] and its leadership role in world institutions, but to our time-tested friendship – one going back 2,000 years to the days when our countries, our civilizations I should say, first traded together,” said President Kovind.
This is none other than a great testimony of the importance India attached to the bilateral relations of the countries which existed for centuries. It is quite an evidence that, the President chose Africa and Ethiopia for his first ever official state visit, due to the high prominence India has given to Indo-Africa and Ethio-India relations.
As diplomatic relations took a formal path, a handful of bilateral agreements were signed between the two. Knowledge and capacity building became the major corner of friendship, and that's why President Kovind, who addressed the Addis Ababa University community as part of the official state visit, said cooperation in education has been the fulcrum of Indian engagement with Ethiopia.
The president, who concluded his three day official state visit with a lecture at the oldest university in Ethiopia said, “When Ethiopia embarked on its efforts to expand its education sector, Indian teachers were invited here to teach in elementary and secondary schools.
“Those early pioneers traveled to the remotest parts of the country, instilled values and ideals in young minds and dedicated entire lifetimes to the noble calling of teaching.”
Today, 2000 Indian faculty members are contributing to teaching and to academic research in Ethiopian universities. Indian academics comprise the largest and among the most valued expatriate teaching communities in Ethiopian universities.
There exists a shining example of cooperation between two emerging economies, said President Kovind, highlighting the importance of the African Scholarship Program that welcomes hundreds of fully funded students to India every year.
Professor Admasu Tsegaye, President of AAU and other high ranking government officials commended India's effort for Ethiopia's education saying that contributed to the success of Ethiopia's Education System.
Ethiopia and India have traveled the Indian Ocean and traded in a variety of goods for years, said President Kovind, adding that the most important cargo they have carried across this majestic ocean is the cargo of knowledge.
“That knowledge has been cradled by education. And in turn that knowledge has sculpted the principles and values that our countries share. The Ethiopia-India partnership has truly been a meeting of minds,” underscores the President.
Though, partnership on education was the glue that secured the attachment of India to Ethiopia for more than half a century, cooperation has taken a new trajectory in recent years with an all rounded engagement in trade, investment and tourism.
These days, economic and commercial relations are the most important plank of Ethio-India bilateral ties. Ethiopia exports pulses, semi-precious stones, gym-stone, unfinished leather, leather products, cotton, oil seeds and spices.
Whereas major imports are semi-finished iron and steel products, drugs and pharmaceuticals, machinery and instruments, metal, plastic and linoleum products, paper and paper products, yarns and textiles, chemicals, transport equipments, electrical materials etc, indicates reports from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Trade.
There are multiple Indian investments, according to Ethiopian Investment Commission, in the field of agriculture (cotton, horticulture, floriculture, bio-fuel, soya bean, edible oil crops, dairy farm,), Manufacturing (garment and textile, leather and leather products, pharmaceuticals, metal, paper and printing), mining, consultancy etc.
“Today's bilateral meeting and joint business dialogue is an evidence of heightened relationships between the government of India and Ethiopia in the areas of economic, financial, technical cooperation, human resource development and institutional capacity building, says President Dr. Mulatu Teshome in a joint address to the Indian business community in Ethiopia with President Kovind of India.
“It is my firm belief that this political and business dialogue will take further prominence, elevating the Ethio-India existing social, economic and political relations to upper most levels through fostering strategic economic alliances and builds a platform with high level and great influence in order to enhance the existing economic cooperation between the two countries”, added Dr. Mulatu.
The bilateral and business dialogue was a clear demonstration of the two countries symbiotic resolve to promote and strengthen the involvement of the private sectors and formation of solid business partnerships in the two countries' development endeavors.
The fact that both countries have governments that well understand the need for broad-based, pro-poor growth as well as far reaching structural transformations of their two economies which largely contributed to the mutually beneficial partnership that both Ethiopia and India have managed to build over the years, echoed both Heads of States in agreement.
Indian investors are operating here with a staggering sum of more than 10 billion birr and have created employment opportunities for more than 50,000 Ethiopian citizens so far. Yet, the government is ensuring that it will continue to encourage and support investment that tally to Ethiopia's development priorities.
Dr. Mebratu Meles, Ethiopian State Minister of Industry, who also studied his PhD in India briefly lectured the Indian business community in Ethiopia at the same event. In his lecture, the Minister stressed the conducive business atmosphere in Ethiopia for Indian businessmen, particularly in agro-processing.
India is a leading country globally in producing agricultural commodities. Food processing is the mainstay of Indian industrial revolution that gave them a massive experience in that regard which is also helpful to Ethiopia, said Dr. Mebratu. “Therefore, I hope my Indian fellows would consider to massively engage in Agro-Industrial Parks which my government is enormously developing at the moment, in addition to textile, apparel as well as pharmaceutical industrial parks.
Moreover, the Ethiopian government encourages Private Industrial Parks and would offer lands and other incentives to those who would like to take part. As this is a common trend in India too, Indian investors would hopefully exploit this enormous opportunity. Besides, these conducive investment opportunities in the country, Ethiopia also offers its free trade benefits to western markets that wound boost investors competitiveness in the international business arena, as delivered by the State Minister.
India is now among the top three foreign investors in Ethiopia. Indian investment has made a mark in textile and garments, engineering, plastics, water management, consultancy, ICT, education, pharmaceuticals and healthcare.
Indian investments in Ethiopia have had a significant presence in manufacturing and value addition to local resources. They have created jobs in this country, and they have contributed to the prosperity of Ethiopian families, as noted in the dialogue.
According to President Kovind, Ethiopia has been the largest recipient of Indian concessional lines of credit in Africa with over one billion US dollars committed to an array of projects, particularly in power transmission and sugar productions.
“I am happy to learn that the Finchaa sugar project has been completed and handed over to the Ethiopian side. Two other projects in the sugar sector have also gone into production, and are expected to be handed over shortly”, said the President. “It is a matter of pride for us that Indian investment is lauded.”
There are also more similarities the two countries share in the contemporary world. Both Ethiopia and India have young populations, which, if properly managed is a great resource. Hence, both countries believe that, to unleash their potential, they need to educate their millenials and give them the skills needed to become productive in an increasingly complex world. “After all, the building of a 21st century economy requires the building of human capital – and equipping it for 21st century economic realities” noted President Kovind.
Along with a similar demographic profile, Ethiopia and India face similar challenges related to the health and well-being of their populations. India has been a source of affordable pharmaceuticals, generic medicines and specialised healthcare for the people of Africa, including Ethiopia. Accordingly, The President assured that, education and health care will remain focus areas of India's engagement with Ethiopia.
“As Ethiopia’s long-standing partner, India remains optimistic about and invested in your growth story. We look forward to building on our numerous synergies and complementarities in sectors ranging from light manufacturing to food processing, clean and renewable energy to health care.”
The countries also look forward to a long standing relationship in terms of capacity building of both people and institutions. Science and technology is similarly sought as a core cooperation agenda.
Regarding this the President promised to pursue the newly established partnership in innovation and technology. “With our space programs to inspire us, the sky is the limit for India and Ethiopia literally.”
In the meantime the President also delivered a strong message to Indian businessmen residing here, on the need to foster an economic model that contributes to local communities, rather than extracts from them. This is fundamental, stressed Mr. Kovind, for the future of Africa, for the future of India, for the shared future of both countries, and for the future of the young people.
Tourism is considered as another important corner of this strong friendship amid millions of travelers leaving India every year. To exploit this potential, Ethiopian Airlines presently operates flights from New Delhi and Mumbai while more cities are in the pipeline.
Moreover, a remarkable number of Indian restaurants are operating in Addis Ababa, which has the potential to harness the flow of Indian tourists to Ethiopia with its all forms of tourism, be it historical, wild life, religious and anthropological attractions.
Bottomline, the visit marked a call up on both Ethiopia and India to work together to push for reform and strive together for a more equitable and contemporary global economic architecture as an ancient business partners for a sustainable, mutual benefit that can be desired for emulation by many.
BY HOMA MULISA