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Bangladesh opened its Embassy in Ethiopia over a year ago. Although the country didn’t have representation until recently, the relationship between the two countries has been ongoing for years. Capital spoke to Bangladesh Ambassador to Ethiopia Monirul Islam about the decision to open an embassy, and other areas of cooperation between the two countries.
Capital: You opened an embassy here very recently. Why did you decide to do that?
Monirul Islam: There are three basic reasons why we opened the embassy. One is because Ethiopia is a diplomatic hub; if you think about not only Africa, but globally also, it is the third biggest hub for the diplomatic community. So we have always thought that we should have a representation; that is one of the reasons. From here we can very easily coordinate with all African countries as well as other regional organizations.
The second reason is that, we have a large presence in Africa, especially in peacekeeping forces. We have peacekeeping forces in almost all flashpoints with our Ethiopian brothers. We are one of the top peacekeeping contributing countries in the UN system and this is not only for keeping peace but also building countries.
In Sierra Leone and South Sudan we have our engineering forces who are building hospitals, roads, schools and other infrastructures. Some countries like Siera Leone, they are very happy with our peacekeepers, they even said they would make our language Bangla, their second language. So far in 54 peacekeeping missions we have participated in 40 countries. We have about 125,000 peacekeepers that work for the UN; so it is a big involvement for us.
The third reason why we are here is the economy. Diplomacy now is mainly driven by economic seasons. When I say economic, it is mainly investment. We are net recipient of Foreign Direct Investment but also now we are trying to go out and invest in other countries. As Ethiopia and Bangladesh are both Least Developed Countries (LDC), we are trying to help each other, especially in the garments production sector. So these are the main three reasons why we opened an embassy here.
Capital: The Ethiopian government is trying to attract more investors in the textile and garment sector. Since your country has been successful in securing FDI in that sector, what do you think Ethiopia should learn from you?
Islam: Like I said, both are developing countries. The similarities I see are, one, man power. We have huge, affordable manpower and so does Ethiopia. The garment sector is a labor intensive sector. So you need affordable labor, if it is expensive, investment will go to a competitive market.
Secondly, you have a lot of opportunities like utilities. Investors are given land; there is good electricity supply and easily trainable people. Another important thing is the women; women in Ethiopia are very hard working. Garments, I can say, are mainly a women’s industry. In Bangladesh, 90 percent of the workers are women.
You have a good agriculture sector, but if you want to shift to industry and employ large number of people, the garment sector is the way to go.
Capital: While the economic side of diplomatic relationships are very important, would you work also to develop the people to people relationship?
Islam: Because of historical reasons, we have a very good mindset that is similar. There are different kinds of exchange programs we can do. One is involving high government officials, including the Prime Minister and President. For the high government official’s visits and training programs, some have already started to go to Bangladesh. They have seen our projects in the garment sector. Also from Bangladish, there are some technicians that come to Ethiopia to train Ethiopians.
The other is cultural exchange; my aim now is to do more cultural exchange, bring people here. There is a big potential to this; we can learn from Ethiopia and Ethiopia can learn from us.
In Bangladesh, we have done very well in education; up to grade 12 it is free, we distribute free books. Girls’ enrolment is one of the highest. So we can share experiences in this area. We have also done well in the health sector; especially in the child and maternal mortality and health, it has developed very well.
There is unlimited opportunity in different sectors. Look at agriculture, in Bangladish our land is very small, around one tenth of Ethiopia, our population is 160 million, but we feed our own people. We do not import food and sometimes we have surplus. How do we do this? We do it through modernization of agriculture. Here you have a large amount of land and you have an opportunity to expand your agricultural sector and that is something we can share experiences on.
Capital: Ethiopia has a lot of ambition, the economy is growing but sometimes translating that into human development might be a problem. How has your country dealt with such problems?
Islam: This is a good question. Development is for the people, that is why we have to think about equality and equity of distribution of wealth. If you want to ensure those things, the first thing is education; if you can ensure education for all, universal education, automatically those that are under privileged will come up.
Even if the parents are poor, if the children are educated they would want a different and better life, they will get better jobs.
In our country the government has set up health centers in all the small regions, it’s like what you call the woreda level. It was designed so that poor people can get free healthcare from the government. Access to drinkable water is also very important. We utilize underground water; almost all communities have access to water boars, so they do not drink unsafe water. Sanitation, access to latrines for people, again is important.
Helping poor people develop a livelihood, get them access to small loans, these are very important. If you have jobs, health, education then you have the fruits of development. Otherwise it will be one sided and will be difficult to keep social harmony.
Capital: Speaking of the agriculture sector in Bangladesh, we know you have been successful. You also use innovative technologies such as improved seeds or GM seeds. Can we learn something from it?
Islam: The main problem is water; in the last year in this country, I have seen that you have enough rain. So my humble request to Ethiopians is to learn to preserve the rain water; it can be used for agriculture.
In Bangladesh, we have many rivers and water bodies, and our ground water is very deep in the ground. Here it is not the same, it’s the opposite. We also have very strong agriculture research institutions which almost every year invent and discover new type of seeds for rice for example; seeds that will thrive in very small amount of water and crops that will be ready to be harvested in a small amount of time.
All these are solutions that Ethiopia could explore.