The German-African Business Association promotes trade between Germany and African Countries. The association has more than 650 members, including German multinationals and a large number of small and medium-sized companies. For 75 years it has been the main point of contact between German investors and their African counterparts. It organizes business trips to Africa and economic forums in Germany, including the annual German-African Energy Forum which wrapped up last weekend. Chairman Dr. Stefan Liebing talked to Capital about the forum and general business atmosphere. Excerpts: Capital: Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Dr. Stefan Liebing: I am the chairman of the German- Africa Business Association, which is a group of 700 German industry players involved in all sectors and services. They do business in Africa or want to develop businesses in Africa.
Capital: What are your duties as Chairman?
Liebing: My role is to represent the interests of German businesses with our partners in Africa and the concerns of the German government as well. I want to make sure a good match exists between private enterprises and African countries; in this case Ethiopia and German industry players who are interested in coming here to invest.
Capital: Is this your first visit to Ethiopia?
Liebing: No it is not. In fact it is my third visit within a year. I have been with the German Head of State, a year ago as part of his delegation. I have also come primarily, to speak with members of the government and state owned enterprises in areas of corporation that we could identify as the most suitable for both countries. On this trip I came as part of a delegation with a German minister. We are hoping that as a result of our travels here that in the next few months we will see some tangible investments between Germany and Ethiopia.
Capital: What types of business do the delegates want to invest in?
Liebing: The business delegation is comprised of almost all the sectors that are important in the German industry. We have banking and finance institutions, agriculture, EPC, chemicals, construction, energy, and IT. So we have many areas in which we have strength and where we believe we have something to offer to our partners in Ethiopia.
Capital: How was the meeting with the ministers?
Liebing: I think the participants were quite impressed with the clear strategies that were in place in Ethiopia in many parts of their economy. They were encouraged to pursue their projects. They had a very warm and open welcome from the government and state-owned enterprises. So I believe many members of the delegation feel motivated to come back to Ethiopia before long to further pursue their investment goals. I hope we will come back here with a number of businesspeople and that in two months we will be back here .
Capital: Which ministers did you meet?
Liebing: The ministers of mining, transport, finance, as well as some senior representatives from the ministry of water and energy. Four weeks ago, when I was here I saw other members of the government. So in total I believe we have a good overview as to what the opportunities are. We would like to pursue things in a number of sectors now. We have also invited a delegation from Ethiopia to come to Germany for our annual German-African Energy Forum this month which is the largest European gathering on Energy in Africa. We hope we will have a strong Ethiopian presence there and some further joint activities to be discussed.
Capital: Do any of them have plans to invest in Ethiopia?
Liebing: There are a number of companies that have now handed in parts of offers of tender processes of the government. There are others who have been developing their projects for quite a while. There are companies that already maintain offices in Ethiopia. There is significant business activity going on now. There are others who are here for the first time, who want to understand how things are done who will now discuss their proposals and put something forward to the government.
Capital: What challenges do you expect?
Liebing: There are a number of areas to carefully look at. One is that they have a strong competition here for the German industry. While we believe we have high quality to offer sometimes government financing as well as price is an issue for German companies who are not always the cheapest. Although we believe that in the long run it is good to pay for quality that can be maintained a lot longer. There is definitely a need to look at bureaucracy at the speed of which projects can be developed so we need the help of the government to overcome some of these administrative hurdles that you always have when you are developing business. There is of course a concern about foreign exchange and trade balance. But first I think we should agree on project ideas and partnerships with our friends in Ethiopia.
Capital: What is the attitude of the business community towards Ethiopia?
Liebing: Participants of the delegation very much saw that we have great opportunities and a stable country to work with. Ethiopia is nice and has entirely qualified people. However, one of the problems is the misperceptions of Ethiopia. The experience of people who have come here and talked to senior decision makers is not yet wide spread. We need to do some work after today to encourage German business people that have been here to motivate their fellow entrepreneurs in their home towns and convince them to come here as well and see that there is a huge potential for them to do something too. In order to make that easier I believe it is essential to have success stories. If we have a few big success stories that we can use to convince other German businesses to come here, it will really have a huge impact. Today there are twelve or thirteen business people in town but there 3.8 million registered businesses in Germany. So we need to make sure that the thirteen tell as many people as they can and the easiest way of doing this is by having joint success stories and successful projects that are being built. That is what I want to work on in the future.
Capital: What other countries have you visited in your capacity as chairman?
Liebing: I am in charge of the business relationship with all 54 African countries. I haven’t visited all of them so far because I just took over two years ago. I have been to east Africa; I have been to Kenya, Tanzania. I have been to many countries in West Africa, being from the oil business myself. I have been to South Africa and some of the North Africa countries. We entertain business relations with many of these countries. We are excited about adding Ethiopia to the list of our top priority countries in Africa.
Capital: What is the SOBA foundation? What is its relationship with your company?
Liebing: I gave a speech at their conference. It is an alumni organization of Cameroonian Diaspora in Germany. It is not directly related to the things I am doing in the Germany-Africa Business Association. As chairman of the association, I am invited by African Diaspora Organizations active in Germany to talk about how we can jointly promote bilateral business activities. So this was one of the speeches I gave but I don’t have any long term business associations.
Capital: Is there a similar Ethiopian company you are working with in Germany?
Liebing: Not to my knowledge. Of course I do speak to the Ethiopian Ambassador to Germany on a regular basis. That has given me the opportunity to get to know some of the players of the Ethiopian Diaspora. But I have never been in touch with any formally established organizations.
Capital: So your association isn’t trying to start a similar foundation with Ethiopian Diaspora?
Liebing: The role of my association is very much trying to help German investors in developing activities in Africa. I believe that the Diaspora does play an important role there because these are the highly qualified individuals who understand both cultures, both countries and who also might be interested in going back at some point. So I think they are an important factor but it isn’t the focus area of my business association. This is something that embassies deal with and many other organizations. We are not in a position to tell them what to do.
Capital: What makes Ethiopia conducive for investment? What do you plan to tell German investors?
Liebing: I think Ethiopia is a large market with a strong population and highly qualified people, as well as strong political stability. I feel we have many clear strategies in place in a lot of potential businesses. The government knows what the need is. Therefore it is easy for German industries look at the sectors we can contribute to. I look forward to being back in town soon and learning more about Ethiopia to see how we can work together