Thursday, April 18, 2024
Interview“We understand one another”: Jordan keen to cultivate Africa relations

“We understand one another”: Jordan keen to cultivate Africa relations

Among the many foreign dignitaries and diplomats to visit Addis Ababa over the last couple of weeks was Makram Mustafa Queisi, minister of Tourism and Antiquities for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

The purpose of the Minister’s three-day stay in Addis was to attend an educational conference, where he showcased religious, health, and cultural tourism in Jordan. Queisi, who was previously a Jordanian minister of Youth and an ambassador to France, Portugal, and the Vatican, is spearheading efforts to draw more tourism and foreign investment into the Middle Eastern nation.

The Reporter’s Sisay Sahlu sat down with the Minister during his brief stay in Addis for a conversation on the diplomatic, cultural, and historical connections between Ethiopia and Jordan. EXCERPTS:

The Reporter: What is the main purpose of your official visit to Ethiopia?

Queisi: The purpose of the trip is clear and simple. There is always an interest in Jordan and his majesty, the King of Jordan, to reach out to Ethiopia because his majesty, the King, is keen to develop and solidify the relationship with our sisters and brothers in Ethiopia. We are here to translate the royal vision into action, and we had drafted a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to list all the agreements of collaboration between both of us, and this MoU was ready for signing. But, after rounds of talks, we’ve rewritten it and attached it to an executive program, which is also important to the relationship of the two nations. I have invited my colleague and friend, the Ethiopian Minister of Tourism, to come to Jordan to reciprocate my visit, so that we can sign this MoU in the coming April.

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What points are included in the MoU?

A lot, especially on the training front. When I speak about training, I refer to sustainability in the tourism sector. If you want to survive, you need to have trained staff. And when I say trained staff, I am not speaking about the hotels at the highest level; I am speaking about the waiters, waitresses, and tour guides and about the narrative they have to follow. We need to have a unified narrative, and I am talking about even the bus drivers because it is the bus drivers who are driving maybe 15 tourists. You know, when there is a bad attitude, it will affect the whole trip negatively. So all of this is related to sustainability issues that need to be addressed, and we have to collaborate in these fields with Ethiopian officials. Concerning archeology, we have been doing archeology for the past 100 years. The Department of Antiquities in Jordan is the oldest government department established after the founding of Jordan’s modern state. Jordan was established as a modern state back in 1921, and the  Department of Antiquities was established two years after that. So we have immense experience in archeology, which is something we can share with Ethiopia. Concerning promotion and marketing campaigns, we have been conducting campaigns since 1998, and in this context we can work on joint programs. Since there is air connectivity and since Ethiopian Airlines is flying five times a week between Amman and Addis Ababa directly, this is an indication of success for future collaboration.

“We understand one another”: Jordan keen to cultivate Africa relations | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

How much does the tourism sector in Jordan earn annually?

The tourism sector of Jordan generates 15.6 percent of the total economy. We received 6.3 million tourists last year, and the total revenue was a little bit more than seven billion dollars. It is the main driver of the economy. In a country like Jordan that is limited in natural resources, we have invested a lot in human capital, and we have been doing this for the past seventy-eight years. You can see the results we have today; we have the best doctors. The ratio of doctors to our population is the highest in the world; it is ten percent higher than the international standard, and the ratio of nurses to the Jordanian population is 11 percent higher than the world standard. We have 70 hospitals managed by the private sector, 31 huge installation hospitals managed by the government,and 17 hospitals managed by the royal medical services of the military. We also have two university hospitals and six university colleges that teach medical science. We have invested a lot in this sector, but it is not the only one; we also invest in engineers, teachers, and others. So we are here to collaborate and put our act together; we are here to work with our Ethiopian brothers and sisters, shoulder to shoulder. 

What are some observations from your visit to Addis Ababa?

I saw impressive installations in Addis; I saw cranes everywhere; I saw projects running everywhere; I saw mega projects underway; and I visited the Adwa Museum, which is an impressive facility. I saw many projects that are taking place not only in Addis but also projects under the Prime Minister’s Dining for Ethiopia initiative. It is an ambitious sort of  initiative, and I applaud Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for that. Ethiopia is on the right track and path; there is huge potential, and Ethiopia a big market. We are talking about more than 120 million people, and although Jordan has a small population compared to Ethiopia, we have a promising market. In terms of investment, if incentive schemes are provided to Jordanian investors, I think they will be very interested in coming and investing in different sectors. Likewise, the same thing applies to Ethiopian investors. We have excellent investment schemes that we can offer.

What are the investment incentives you are referring to?

We have tax exemption incentives in Jordan for two years and, in some cases, for five years. Facilitation and easing of the process, like a one-stop shop instead of running from one place to another to finalize procedures for investment projects in Jordan. All of these things are put in place. We have enacted a new investment law that also provides more incentives to the tourism sector, so I believe your country is doing something here. But further collaboration and experience-sharing details can be discussed, and a joint team can be formed to study the Jordanian and Ethiopian markets and the innovative schemes.

Jordan is ranked among the world’s most peaceful countries. How, in your opinion, has this favorable status benefited your nation’s tourism sector?

Jordanians are peaceful, Jordanians are educated, and Jordanians are resilient. We have been going through crises for the past decade. We have always faced crises with resilience and strength. I can tell you that every time we get out of a crisis, we are stronger than before, so Jordanians are serious and dedicated, and I think this applies to Ethiopians as well. If you believe in your country, if you are proud of your history and believe in the future of your country, and if you believe you can do good for the coming generation, the way is easy and clear, and the path is paved for success. So one more thing: we need to talk more frankly. I think we have been negative towards each other for the past few years, but it is never too late. My trip is a leap in the enhancement of this relationship. I am expecting another leap from the Ethiopian side. I am inviting my sister, the minister of Tourism, who is a very close friend to me, and she promised to come and reciprocate my visit, which might be next April. So we have started and this is an important step, and it is not the end of the way. We took the first step, which is crucial, but it’s not the end of the process. This is the beginning, and we must keep going in this direction in order to see and understand each other better throughout the coming years and decades.

What is the state of the two nations’ trade and investment relations?

It is not as strong as we want it to be. The number of visitors from both sides is not as good as we want it to be. I think with the connectivity that I told you about Ethiopian Airlines, if traffic intensifies, we can bring the Royal Jordan to fly to Addis. This will be the hub for Africa because I think Ethiopian Airlines are flying to forty-something destinations in Africa, so this will be the hub for Jordanians to travel all around Africa through this destination.

Does Jordan receive a lot of tourism from Africa? How are Africans and people of African descent perceived there?

It is not common to see [African tourists], and that is why we are here. I can tell you that 90 percent of the people that we met didn’t know the baptism site of Jesus Christ, which is located in Jordan. I can tell you that more than ninety-nine percent of the people that I met didn’t know about John the Baptist being beheaded in Machaerus Jordan. I can tell you that many people do not know Mount Nebo, which is one of the most important sites for the Christian faith and is located in Jordan. Thirty kilometers away from the capital of Amman, there is a church named the Church of the Lady of the Mountain, a place where Virgin Mary sought refuge after fleeing the persecution of the Roman Empire. The Virgin Mary lived in Jordan in this church for some time. Elijah, the very important prophet in the Christian and Muslim faiths, was born in Jordan in Tel Mar Elias; he is a Jordanian prophet. In the Islamic faith, we have more than 55 shrines and sanctuaries of prophets and companions of the prophet Mohammed, which are buried in Jordan. Ja’far ibn Abi Talib is the same person who came as the head of the mission to seek refuge from the Christian king of Al-Habeshi at that time, and was protected. He was also the same person who led the Battle of Mu’tah in the southern part of Jordan and was buried in Al-Mazar, near Karak, Jordan. So all of this history belongs to the Ethiopian people, to Africans, and I am here to explain it to everybody.

“We understand one another”: Jordan keen to cultivate Africa relations | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today
Makram Mustafa Queisi

What contributions do Ethiopians in Jordan make to public-to-public diplomacy?
It hasn’t helped as we haven’t reached out sufficiently. This is only the beginning, and I am reaching out through many media channels, including yours. So, during this tour, we’ve been moving from one location to another, from Kenya to Rwanda and here in Ethiopia, and we’re trying to contact everyone.

What is your perspective on Ethiopia’s present political situation?

This is a really important question, and I shall respond in an unconditional and unconventional manner. We comprehend nations, peace, crises, and troublesome areas. What happens in some parts of Ethiopia does not convince me, as a Jordanian, that Ethiopia is unsafe. I am here; there may be fighting in the north, but I am in Addis, visiting and having meetings with no precedent. I’m strolling with my wife down the street, and my team isn’t concerned about security since we know and understand one other. You know who sees you as a combat zone—not us, but others.

They are demolishing world heritage sites, places of worship, schools, hospitals, bridges, streets, highways, and every other infrastructure in Gaza. But Jordan is not a war zone; we are not involved in this war; we have not closed our borders or skies; it is open, and others look; they cannot tell the difference between Jordan and what is going on in the neighborhood; the same was true when Iraq was occupied by the Americans in 2003; people looked at Baghdad and assumed Amman was the same. But here, we understand one another.

Jordan is one of the leading destinations for Ethiopian domestic workers. Are there any new plans or discussions between the two countries concerning domestic workers that you could tell me about?

We need to bring Ethiopians [to Jordan] not as laborers but as investors and as visitors; this is what I would like to say.

[speaker]
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