Wednesday, July 17, 2024
InterviewJakarta keen for more involvement in Ethiopia

Jakarta keen for more involvement in Ethiopia

This year will mark the 60th anniversary of the opening of an Indonesian embassy to Addis Ababa. Although at first glance, it might seem that the Asian archipelagic nation home to some 270 million people might not have much in common with landlocked Ethiopia, Ambassador Al Busyra Basnur is eager to point out the similarities between the two countries and the potential in closer cooperation. The Reporter’s Sisay Sahlu spoke with the Ambassador for a look at the relations between Indonesia and Ethiopia, the opportunities for trade and cultural exchange, as well as their relationship on the international stage. EXCERPTS:

The Reporter: How has the economic relationship between Indonesia and Ethiopia evolved in recent years, and what are the key areas of economic cooperation?

Al Busyra Basnur: Economic relations between Indonesia and Ethiopia grew significantly especially during the last 20 to 30 years ago. How do we know? Because several Indonesian products were already in the Ethiopian market at that time. Sarong products, then soap, paper, motor vehicle batteries and instant noodles. Economic relations between the two countries have continued to develop. In the last five years, Indonesian products in Ethiopia have become increasingly diverse, such as medicines and also agricultural or livestock equipment. Apart from that, several Ethiopian products are also in the Indonesian market. These include green beans, black cumin, soybeans and leather products.

How was this achieved? Indonesia has had an annual program called ‘Trade Expo Indonesia’ for 38 years. And before 2019, only around 10-15 Indonesian entrepreneurs participated in the exhibition. After carrying out various approaches and promotions, it began to increase and in 2022, the participating Ethiopian delegation reached 80 entrepreneurs and became the largest in Africa throughout the exhibition. The 39th Trade Expo Indonesia will be held on 9-12 October 2024 in Jakarta/Serpong.

Meanwhile on the investment side, currently there are five Indonesian companies registered with the Ethiopian Investment Commission that have invested in Ethiopia. Two of the companies are engaged in household item production. They produce soap. Two are involved in instant noodle and oil production, and one garment company for export purposes. We see that the future trend of cooperation that can be carried out between Indonesia and Ethiopia is still in the industrial sector and also the agricultural sector.

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What measures are being taken to enhance trade and investment between Indonesia and Ethiopia? Many European investors are complaining about forex and security issues, among others, that are affecting their investments. Is this a factor affecting Indonesian business? Any new Indonesian investors planning to come and invest? If so, in which areas and what are their names?

I believe that determining or making a decision to invest is a big step that needs to be considered very deeply so it requires time, energy, study, funds, and so on. Because proper investment is like when we want to make our bodies healthy and fit, what we do is invest in exercise, namely undergoing training, going to the gym, eating healthy food, learning how to live a healthy life.

So investment can be to sacrifice or postpone the pleasure that can be achieved now in order to gain much greater profits in the future. The question is, how obstacles and challenges can be overcome and how to find the best solution when the investment problems that have been identified occur. From the information presented, yes, there are indeed similarities in the difficulties faced by companies and this has an impact on the smooth running of operational activities. However, Indonesian companies in Ethiopia continue to do their best to remain optimistic about the positive development of the Ethiopian economy in the future. There are at least four Indonesian companies that are planning to invest and two of them are still looking at the possibility more seriously and are still considering it more carefully. The two companies are in the food and beverage and pharmaceutical sectors.

Can you elaborate on cultural exchange programs between the two countries and their impact on mutual understanding and cooperation?

Cultural exchange programs between Indonesia and Ethiopia have significantly enhanced mutual understanding and cooperation. Our programs typically involve the exchange of youth, academics, and professionals who engage in a variety of activities such as studying, teaching, or participating in cultural events in both countries.

One of our highlight cultural exchange programs was the ‘First Indonesia-Ethiopia Youth Exchange Program’ in July 2023. It included the participation of nine Ethiopian youths, visiting Indonesia for the first time, which had a profound impact on mutual understanding and cooperation between the two countries.

The program facilitated deep intercultural engagement, allowing the Ethiopian youth participants to immerse themselves in Indonesian culture through various activities, including seminars, cultural workshops, and various visits. This firsthand experience fostered a greater appreciation for Indonesia’s rich cultural heritage. The exchange promoted dialogue on shared challenges and opportunities, such as youth empowerment and sustainable development, laying the groundwork for future collaborations in these areas. The bonds formed during the exchange not only enhanced personal relationships but also strengthened diplomatic ties, contributing to a more robust and cooperative bilateral relationship for the future.

In addition, the Indonesian Embassy in Addis Ababa has often organized programs involving Ethiopian youth in cultural dances, culinary, and performing arts.

What are the major development projects that Indonesia is currently involved in in Ethiopia?

Indonesia is involved in several major development projects in Ethiopia, focusing on enhancing bilateral cooperation and contributing to Ethiopia’s socio-economic growth. For example, for trade and investment promotion, Indonesia organizes economic forums and promotes the participation of Ethiopian business people in the Trade Expo Indonesia. These initiatives aim to enhance economic cooperation and open new markets for Indonesian and Ethiopian businesses. The Indonesian Embassy in Addis Ababa facilitates a program of sharing of knowledge that focuses on various issues between Indonesian and Ethiopian universities.

How are Indonesia and Ethiopia collaborating in the fields of education and vocational training? What have you achieved in your engagement with Ethiopian universities at large in the last few years?

Indonesia and Ethiopia have been actively collaborating in the fields of education and training. Over the past five years, the Indonesian Embassy has played a crucial role in fostering educational partnerships, successfully facilitating the signing of 34 Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) between Indonesian and Ethiopian universities. These MoUs cover a wide range of academic and research collaborations, including joint research projects that enhance the educational landscape of both nations. The Embassy has initiated community training programs (Training of Trainers) in Ethiopia focused on the management of water hyacinths (emboch) and the production of tempeh, a traditional Indonesian fermented soybean product. These programs are designed to provide practical vocational skills to Ethiopian communities, turning water hyacinths, often considered an enemy for local community, into economically valuable products, and promoting tempeh as a nutritious and affordable food source. This not only supports local economic development but also encourages sustainable practices and innovation.

Indonesia is committed to advancing educational cooperation with Ethiopia, recognizing it as a vital component for the progress and prosperity of both nations.

Do you think Ethiopian officials have adequate awareness about the Bandung conference? What does this historic conference really tell this generation? How are Ethiopia and Indonesia leveraging South-South cooperation?

Ethiopian officials generally have good awareness of the Bandung Conference, due to its historical significance in shaping post-colonial solidarity and cooperation among African and Asian nations. The conference, held in 1955, symbolized a unified stand against colonialism and imperialism, promoting economic and cultural cooperation among Asian and African countries. For this generation, the Bandung Conference underscores the importance of unity, mutual respect, and collective effort in addressing common challenges and promoting global peace and development.

Apart from that, Ethiopia and Indonesia are promoting South-South cooperation by engaging in various collaborative projects and initiatives that reflect the principles of the Bandung Conference. These include educational exchanges, joint development projects, and shared efforts in various fields for common development.

To encourage the knowledge of Ethiopian people in general, the Indonesian Embassy established the Asian-African Conference Museum on 27 May 2022. The Museum is actively inviting Ethiopian people (students, academia, and government officials) to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the conference in 2025. If anyone is willing to visit the museum, please kindly contact the Indonesian Embassy.

What is Indonesia’s stance on regional security issues in the Horn of Africa, and how does it impact the bilateral relationship?

I appreciate and support the positive measures that have been taken by all parties involved in the Horn of Africa’s security issues. Peace and security are very important in maintaining stability to allow the nations in the region to continue economic and social development. I understand that it is not easy, however, to maintain peace and security. It needs cooperation from all parties concerned.

What have you observed in the last few years in Ethiopian political and economic ups and downs?

I think the Ethiopian government has properly mapped political-economic development. I believe that Ethiopia will achieve stability in the near future. We know that in economic and political development, there are challenges and opportunities. The Ethiopian government and people have successfully overcome these challenges and opportunities. We also believe that stability requires the support and involvement from various parties, not only from the government but also from non-government actors.

How do Indonesia and Ethiopia cooperate on global platforms like the United Nations?

Indonesia and Ethiopia work closely in regional and international organizations, such as the United Nations, especially in UN peacekeeping missions. Both countries are committed to global peace and security and actively participate in these operations.

They are among the largest contributors of troops to UN peacekeeping forces, often sending personnel to the most challenging conflict zones. Their troops are valued for their professionalism, dedication, and diverse skills, which improve the effectiveness of UN missions and enhance the international reputation of both countries as promoters of global peace and stability.

What steps are being taken to promote tourism between Indonesia and Ethiopia?

This is another interesting topic. Indonesia and Ethiopia have many similarities in the tourism industry, particularly in tourism destinations. However, Indonesia is an archipelagic country, while Ethiopia is a landlocked country. I have travelled to many places and regions in Ethiopia to seek opportunities in the tourism sector, and to connect Ethiopia and Indonesia.

An example from September 2021 is still fresh in my memory, where the Indonesian Embassy collaborated for the first time with the Oromia Tourism Commission and the Indonesia – Ethiopia Youth Association to hold a Tourism and Economic Development called Tourism Hackathon-Sharing Indonesia Experience.

This activity was opened directly by Abraham Belay, who at that time served as Minister of Defense. This was the start of a very good relationship when I served here.Previously, relations between the Indonesian-Ethiopian tourism sector began with an agreement between the Indonesian government and Ethiopian Airlines, which received permission to fly to Indonesia for the first time in 2018.

Meetings in the tourism sector continue to be held between institutions and travel companies to advance the tourism sector. In 2024, the Indonesian Embassy published a book entitled  ‘Tourism for Global Connectivity and Economic Development.’

How are the two countries working together in areas of technology and innovation?

Indonesia and Ethiopia are collaborating in the fields of technology and innovation through knowledge-sharing programs aimed at advancing the capacity of their human resources. This collaboration includes exchange programs, seminars, and training sessions where professionals and students from both countries learn from each other. Our program has engaged with Ethiopian universities, youth organizations, chambers of commerce, and the general public.

What are the biggest challenges and successes you have experienced in strengthening the diplomatic ties between Indonesia and Ethiopia?

In general, there are no big challenges due to the strong commitment between Indonesia and Ethiopia in building bilateral relations. There is only one challenge, which is the limited knowledge of Indonesian people towards Ethiopia and vice versa. We need more exchange of information and established people-to-people connectivity.

What are your main goals and aspirations for the future of Indonesia-Ethiopia relations during your tenure? Any achievement to be mentioned?

During my tenure, my main goals for Indonesia-Ethiopia relations include fostering deeper mutual understanding between our two nations, fostering more advanced collaboration and partnership in economic, education, and socio-cultural, as well as to facilitate more people-to-people connectivity that has high potential for advancing bilateral cooperation.

Achievements to highlight include the publication of 10 books on various issues written by Indonesian and Ethiopian authors, facilitating MoUs between universities for academic collaboration, organizing exchange visits of Ethiopian youth to Indonesia to promote mutual understanding, and facilitating official visits of Ethiopian officials to Indonesia to discuss bilateral cooperation and diplomatic relations. These efforts aim to solidify the foundation for a robust and mutually beneficial relationship between our two countries.

How has Indonesia supported Ethiopia during times of crisis, such as natural disasters or conflicts?

Indonesia has supported Ethiopia during times of crisis by providing humanitarian aid. Notably, Indonesia extended assistance to Ethiopia during the severe drought in 2023. This support included the delivery of essential supplies aimed at relieving the suffering of those affected by the drought.

In addition, I see that Ethiopia needs more humanitarian aid. Therefore, I actively communicate with Jakarta to facilitate more humanitarian aid to Ethiopia and the process is still ongoing.

Can you discuss any social programs that Indonesia has implemented or supported in Ethiopia?

Indonesia has implemented several social programs in Ethiopia, focusing on capacity building, community development, and cultural exchange. One significant program is the training initiative on water hyacinth management. Indonesia has provided expertise and training to Ethiopian communities on how to manage and utilize water hyacinths, turning them into economically viable products. This program not only addresses environmental challenges but also empowers local communities by providing sustainable livelihood opportunities.

As one of the busiest diplomats in Ethiopia, you travel all over Ethiopia. What has been your most memorable experience as the ambassador of Indonesia to Ethiopia? What is the public perception of the Ethiopia-Indonesia relationship?

My most memorable experience as ambassador has been witnessing the warm reception and genuine interest of Ethiopians in Indonesian culture and cooperation. The public perception of the Ethiopia-Indonesia relationship is positive, with a growing appreciation for cultural exchange, educational collaboration, and economic partnerships between our two nations.

Another interesting fact that I found is that in many areas or regions in Ethiopia that I visited, in fact, I was the first foreign ambassador to visit them.

How do you envision the relationship between Indonesia and Ethiopia evolving over the next decade?

My vision for the relationship between Indonesia and Ethiopia is one of evolving into a deeper and more diverse partnership. This includes strengthening economic ties through increased trade and investment, expanding educational exchanges and collaborations, and further enhancing cultural understanding and people-to-people connections.

Besides that, there will be more tourists from Ethiopia visiting Indonesia and vice versa.

As a journalist and diplomat, what would you advise youths in Ethiopia?

Study hard, read more, write more, listen more to other people, think about yourself, your future direction, create better international networking, do for your country and for the global world because you belong not only to Ethiopia but also the world. The world is waiting for your contribution.

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