Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1346, (25 - 31 May 2017)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1346, (25 - 31 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Putting knowledge first

Al-Ahram Weekly talks to Benedict Okey Oramah, chairman of the board of the African Export-Import Bank about how Africa could take advantage of its economic opportunities and assesses what Egypt must do to ensure that its economic ties live up to its political and historical ties

Putting  knowledge first
Putting knowledge first

There was a time when Egypt was importing Ugandan coffee and Cameroonian wood through Italian exporters, a common anecdote that many people commenting on the country’s trade with Africa might mention.

Fortunately, all this has changed today, and Egyptian businessmen are increasingly aware of the opportunities that Africa offers in imports, exports or investment.

Egypt exported products worth $4 billion to Africa in 2015, of which $1.7 billion were within the framework of its membership of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a 20-state economic bloc it joined in 1998.

However, these figures still pale in comparison to the $102 billion worth of goods exported by China to the continent in the same year.

“Economic cooperation is not getting the attention it deserves,” said Gamal Bayoumi, a former Egyptian ambassador to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Initiatives such as the Egyptian Fund for Technical Cooperation with Africa established by the Foreign Ministry have done a lot to offer technical training and capacity building, Bayoumi said, but the role of the fund had been insufficiently developed.

“If you want to trade with Africa, you must invest in Africa,” he said, explaining that the Egyptian Agency for Partnership for Development (EAPD), created in July 2014 through the merger of the Egyptian Fund for Technical Cooperation with Africa (EFTCA) and the Egyptian Fund for Technical Cooperation with the Commonwealth States (EFTCC), must have the authority to invest.

“The government has to take the lead and the private sector will follow,” Bayoumi pointed out. The sectors that Egypt could tap are endless, he said, suggesting that Egyptian businessmen establish fruit juice factories in Africa or build farms and export their produce to Egypt. This would be cheaper than importing fruit or juice from elsewhere in the world, he said.

But more government efforts are needed so small and medium-sized Egyptian companies can tap the African market. Currently, only larger companies are able to take the initiative, he said.

Mustafa Abdel-Moez, deputy chair of the Al-Moez Group, a real estate investor with a presence in Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda, agrees. “Efforts made on the diplomatic front exceed those exerted on the economic, social or educational fronts,” he said. There were enormous opportunities in all sectors in Africa, whether in the form of investments or trade, but business people still lacked the necessary knowledge.

Abdel-Moez said more efforts should be made by all the parties to increase awareness of the opportunities that the continent offers. There should be governmental support to encourage the exchange of visits between Egyptians and Africans, and these should start at an early age, he said. Why weren’t trips organised to Africa for school children, he asked, when there were plenty of such trips to the US and Europe.

Abdel-Moez acknowledged that challenges existed, whether in the form of transport costs, lengthy customs procedures, or the fact that agreements signed may not be properly implemented on the ground. Nonetheless, it was possible to do business, he said.

He advised the government to take the lead by activating the bilateral business councils that can bring businessmen together. It should support businessmen to enable them to succeed so that others follow suit, he said.

Tharwat Abdel-Shahid, chairman and founder of the Shahid law firm, has recently decided to tap the African market by opening an office in Ethiopia together with a local partner, encouraged by Chinese clients who have businesses in both Egypt and Africa.

China is now the largest foreign investor in Africa and a major actor in several industries including banking and finance, infrastructure, energy, oil and gas, transportation and logistics and international trade, and Abdel-Shahid hopes the new office will also serve a growing number of Egyptian firms operating in East Africa.

He pointed out that there were already some Egyptian businesses in pharmaceuticals and food stuffs as well as land reclamation in Africa. “We do not hear enough about Egyptian business in Africa because it is still growing,” he told Al-Ahram

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