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Ethiopia was host to about 90 mostly foreign companies from October 17-19, 2012 at Hilton Addis for meetings with a focus on sustainable investment and development in the African continent; whose population just reached over a billion, a landmark, and whose private sector lags behind its counterparts on other continents.
The Summit co- organized by a Spanish company Singvlaris Advisors, and an Ethiopian counterpart YHM Consulting, tackled issues from the low availability of quality, affordable telecom services, to the role of Foreign Direct Investment in providing sustainable long term funding solutions for the private sector in Africa, and the role of Small and Micro Enterprises (SMEs) and their possible interlink with big business.
One notable speaker was Anat Bar-Gera, originally from Switzerland and chairwoman of the 4G Africa Company, which exists with the stated aim of narrowing the digital gap in Africa, by creating broadband access in Sub-Saharan Africa, in coordination with local companies in several African countries including Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Rwanda.
“Our work in Cameroon started with wiring the countries two biggest cities Yaoundé and Douala within four months of putting up all of our base stations, a record in the industry,” said Anat, adding that in Cameroon her company has satisfied its subscribers with a very fast and cheap broadband internet services, which can also become mobile.
The company says its products have shown that in the streets of a city like Douala, a customer while driving, can simultaneously be a user of the company’s internet services, and can have added value services courtesy of its agreement with the US firm Microsoft.
Anat however said that her company goes to every country to ask for a license from the regulator and a frequency, but that in Ethiopia’s case the regulatory framework needs to be in place for the company to buy a license and frequencies which are good, clean and will stay with the company for a long time.
She also said that her company in the absence of the regulatory framework can make a different deal together with the Ethiopian government, potentially covering the country’s universities, which she says is an innovative model developed in Cameroon.
According to the company the model which reportedly started with the University of Douala which houses about 60,000 students, when finished in couple of months, will make students able to purchase a very affordable fourth Generation technology, taking into account the economic situation of the country and the purchasing power of the students.
Anat further added that the Ethiopian government should open up the telecom sector with a strong policy framework for the benefit of its subscribers, education, and the economy.
Anat surmised that the African continent in general has a demographic bonus in terms of its young population when compared to its western counterparts, but sustaining and creating human capacity is essential if it is to utilize this human resource.
Anat’s words also seemed to be in agreement with the thoughts of Eman S. Belayneh, the owner of the trendy fusion bistro restaurant which serves various Middle Eastern foods located in the upscale Bole- Medhanealem neighborhood of Addis Ababa.
“I purchased what Ethio Telecom called the Third Generation (3G) Technology, and it’s nowhere near giving its advertized services” said Eman, adding that the patchy network had inhibited her plans to extend an online based eatery service to clients located in and around her establishment.
Eman also said the bureaucracy she witnessed while trying to open up her eatery, ranging from licensing to registration of restaurant accessories, has to be solved in order for Ethiopia to live up to its potential.
Gustav Johansson Managing Partner at Singvlaris Advisors, said that he can see Ethiopia’s potential all around him, prompting his company to organize this event with his local partner, but that the patchy IT services being provided have to be amended for the next summit, as well as the bureaucratic entanglements he was subjected to organize the event.