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‘Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam will boost intra-regional energy trade’

Alemtsehay Meseret has made one and half years as the Ethiopian Ambassador to Uganda. She spoke to The independent’s Isaac Khisa on a wide-range of issues; from trade relations between the two countries to the Renaissance Dam.

What is your assessment of trade and investment levels between Ethiopia and Uganda?

Ethiopia and Uganda have an old and strong bilateral relationship; in fact, our diplomatic relations goes back to the 1970s. Given this strong tie, the potentials they have and proximity, their trade and investment relations are not what is expected, though, there are some encouraging ongoing efforts that can be cited.

However, I would like to underscore the contribution of Ethiopian Business community in Ugandan’s Economy and the role they have played in facilitating trade and investment between these two countries.  Taking the conducive working environment in the country, Ethiopian Diasporas in Uganda have been engaged in trade and investment in areas of construction industry, transportation, agriculture, import related business, and tourism and hotel industry and banking.

What is the Ethiopian government doing to boost trade and investment between the two countries?

The 3rd Ethiopia-Uganda Joint Ministerial Commission, which took place in Kampala on Aug 14-16, 2019, has emphasized the need to improve the strategic trade and investment alliances along with creating enabling conditions to identify opportunities. I believe too; trade and investment relations need to be prioritized through strengthening issues of mutual interest that is founded on the idea of regional economic integration.

As part of promotion, together with Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, we have organized a Business forum under the theme “Transforming Trade and Investment between Ethiopia and Uganda amid a Mutual Vision”.  During the Forum, participants of both sides of the business community had exchanged views on the trade and investment challenges both countries are facing and the possible ways to tackle it.

Furthermore, we’re working on signing Memorandums of Understanding on Investment Promotion and Trade Cooperation by the respective offices of both countries.

We’re organising virtual platforms to make it possible for the private sector from the two countries to share experiences, create business to business networks, and showcase their products and services. For example, our leading construction firms and a dairy processing company will have a business visit in Kampala soon, and also organizing a virtual business forum on leather products.

What trading and investment opportunities are the two countries offering to each other as part of their bilateral relations?

Ethiopia and Uganda have identified Trade and Investment as a key pillar of economic development, and as a catalyst to increase the manufacturing share of these two countries. Strategically located at cross-roads between Africa and the Middle East, Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa and offers untapped resources, and access to a vast domestic market. Uganda is also strategically located at the heart of Sub Saharan Africa, giving it a commanding base for regional trade and investment. As the two countries’ economies are growing, both governments are trying to create greater room for the private sector – both foreign direct and domestic investment – and address constraints for export oriented manufacturing sectors. Specifically we have identified areas on dairy products, textiles, leather and leather products, vaccines, cotton, food processing among others, to trade on between the two countries.

Over the recent years, there has been a lot debates over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). What is the status of the dam’s construction?

Actually, the debate is not “questioning” the dam, but it is over equitable water use. Constructing a dam is not an affordable task but I can tell you that it is progressing very well, over 76 % of the construction work, which includes civil, mechanical, and electrical works, is accomplished.  Moreover, the initial stage filling was completed successfully during Ethiopian raining season on July 2020, in which the reservoir retained 4.9 billion cubic meters of water. Based on this, we believe that the two turbines will carry out early power-generating test over the coming next 6 months.

How significant is the Renaissance Dam to Ethiopian economy and the rest of the riparian states that depends on the R.Nile waters?

The GERD, with a capacity of producing 6,450 MW, is a flagship project that will bring significant economic benefits to Ethiopia and the region.  First, the Dam will address the quest of basic energy demand by 65 million Ethiopians who suffer due to the lack of electricity. Ethiopia’s current total energy production does not meet the 110 million and growing population that require increasing amount of food; growing economy and expanding urban centers and industries demanding more and more energy! GERD through energy production will serve as a catalyst to address the country’s economic endeavors.

Similarly, from regional perspective, in view of low power generation in the Region when only few countries are able to generate enough power to meet their domestic demand, the Dam definitely will have contribution to boost intra-regional energy trade. I believe regional power interconnection and cooperation to create an effective regional power market must be viewed from economic scale perspective. Those countries like Ethiopia, contributes more water resource can generate power with lower cost at the same time protecting the environment, and export to those in the region that have less.

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