Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

WEF’s gains and losses

The simple fact that the World Economic Forum that took place in Addis Ababa from May 9-11, 2012 has improved the country’s image in addition to promoting its potential markets for investment. This was one part of the story. The other part was expected to be a forum to make a meaningful business deals with foreign investors in both public and private sectors. Based on the information Capital collected, little was actually achieved in this regard. In any case it is a customary practice to assess the gains and losses in the wake of a big event like WEF.
For decades, even for centuries, diplomacy was conducted behind closed doors and in the wide rooms of the palace and the corridors of power. But it seems that this time, such an approach is a thing of the past. This is an era where leaders play ‘smart’ diplomacy, taking part in big international meetings like World Economic Forum (WEF). Using the forum as a platform, the participants, specifically the four African leaders, Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Ali Bongo Ondimba, the President of Gabon, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the President of Nigeria and Nahas Gideon Angula, the Prime Minister of Namibia, did what they could to elevate the images of the countries they ruled and themselves. As one observer adequately put it, the forum gave the leaders a new set of tools for exercising a smart diplomacy to advance their interests.
This was actually a good network to address the country’s grand challenges on the international stage. But this forum helps on the values and intentions of its users. If leaders try to use this forum to popularize themselves, it is unlikely to create the situation they like. What is true is that the forum is just a tool for good or ill. If the leaders do not use it properly they will ultimately swim against the tide of history.
Well, of course, there are points counted for and against the leaders before and after this big event. A South African teenager raised a very sensitive issue; saying that the African leaders look very visionary and have paid every sacrifice during their struggles for liberation. Abandoning these grand motives, they eventually turned out to be corrupt while in office. In his answer to this question Prime Minister Meles Zenawi insisted, “Foreign investors are to blame.” It is true that the foreign investors play a role in corrupting the African leaders. This was indeed a one sided blame. To make it full, Meles further argued that young and aspiring visionary leaders are often corrupted when they achieve power. “This is often because leaders with vision are tempted to transform themselves into ordinary thieves,” he argued in a way little expected.
If one treats the issue fairly, the African leaders are equally to blame for the corruption they are involved in. By any measure it is impossible to exonerate a leader like Gaddafi who was involved in billions of dollars corruption.
The other problem with the African leaders was the way they are inclined to glue themselves to power for years and years. Whatever they say, their background tends to not justify what they say. Take for instance what the President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba said, “It is important to have one nation with one goal. Then, we need to work together as Africans to build a united Africa but not a united Africa of weak states [but of strong states]. To achieve this, leaders should not put themselves above the law, but [should obey] the rule of law.” The president of the Africa’s giant, Nigeria, not only in terms of economic size but also population size wholly agreed with the idea of Gabonese president.   
But Ali Bongo Ondimba is the son of Gabon’s former President Omar Bongo who was the longest serving African leader with 42 years in power. One could say Omar Bongo is ‘lucky’. He died a natural death. He is also lucky the dynasty continued with his son taking the throne. Considering this, whatever good words came from Ali Bongo Ondimba it is difficult to take it seriously.  
In any case, the work done in the sphere of diplomacy and image building could be seen as achievements. Ethiopia is very well recognized as one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, plus it is recognized as a country that attracts foreign investors. Pretty excellent work was done in this regard.
Let us now see the other side of the coin: Hosting World Economic Forum for Africa put an overwhelmingly positive spotlight for Ethiopia, and Ethiopia is now starting to be viewed around investor circles as a country of intense interest. But the country was not ready to entertain investors who came here in Ethiopia for a dual purpose. Some participants came just to attend the forum. Others came at the same time to look for a possibility of investment. Capital sources confirmed that a CEO from the United States of America who had the interest to invest in the education sector tried time and again to meet the right person to get all the necessary information for investment but was unsuccessful.
Judging from a close observation of the three day meeting, no temporary office was organized in the specified areas to facilitate and forward information for people interested in investing in Ethiopia. Some investors were asking journalists about the investment opportunities in Addis. Moreover, fliers and other information were not properly distributed at the meeting center. One could say Ethiopia missed this great opportunity.
International journalists were also in Addis Ababa to cover the progress of the WEF. But the investment office and different ministries like the Ministries of Education, Agriculture, Construction and Transport were not in the meeting area to invite and tell journalists about investment opportunities in their respective institutions.
In other words, Ethiopia lacked effective and professional promoters to sell what they have in store during the meeting.
In conclusion, it is good to recall what Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum told participants: “the mood in Africa today is quite different from what it was 22 years ago, changed from one of cynicism, to be later replaced by skepticism, then realism to today’s atmosphere of pragmatic optimism.”