Dr. Arkebe Oqubay of “Made in Africa” from Ethiopia Visits Uganda

April 13, 2017;
In March 2014, our various business arms at the Tomosi group in Agriculture, Real estate, Security and Media services, met at an annual retreat in Kangulumira, Kayunga district with all our staff and Managment. We had been searching for the depth of our businesses’ purpose and reason for existence and wanted to nail down our values for our staff to run on and have a new way we see our world as businesses.
At the end of three days, we agreed on a new group vision and we called it: “Made in Africa”. We chose this vision because we were compelled by the need to change the often repeated narrative that Africa only largely consumes other people’s products but produces and sells little to the world in return. We wanted to have a product on the shelves of our African shopping places. At the end of 2016, while reading one of the editions of the New Africa magazine in my research for the writing I do, I found an interview of an Ethiopian gentleman called Arkebe Okubay, an advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.
In the interview, he spoke about a book he had authored recently with the same title as the vision of our business. I was intrigued and made effort to find the book till my friend, Mr. Abebe Angessa, the Area manager for Ethiopian Airlines in Uganda, finally got me a copy.
The book makes a strong case for African economies developing their own industrial policies, some significant policy independence to drive the much needed manufacturing sector that will end youth unemployment, drive exports and create balanced growth on the continent, the way the West did it. Dr Arkebe uses part research and part personal experience he has had in driving the turn around of the Ethiopian economy and giving it double digit growth based on light manufacturing, provision of low cost energy for factories and heavy infrastructure projects in his country. He was also once a Mayor for the city of ADDIS and a local government official and therefore, knows all the doors of both economics and politics.
Yesterday I finally met and interviewed Dr Arkebe to get a feel of lessons for Uganda. I wanted him on record for my writing and for any future reference and lessons our planners might need. I attended a session he spoke at the day before at the Imperial Royale hotel and we met yesterday at the Uganda investment authority industrial park offices at Namanve.
A humble unassuming man with an abundance of confidence and skill in communication, i liked him and I saw why he has been able to drive change for his country working well with his team on deadlines and targets setting.
There are three key things that emerged from our interview and having listened to him in the several meetings at UIA, I came to the conclusion that we can learn and borrow ideas, but each country must face the reality of its history, circumstances and nature of leadership and chart it’s own course. He was in fact keen to inadvertently tell me he had no lessons and no prescriptions for the city of Kampala when I asked what he would say of our town having led ADDIS to great change in five years. This wasn’t him playing PR with me but I believed he was right to say he had no lessons to give. Each city and each country, must out of necessity chart its course, lessons from each other notwithstanding.
Here are the three things: First, for a developing country to grow a strong and sustained export capability, it must first deal with major supply constraints that impair production and use all means necessary even if some of the aspects of their approach to development might not be favorably looked at by international finance partners. Developing countries need confidence and commitment among its key planners and leaders to deal with this. Ethiopia Mobilizes resources locally and internationally and commits its valuable foreign exchange on capital and intermediate goods to spur long term growth and has held out long enough for the donors to accept her approach to Development.
Secondly, the use of industrial parks as a strategy is a better option for nations trying to catch up. The difference with Ethiopia is that the parks are built to specific demand and given targets within a short span of time to achieve in order for them to qualify for financing and construction in the first place. The construction and park licencing is the easier part Dr Arkebe said; parks Managment and operations and keeping them attractive to investors is the hardest. I couldn’t agree more seeing as it is that at Namanve industrial park near Kampala, has a lot of acreage of land but only 50% has been developed since 1997 to a level where infrastructure is able to attract good players. Ethiopia has picked good lessons from South Korea, China, Japan and Nigeria. We too need to listen to them and pick their story and unpack it for our decision makers.
Finally, the untold story, the sort of undercurrent from my conversation with him and his team is the speed of execution when something is agreed upon in Ethiopia. This I was told is based on nationalism and patriotism of the Ethiopian people. Many of us know Ethiopia is an old civilization that defeated colonial Europe. In fact Ethiopia was founded about 960BC by the Habesha people and it is an ancient civilization predating many nations of the world today; it has also kept its language and customs intact. It is easy to mobilize a people of this nature around a common objective. It didn’t surprise me the level of unity of purpose when they put their heart to something such as having a railway or dam in five years an they achieve it. Certainly Being old doesn’t immunize a nation against problems. If it were a panacea, Israel, China, India all are old civilizations but they were roundly defeated and in some cases such as Israel, faced destruction and and end of a race but bounced back. Nations that have common attributes, attitudes and similar world view by its leaders, however, are a better bet when you want to Mobilize for faster uptake of ideas.
But nations where there has been de-culturization, deliberate de-personification of a people such as many of parts of Africa that were colonized, it is doubly hard to bring people under the common banner of nationalism and patriotism. You have to work hard at it because everybody seems to want to drive in their selfish directions making even the good people sometimes give up doing good.
Listening to Dr Arkebe, I felt strongly that the teaching of national collective values and ideology in our country which we have been pushing against all opposition, should precede many of the things we try to do and fail half way because of lack of unity of purpose on key national objectives.
The fact of having been colonies or the West destroying our cultural past and causing disharmony, should instead be an advantage, a sort of opportunity to work hard than to give up.
I hope the lessons Dr Arkebe and his team leave with us can be used very well to build a strong manufacturing base for UGANDA.