Amid Talent Dearth, Investment Promotion Falters


Nov 26 , 2022
By Eden Sahle ( Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at edensah2000@gmail.com. )


I received a call from my foreign national friend who wanted me to accompany him to the office of the Investment Commission on Africa Avenue (Bole Road). He wanted me to be the intermediary while interacting with the staff members. Such calls were no stranger to me; I have done the same several times.

The Commission's staff had no issues with his conduct, but something else was missing.

I saw the staff struggling with his command of the language needed to communicate with the prospective investor. He failed to convey the investment laws and regulations with clarity. He kept confusing the prospective investor with impressive claims the country could offer. My friend is well-read and researched the sector he desires to invest in, making it difficult for the staff to cover up his limitations.

I hear him asking, "does the law say that?"

I have come across several staff members who have not read the country's investment rules and regulations, getting embarrassed before me. The lack of basic information and the inability to communicate professionally and adequately should not be a problem in such federal agencies. Some in the civil service prefer to speak in a local language foreign nationals cannot comprehend. Others ask me to interpret for them. Sometimes, I get puzzled to see them holding crucial positions, utterly lacking the competence to deliver the rudimentary.

The problem is dumbfounding at regional offices, but not all. In some places, staffs openly ask for payoffs to pass a piece of information or hand a single letter to their directors. It is an almost-there experience to hear staff members complain about foreign nationals not speaking the local language. I find it outlandish when they refer to that as if they were taught to speak various local languages in schools. It is staggering how such unprofessional people find themselves assigned tasks critical to the country's progress.

Despite the disappointment, I find myself embarrassed by the apologetic recognition of the Commission's high-ranking officials.

These individuals are the faces of investment in Ethiopia, selling the country's endowments. They deal with prospective investors to persuade them to bring their capital or be pushed away. How they treat each one walking to their office has a more considerable detrimental effect.

I have had opportunities to meet Ethiopian individuals in Europe representing the country in investment or, particularly, the tourism sector. However, seeing them deliver below expectations is dispiriting.

I attended the same conference with a successful hotel owner from Ethiopia in France. He wasted an opportunity to promote the country's virtues to high-profile individuals. My husband and I stayed at his incredible hotel. But it was heartbreaking to see the person failing to explain the value his property offers. Instead of addressing far better issues, I saw him explaining the quality of his liquors and searching for a way to get them. I understood he was running a business there, but promoting his country's products for export would have been noble.

Those who promote their country at local or international offices should be staffed with professional and competent individuals. They should explain business and leisure opportunities adequately, address questions, and assure hesitant prospective investors. They should elucidate the country's potential in the local and international markets, demonstrating how others benefited from their investments.

Foreign investors tend to be cynical when taking on new investments. Competition is high, with almost 200 countries contending to attract international capital for investments and tourism. A well-prepared person who preemptively answers investors' questions can showcase the country's suitability, helping investors to trust their decisions.

First impressions are vital. Either we get it right or lose it for good. Fellow countries in East Africa, such as Kenya and Rwanda, captivate listeners by portraying their investment opportunities, understanding investors' psychology, and convincing them to go ahead. They make investors fall in love with their countries and become advocates, attracting new ones. They research and prepare data and analytics for investors, imploring them that they have come to the right place. Such countries understood what foreign investors pursue.

African countries have started hiring international agencies to induce tourism and foreign investment to enhance the export and competitiveness of the domestic business sector.

Promoting a country requires more than listing down opportunities. It requires superb communications skills, passion, and an understanding of the value propositions that can attract tourists, trading partners, and investors.



PUBLISHED ON Nov 26,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1178]



Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at edensah2000@gmail.com.





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