Africa’s Most Successful Women: Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

By: EmperorDIV

bEntrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu was born and raised in Zenebework, a small, impoverished rural community in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia. As a child, she discovered that people of her community were living in abject squalor because there were very few jobs available.

While the most of the locals were unemployed, Bethlehem discovered that several of them possessed remarkable artisan skills which remained largely unexploited. This observation drove her to brainstorm on ways through which she could transform the skills of her community members into a sustainable enterprise that could generate livelihoods for them, and create wealth over the long term.

By 2004, armed with startup capital sourced from her husband and members of her immediate family, Bethlehem mobilized artistically-gifted members of her community and founded SoleRebels- which has become one of Africa’s most recognizable footwear manufacturers.

Basically, SoleRebels produces footwear locally that often features a strong infusion of ancient Ethiopian culture with subtle undertones of modern, western design influences. Practically, all SoleRebels shoes are redesigns and reimaginations of the famous Selate and Barabasso shoe, a traditional recycled tire sole shoe which has been worn by Ethiopians for a very long time. The Selate and Barabasso shoe was famously worn by Ethiopian rebel fighters who vehemently opposed western forces from colonizing the country. As matter of fact, that’s where the name ‘soleRebels’ emerged from.

SoleRebels manufactures comfy sandals, slip-ons and lace-up shoes hand-crafted from recycled, weather-beaten tires and an assortment of locally-sourced natural fiber ingredients such as the ancient Koba plant (an indigenous plant which has been cultivated in Ethiopia for over several thousand years) and organic Abyssinian jute fiber which are used mainly in creating the mid-soles of SoleRebels shoes. By blending this ancient recycling tradition with contemporary, western-influenced, hip shoe designs, SoleRebels has built a successful footwear brand utilizing a production process that is zero carbon production and very eco-sensitive. All of SoleRebels shoes are hand-crafted by Bethlehem’s staff of over 100 people strictly using Ethiopian craft practices such as hand-spun organic cotton and artisan hand-loomed fabric.  And the company sources all of its raw materials locally.

Today, shoes under the SoleRebels brand are sold in over 30 countries around the world and through various e-commerce sites like Amazon and Endless. SoleRebels also sells its products through its own e-commerce site. Prices vary, but you can get a pair of SoleRebels for anywhere from  $20 to $100.

SoleRebels has become a hugely successful, sustainable, truly world-class enterprise. I asked Bethlehem sometime last year for revenues of her company. Like most African entrepreneurs I’ve encountered, she refused to divulge the numbers. But SoleRebels takes in at least $1 million in annual revenue. I know this because the company was among the top 5 finalists of the 2011 edition of the prestigious Legatum Africa Awards For Entrepreneurship. One of the criteria for the finalists was that their companies had proven annual revenues of $1 million – $15 million.

Bethlehem has earned significant international recognition for her work at SoleRebels and is now one of Africa’s most recognizable female entrepreneurs. Early last year, she was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. In June she won the award of ‘Most Outstanding Businesswoman’ at the annual African Business Awards organized by African Business Magazine, and in November, she was named the ‘Most Valuable Entrepreneur’ at the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).

A lady of grandiose ambitions, Bethlehem is relentlessly pursuing her dream of building an international footwear brand right from the heart of Ethiopia. And she’s making significant progress.  SoleRebels has opened up a retail outlet in Taiwan and has franchise proposals for Canada, Italy, Australia, Israel, Spain, Japan and the United States among other countries. In a recent interview with Tadias Magazine, Bethlehem estimated that revenues from Sole Rebels retail operations will hit the $10 million mark by 2016. Considering the exceptional success she’s achieved in less than 8 years, she’ll probably exceed her estimations.

5 things the Ethiopian government could do to boost entrepreneurship

by Jonathan Kalan

10400_10151563111013049_1703115169_nWhen it comes to entrepreneurship, Ethiopia is riddled with contradiction. A stunningly beautiful, tremendously friendly and fiercely independent country- the only one in Africa never to be fully colonized- its tech startup culture is on the rise, if only the government could stop tripping over itself.

In recent years, the government has taken large steps forward to support entrepreneurship in information and communications technology (ICT), yet it has largely underestimated the challenge of suddenly developing a country with only 1% internet penetration.

Take, for example, the new $250 million technology park the government has decided to build, Ethio ICT. Historically, the country’s GDP has been directly correlated with rainfall, as agriculture still accounts for the majority (46.3%) of the country’s GDP and 80% of its employment.
Yet, despite abysmal internet penetration and mobile penetration below 20%, the government is insisting upon a tech park.

A few years back, the government also decided that 70% of students must study engineering. The country’s growth will depend on it, they reasoned, forgetting that students need jobs when they graduate.

As a quick fix, the leadership then decided that entrepreneurship would solve the problem for these graduates (the government now says 10% of graduates should be entrepreneurs, a friend told me), forgetting that the barriers to entrepreneurship, especially in ICT, remain enormous.

This mismatch of intention and reality isn’t simply an Ethiopian issue, however; other tech parks in Africa have demonstrated a similar lack of coordination with local needs on the ground. One particularly large example is Kenya’s $14 billion 5000-acre Konza Technology City.  “Some feel that Kenya should not be focusing on building a technological city when it had still not fully built a solid skills base,” Tom Jackson writes on Ventures Africa.

Yet the situation in Ethiopia is a bit more extreme than that of most of its neighbors. While Kenya’s startup scene is undoubtedly on the rise, Ethiopia ranks near rock bottom in global competitiveness, according to the World Economic Form’s Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013. Of 144 countries, it ranks below 130 in a slew of categories, from technological readiness and intensity of competition to availability of financial services and ease of access to loans. Most egregiously, it ranks 142 for individuals using the internet, and 143 for mobile telephone subscriptions.

The path to startup success won’t be easy. Seed investment, whether from banks or investors, is scarce. Opaque bureaucracy is rampant, even humorously so; company names, which are approved by the Ministry of Business, can’t include any adjectives, or, according to one entrepreneur, any words related to “strong.” Companies need several permits, and at least two founders with degrees in ICT.

Censorship is another challenge; the government is the biggest ICT client by a wide margin, using expensive deep packet inspection and web data censoring on par with Iran and China, despite having a fraction of the number of internet users.

Yet there’s lot’s of opportunity in this enormous market of 84 million people. Here’s why:

Foreign direct investment (FDI) from China, India, and Turkey is booming. The capital city, Addis Ababa, is a giant construction site featuring rising skyscrapers and freshly paved multi-lane highways. The economy has been growing at an explosive average of 10% a year since 2004. And with low taxes, the country is becoming a manufacturing hub for east Africa. Phones, cars and now printers are all being made or assembled in Ethiopia; Samsung is to open a factory there this year.

Given its large latent labor force, there is tremendous opportunity for growth in the manufacturing sector.

Yet if entrepreneurship is to catch up- and provide real opportunities for upward mobility- the government will have to change its tune, from adopting a “security-conscious approach to the tech movement,” as one source put it, to building trust with the private sector.

Here are a few aspects it could change to help startups innovating in technology: 

  1. Enable MappingYou cannot map anything in Ethiopia without government permission, which makes developing crisis mapping platforms, location-based rewards systems, or accurate service delivery difficult.
  2. Expand Payment MechanismsEthiopia doesn’t have credit cards. The most advanced form of banking technology in the country is the ATM. This means that there’s no system for buying or selling mobile apps, other than premium SMS services. Remove Google Play, the Apple App Store, and any others that take credit cards, and you’re quite limited. Mobile money has only just hit Ethiopia, with M-Birr (similar to M-Pesa) rolling out at a few microfinance institutions this year. It could bring change, but, unlike M-Pesa, it’s still linked to banks, meaning users must have a bank account.
  3. Allow VoIPIn Ethiopia, voice over IP (VoIP) services like Skype are banned for business purposes, although, contrary to what most people have heard, it is permitted for personal purposes. You can use Skype for business calls, but you can’t use VoIP services as part of your business model or as a service for clients. This is presumably because of the state-owned telecom monopoly.
  4. Reduce restrictions on small companiesThe majority of large companies in Ethiopia are either state-owned, or have partial state ownership. The large private companies in the tech sector- Cybersofts, Apposite, etc.- are typically “shared” companies, in which 10-20 people pool their money to invest, spreading the risk. These formal structures make it difficult for young entrepreneurs to get something started.
  5. Eliminate paper bureaucracyWhile a limited number of companies in Ethiopia are using digital financial systems, supply chain management software, and other digital business tools that are open source or built by international software companies, almost everything in the country is still done manually. Companies that want to move from analog to digital, will still have to use paper documents and filing when dealing with government.

In a nutshell, Ethiopia has tremendous potential- there’s a reason investors, developers, and people from all over the world are moving there. It might take some time, but the more that startup advocates and organizations push to bring Ethiopia’s entrepreneurs and innovators out in the open, the more the government might adjust to give them the boost they need.

Ethiopia’s Tech Hopefuls

By Jonathan Kalan, BBC

indexWhen it comes to technology and innovation, Ethiopia appears a long way away from the rest of Africa’s rising “silicon savannahs.”

The most advanced form of banking in Africa’s second most populous country is an ATM – there are no credit cards and no international banking systems.

This makes app stores like Google Play and Apple’s Appstore inaccessible.

Mobile money, which has taken off places like Kenya, has only just arrived, but with significant limitations.

Skype and other VoIP (voice over internet protocol) services are banned for business purposes.

With a lumbering government-owned telecoms monopoly, staggeringly low internet penetration (less than 1% of Ethiopia’s 85m citizens are connected), just 17% mobile penetration, and a very “security conscious” government approach to new technology and services, it’s not the most encouraging environment for small technology start-ups to grow.

But that doesn’t mean some aren’t trying.

“There are a lot of opportunities for techies in Ethiopia,” claims Markos Lemma, co-founder of iceaddis, Ethiopia’s leading technology hub, accelerator and co-working space.

“The middle class is increasing, the market is growing,” he says.

In recent years Ethiopia has become a model of rising Africa.

From a poster child for poverty and famine in the 1980s to an economy seeing an average 10% growth since 2004, the country is witnessing a remarkable turnaround.

Addis Ababa, the capital, is attracting investment and talent from around the world, and cranes and construction projects are now a hallmark of the city.

Yet much of this growth is from sweeping policy changes, government infrastructure projects, and big donor-driven or private investment programmes.

Iceaddis, which opened its doors in May 2011, is trying to change this.

It has become a home for start-ups, promoting local technology and focusing on young Ethiopian entrepreneurs and individuals interested in ICT, green technology, and the creative industries.

Originally designed as an art gallery by a Swiss architect, it is a striking mash-up of six interlocked shipping containers, located on the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building, Construction and City Development (EiABC) campus, in the heart of the capital.

“In the beginning, we didn’t know what exactly what we were working on,” admits Mr Lemma, one of the four co-founders. “We were just bringing the community together to interact.”

Similar to other tech hubs in the region, like Nairobi’s iHub, or Uganda’s Hive Colab, iceaddis grew organically, starting with small events, workshops, and barcamps (tech-related developer meet-ups).

The goal was to connect bloggers and developers, bringing a hidden tech community together for the first time.

Eventually, the community grew; iceaddis secured more funding, moved into its own space, and developed a tiered membership.

They now have over 1,000 ‘white’ members, people who may not use the space everyday, but are part of the network.

Several times a year, iceaddis selects a few dozen start-ups and puts them through 12 weeks of business plan training.

At the end of the programme, several are selected to receive “incubation” at the space, and given resources to grow their ideas.

Unlike many other tech hubs in Africa, iceaddis isn’t just about apps. Plugging in to the surrounding architecture school, the community also highlights innovation in design, construction, and products.

During one week in March, students were learning how to design and build DIY skateboard ramps. A few weeks later, they were hacking android apps.

Yet the barriers to innovation for young Ethiopian entrepreneurs, regardless of industry, remain high.

“There is much willingness and interest from the government for entrepreneurship,” says Mr Lemma. “But there is still so much regulation and permits.” Growing pains

Feleg Tsegaye is an American-born Ethiopian who previously worked in IT at the US Federal Reserve. He recently moved to Addis to found ArifMobile, a phone and sim card rental service for tourists, and knows these challenges well.

“People aren’t always sure of the laws. They seem fluid and changing depending on who you talk to,” he says of Ethiopia’s regulatory environment.

For example, only after multiple trips to the Ministry of Business to register his company did he discover business names cannot be adjectives.

Then, it took months to get an internet connection in his office thanks to notoriously slow state-owned Ethio Telecom.

In the World Economic Form’s Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013, Ethiopia ranks almost dead last.

Of 144 countries, it’s ranked below 130 in technological readiness, competitiveness, and access to financial services and loans.

Perhaps one of the reasons for such a dismal competitive environment is when it comes to technology, the government is often both the biggest competitor and biggest client.

Most large companies are either state-owned, or partially state-owned, and there is a certain degree of distrust between private and public sectors resulting in the government taking a very security-conscious approach, according to Mr Tsegaye.

“Government is the prime consumer for services in IT, but they are frustrated, in part because their policies are inhibiting private sector growth,” he says.

Adam Abate, founder of Apposit, an information technology services company based in Addis Ababa, says that the government is by far his biggest client.

“We looked at private sector for a while and realised it’s not worth it,” he says. “Collecting, digitising, and maintaining information for consumers at scale is not easy.”

The most obvious opportunity in Ethiopia is that there’s still very little here”

Adam Abate Apposit

Mr Abate also notes the difficulties posed by the telecoms monopoly.

“It’s good for investing in infrastructure and for the future, but from an individual or business point of view, trying to get services out of them is a nightmare.”

All told, Ethiopia has a weak ecosystem for start-ups, says Mr Abate, making it difficult for young, inexperienced entrepreneurs with little capital. The odds are stacked against them.

Yet, he says, for those who manage, there is enormous opportunity.

“Infrastructure is … expanding at a rapid rate, and the most obvious opportunity in Ethiopia is that there’s still very little here,” he explains.

“Any business you can think of, you can start.” Start at the beginning

One as yet unnamed startup is trying to develop an appstore specifically for Ethiopia that will charge users via premium SMS services, which will hopefully open up a space for local app developers.

Another company, Utopia, is developing an Android app for tourists that can be used offline.

Mekina, one of iceaddis’ most successful startups, has built an online marketplace for Ethiopians to buy, sell, and rent cars locally, a big coup given the government levies five different taxes for importing vehicles.

Still, like the current market itself, these efforts are small.

“People just aren’t consuming things online. They aren’t connected, and those who are, are just using Facebook,” says iceaddis’s Markos Lemma.

Yet entrepreneurs remain hopeful things will change.

The government is planning to build a $250 million technology park, Ethio ICT, although critics worry it’s another of Africa’s pipe-dream tech cities.

“There is high potential for techies to develop applications and technical solutions,” says Mr Lemma. “But we need more support, resources, knowledge.” A tech park probably won’t offer that.

With 85 million Ethiopians slowly becoming connected, if the government loosens its grip and becomes serious about supporting entrepreneurship, an Ethiopian tech boom may be on the horizon.

Even if internet penetration increases to cover even just 2-3% of the population, Mr Lemma says, “opportunities to improve business will improve greatly.”

Sole Rebels Planning Expansion With 30 New Franchise Stores

By Ed McKenna

soleRebels-5ADDIS ABABA – Innovative Ethiopian footwear manufacturer Sole Rebels will open its second retail outlet in Taiwan this year. With ambitions to open 30 more franchise stores across the world in countries like the United States, Australia, Italy and Japan, Sole Rebels, the largest African footwear brand, is now fast becoming a global competitive brand.

The company currently sells its innovative range of artisan shoes made from recycled materials in 55 countries and is now one of Ethiopia’s thriving businesses with a major presence on e-commerce sites such as Amazon. Its success reflects this Horn of Africa nation’s growing footwear-manufacturing industry as Chinese businesses are increasingly investing in the sector here.

Founded in 2005 by Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun, who wanted to create jobs and sustainable prosperity in her country, Sole Rebels made two million dollars in sales in 2011 and is expecting to generate over 15 to 20 million dollars in revenue by 2015.

“We are extremely excited to open a Sole Rebels store in the heart of Taichung. Taichung is a footwear epicentre, home to the Asian design centre for the planet’s largest footwear brands,” Bethlehem told IPS.

Ethiopia: More Charges Pile up on Access Real Estate

accessWith the CEO still hiding away in the US, Access’s crisis deepens with each new claim

With five charges already bearing down on it, Access Real Estate SC, is facing three additional suits, claiming a total of 4.3 million Br.

The company, whose president, Ermias Amelga, moved to the United States a few weeks ago, had collected money promising to deliver houses on 19 different sites in Addis Abeba. After the failure to deliver any homes on schedule, these sites have all now set up subcommittees, which in turn created a parent committee to manage their dealings with the company and the courts.

Access could potentially face a class action law suit from one of these committees over the coming weeks. So far, the charges have come on an individual basis, with the first five homeowners claiming 6.5 million Br in charges filed two weeks ago.

The biggest claim in the new charges has come from Dereje Mekonnen, who says that he had made the full payment of 1.575 million Br on January 4, 2010. Upon payment, the company had promised to deliver the house in 18 months. In case of late delivery, Access had agreed to pay 5,000 Br in monthly house rent to the affected party, or to return the money with 15pc interest.

Dereje filed the suit following a notice he gave to the company on February 12, 2013, for the termination of the contract he had with them. He had asked the company for a refund of the 15pc VAT it had paid, but was able to get only 30,000 Br, according to the charges filed.

Egypt, Ethiopia Square Off Over New Nile River Dam

By David Arnold

00241789_3fdd789b4f21bd7e4a0aff1d02ced863_arc614x376_w290_us1Egypt and Ethiopia are doing their best to lower tensions after weeks of increasingly heated rhetoric over a giant Ethiopian dam project that Cairo believes will reduce the flow of water in the Nile River.

The foreign ministers of the two countries met at the beginning of the week in Addis Ababa and agreed to hold further talks and review the recommendations from a panel of experts on what’s being called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD.

Construction on the dam started two years ago on Ethiopia’s Abbai, or Blue Nile, river, whose basin accounts for about 75 percent of the water flowing into the lower Nile River. The project is about 20 percent complete and Egyptian officials worry that when it’s finished in 2017, it will severely reduce the flow of water through the lower Nile channel and turn the arable parts of their country back into a desert.

A day after Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi visited Addis Ababa earlier this month, Ethiopia diverted the Abbai River’s flow temporarily to carry out the next stage of dam construction. Even though the water diversion was a brief, news of the interruption touched off a furor in Cairo.

Morsi said Egypt would not tolerate losing “one drop” of Nile water and made thinly veiled threats of military action by saying “all options are open.”

The Ethiopians, apparently, were not intimidated.

“I don’t think they will take that option unless they go mad,” said Ethiopia’s president, Haile Mariam Desalegn. The foreign ministry in Addis Ababa said construction on the dam would not stop “for a second.”

An expensive project

The GERD project includes a 170-meter high concrete dam and a 6,000-megawatt hydroelectric power plant and will make Ethiopia one of Africa’s top electrical energy producing nations when it is completed. Its total cost is estimated at between $4.2 billion and $5 billion.

Ethiopia has said all along that once completed, the dam would not reduce Egypt’s water resources, but Egypt wants proof. It also wants assurances that Ethiopia will not use the Abbai waters to irrigate Ethiopian farmlands.

Egypt is also concerned about additional problems as Ethiopia begins filling a massive water reservoir twice the size of the country’s largest lake.

“Ethiopia is always saying ‘no impact’,” said Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, who was Egypt’s minister of water and irrigation for 12 years and is now president of the Arab Water Council.

But Abu-Zeid cited studies predicting that during the three to five years it will take to fill the reservoir behind the dam, “there would be a reduction of 14 billion instead of the regular 55.5 billion cubic meters.

“It’s time to go back to the negotiating table,” Abu-Zeid concluded.

Other experts doubt the reduction would be that much. One of them is Paul Block, a civil engineer who has been consulting on Ethiopian water projects for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank.

During the years it takes to fill the reservoir behind the GERD, Block says the loss of water flow into the Nile could be minimal. It all depends, he explains, on the amount of rainfall in the region.

Ethiopia: Access Real Estate partners with Dubai company

Access Real Estate on signed an agreement with a Dubai-based company, Soliten Holdings, that would enable it to jointly develop its housing projects.

The agreement is said to be worth two billion birr. At a press briefing held at the Sheraton Addis, executives of the companies said that Soliten would make substantial investment in the ongoing projects of Acess and it would also assume the management of the construction of the residential houses in Addis Ababa. Officials of the company said Soliten was managing construction projects worth 30 billion dollars in different countries.

In addition to the businesses it runs in Dubai, Soliten is active in Hong Kong, Germany and in different African countries. The board chairman of Access Real estate, Ermiyas Amelga, said that the agreement is a milestone in the real estate sector in Ethiopia. “The partnership would contribute to the development of the real estate sector and it will bring about knowledge transfer,” Ermiyas said.

The managing partner of Soliten Holdings, Yergen Ehri, said that the economic development being made here attracted them to Ethiopia. “Considering the ongoing economic development of the country, we have decided to invest in Ethiopia via Acess,” Yergen said. He added that his company would invest in the real estate sector in other African countries. Soliten will invest in Acess and it will also manage the constructions being undertaken by Access.

Ethiopian Airlines to Build 4 Star Hotel

Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopia’s flag carrier, is seeking international contractors to construct a four star hotel near Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa. The airline plans to have the hotel completed in two and a half years.

Ethiopian requested international construction firms to put in their bids for the ‘design and build’ of the hotel project on a turn-key contract basis.

It is to be remembered that the airline had cancelled a previous invitation for consultants for this project made in 2009 wishing to evaluate other alternatives.

World Economic Forum to Be Held in Ethiopia

The annual World Economic Forum will be held in Ethiopia in May. The forum is expected to be attended by 1000 influential world leaders according to Precise Consulting International, organizers.

The forum will create a unique opportunity for Ethiopian business people to engage with global multi national corporations and international investors said Henock Assefa, Manging Partner of Precise.

The forum will be attended by 400 senior business executives and senior government officials and Ethiopian business people can best take advantage of the opportunity by doing their homework and attending with short pitches to address the influential international business representatives in attendance explained Henock.

British Delegation Meets with Ethiopian Businesspeople

By: Meron Tekleberhan

A delegation of British business people held talks with representatives of Ethiopia’s business sector to explore opportunities for commerce in both countries.

The delegation, made up of 10 representatives from London met with more than 30 Ethiopian business representatives.

The discussions held with the delegation from the UK will promote the flow of information, enhance knowledge development, promote the transfer of skills and technology and strengthen confidence for bargaining as well as removing barriers against business interaction according to Teferi Asfaw, Deputy Secretary General of the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations.

A relationship between businesses in the two countries can be safe guarded on win-win terms he noted.

The meetings between the two groups were an opportunity to exchange ideas noted Ruma Deb, World Trade Executive for the London Chamber of Commerce.

The British delegates are interested in a diverse range of sectors including education, chemical, hi-tech equipment and medical supplies said Semhar Habtezion, International Trade Advisor for the London International Trade Team.

Ethiopian companies are expected to benefit from the discussions as it is an opportunity for the two groups to work together according to Semhar.

Nominee for World Bank Presidency to Visit Ethiopia

By: Meron Tekleberhan

American President Obama’s nominee for the presidency of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Yong Kim is expected to travel to Ethiopia, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Brazil and Mexico over the coming month according to the US Department of Treasury.

Dr Kim will hold meetings with the heads of the states he will be visiting as well as with finance ministers and other stakeholders to review the priorities they envision for the World Bank in the coming years.

The trip will make a part of the initial phase of a ‘listening tour’ through which Dr Kim will solicit ideas and views from across the globe on the future for the international financial institution.

Land Lease Law Lands Hard in Landholders’ Laps

Government officials in charge of clearing the mess in the land regime of the country are on the retreat, at least after admitting flawed procedures in the legislative process of the revised law on urban land lease. In substance though, they leave a rather baffled public into more confusion, unable to answer questions directed at them during town hall meetings held across the city two weeks ago, reports Eden Sahle, Fortune Staff Writer.

From left Kuma Demeksa, mayor of Addis Abeba and Mekuria Haile, minister of Urban Development & Construction (MoUDC) who are conducting several meetings to generate the public confidence on the controversial lease law.

Hailu Baheru, a 67-year old resident of Yeka District, was one of those guys whose interest in politicking is close to zero. Hardly could he visit a weredas meeting hall whenever officials wanted residents to discuss issues that they think the public needs to talk about.

Two weeks ago, all this was different. He made a rare appearance at the Wereda 11 Office, on Desse Road, to participate in a public discussion called by officials in the Wereda. Attended by very apprehensive residents, officials were keen to let residents talk about the recently revised urban land lease law.

The meeting was held on the afternoon of January 15, 2012. Hailu was one of close to 30 residents congregating in a meeting hall built on shallow blocks, with a modest size able to accommodate twice the size that came that day. The attendance was far too low, compared to the 31,514 residents in the Wereda.

Many of the residents were chitchatting, with evidently little interest to listen to each other. Neither were they very keen to listen to officials, who were pressing more on the need to develop the city and how the lease law could be instrumental in achieving developmental goals. They seemed to have little desire to talk about the particular provisions that many of the residents wanted to know more about: the fate of historical landholdings.

Hailu could not make heads or tails of the revised law. Neither could he find any local or city official to explain to him what the law means for him and whether or not it has any impact on his holdings.

“I do not think that the law is unclear only to us,” Hailu said in frustration. “It is also not clear to officials who deviate from questions on the provision, explaining about development [instead].”The meeting in wereda 11 was one of such types of experiences. Officials in almost all of the 116  weredas across the 10 districts of the capital have had similar face-offs with angry and puzzled residents over the most contentious piece of legislation to meet strong resistance from several members of the public.Perhaps, like many residents, little does Hailu understand the contents of this law, but his concerns grew after he heard people talk about what will allegedly deprive him and his family of the right to own property. He inherited a 400sqm plot from his parents, in an area near Kotebe Teachers Training College. He longed to do the same to his four children.“I never intended to sell my property or anything else,” he told Fortune. “I do not understand why my holdings should be put under a lease to begin with.”Nonetheless, he heard from people that the revised law will eventually subject him to exorbitant lease charges, even when he passes his most treasured asset onto his children.Although it has a buffer provision (Article 5) of five years, safeguarding historical holdings from inclusion in the lease regime as long as the property is not transferred other than through inheritance, the bill explicitly says, “All holdings ought to be included in the lease regime within five years.”Indeed, this will be carried out after a study is conducted by the Ministry of Urban Development & Construction (MUDC) and policy recommendations are presented to the Council of Ministers, the revised law says. In the meantime, though, all requests of land transfers other than inheritance will be subjected to the lease regime, even before the Council issues the directives for regularisation.Many find it strangely ironic to see the administration of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in a rush to legislate such an intensely sensitive issue for at least 346,664 residents with historical landholding rights, without even meeting the minimum standards of lawmaking.Three months ago, Mekuria Haile, minister of MUDC, presented a bill to Parliament, urging MPs to pass a revised draft law to govern the holdings of urban land through lease. Comprising of five chapters and incorporating 37 provisions, the bill was made into a law with a single opposition vote from Girma Seifu, an opposition party MP.However, to the shock of many, including those in the system, the process was devoid of Parliamentary debate, without any hearings offered to the public.Mekuria insisted on an immediate vote on the bill, without letting the standing committee in Parliament take the case up for further public scrutiny.The bill had evolved from the work of a task force of 60 under the Ministry, which comprised of members from all of the regional states, including the two federally chartered cities of Dire Dawa and Addis Abeba. Comprised of experts from the Ministry, city administration, and Ministry of Justice (MoJ), members of the task force had surveyed the laws of Asian countries as China, Vietnam, South Korea, and Taiwan in an attempt to gain experience in how to manage land the lease regime before crafting the bill behind closed doors.If there is anything in common among all of the countries that members of the task force visited, they only give use rights to landholders, putting land possession in the state’s grip.The task force, mandated to investigate the land situation in the country, due to the self declared political determination of the administration to root out the political economy of rent seeking in the system, reported their findings on land prices being speculated by landholders and brokers who had transferred plots to third parties. They also reported the rampant illicit valuation of plots by landholders, and presented their findings to the Minister.

The task force, along with its legal experts, prepared a policy, which the lease law was based on. Nonetheless, the revised urban land lease proclamation did not see the legal drafting procedures such as being tabled for debate among experts and scrutiny by members of the public.

It was not even reviewed by drafters at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), a federal agency whose responsibilities include checking whether any law to be decreed is in conformity with existing laws and the supreme law of the land, the Constitution. Staffed with six drafters, it is expected to respond with feedback within 18 days of the submission of a bill by its authors.

Although the Ministry sent the bill to the Justice Ministry, drafters were not able to comment on the bill, owing to the piles of bills that needed review, according to drafters at the MoJ.

“We were surprised to see that the law passed without our review,” a legal drafter at the MoJ, who wished to remain anonymous, told Fortune.

Inevitably, this has invariably led to the ever-increasing gap between the lease law and other laws, according to legal experts. The revised proclamation is now seen to be violating succession laws.

For instance, the model directive that is being designed by the Ministry prohibits people from transferring their user rights over plots through wills, which legal experts criticise as against the right of individuals to give property to others, either through expressly written wills or pledges.

“Putting a six-month deadline on the grace period for construction projects from the day of lease is inappropriate, for there are unforeseen incidents,” a drafter said.

A bill that had slipped through the watchful eyes of drafters at the MoJ faced a similar fate in the legislative grilling period, this time, though, through the deliberate demands of Minister Mekuria.

MPs were handed out copies of the bill in the late afternoon on October 11, 2011, a few minutes before they were to attend a dinner hosted by President Girma W. Giorgis, who addressed the joint assembly of the two houses during his annual meeting.

Girma, an MP representing the opposition party Medrek, read the 22-page bill through the night, determined to lambast it the following day when the floor opened for debate. There was little he could do except register his lone vote, while the bill passed with an overwhelming majority in its favour, including one from the independent candidate in Parliament, Ashebir W. Giorgis (MD) who declined to comment.

The law which has dominated the city debate long after being passed by Parliament remains a shock to some and a source of confusion for many. Thus, residents across the city are echoing dismay on the law.

“I cannot make sense of what they said at the meeting,” an 80-year old resident of Kirkos District said.

The cynicism has reached such a height that a lot more jokes have surfaced in town than series deliberations. One includes two popular local soccer teams playing a match without letting the ball touch the ground. Their fans are furious and demand an explanation for the awful game from their respective coaches.

“We cannot let the ball touch the ground, for we cannot afford the lease price,” the coaches answer.

For a country that has a long history of political battles over the ownership of land, the revised law is seen as the height of the state’s incursion into the rights of individuals to own property and not lose it without due process. The revised law on the lease regime is popularly seen doing exactly that.

If there is any contention over whether authorities are confused, the law is not clear even for employees of the Ministry and the city administration. Officials from both institutions have begun, belatedly, to explain the law to their subordinates, in closed meetings.

Although too late to change public perception, both Mekuria and Kuma Demeksa, mayor of Addis Abeba, have admitted their wrongs in dodging public debates and consultations with interested parties.

However, the lease proclamation has been deliberately kept away from the public in an attempt to avoid speculative lease right transfers at higher prices, without the state taking its cut, legal experts speculate.

Officials at the Ministry reject such assertions.

“The taskforce had surveys to determine public opinion before they submitted their findings,” Desalegn Ambaw, state minister for the MUDC, argued. “Thus, we did not think that there was a need to repeat that.”

However, officials who have taken a public relations bruising and battering seem to have learned a lesson from the previous failings. Not only have they engaged the public over legislation that has already been passed, they have been proactive over the past week in opening public forums to discuss what they describe as “model regulation.”

It is a piece of draft directive hoped to redress many of the controversial provisions in the revised law, although the public remains sceptical.

But, residents like Hailu, who have never participated in debates in policymaking and drafting laws, are determined to fight for changes in the law, which they claim has affected their interest with its vague provisions. Although the modality of incorporating their plots into the lease system is yet to be determined by the Council of Ministers, after Mekuria’s Ministry submits the model regulation, they do not want to accept anything less than the status quo.

For most participants of these meetings, including Hailu, who retired from an accounting job at a government office, land is their largest asset and source of income. He is still in search of answers after attending several chaotic meetings, including one held on Wednesday, January 25, at the city municipality, which mostly left officials bowled over.

Such meetings will help gather feedback from both experts and the public which is to be considered in the model regulation, officials at the Ministry hope. They pledge to send the document to all regional states as well as Addis Abeba and Dire Dawa for consideration.

Girma of Medrek and Hailu look forward to amendments, while officials tussle over the legitimacy of the law.

In October 2011, immediately after the ratification of the law, the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP) issued a critical statement, arguing that it deprives individuals of the right to own property, thereby urging the government to change the proclamation.

“The law, which does not harm the public’s interest, will not be amended,” Desalegn said.

Nonetheless, a few hopefuls recall preceding practices where a fiercely resentful public demonstrated that the door for amendments is not closed.

The Addis Abeba Charter, which was passed in 2003 without following the legal drafting procedure, was amended within a year after it met intense opposition from the public. Likewise, the anticorruption proclamation which had categorically denied defendants the right to bail was amended after the public’s cynical perception of the law, leaving consent on bail to the discretion of judges.

The labour law is another case where public resentment compelled the administration to change gears. It used to deny employees severance payments when they resign from their jobs but was amended with new provisions granting the right to be paid with severance payments after at least five years of service, even if employees resign of their own free will.

“If Parliament has reached a consensus, they can amend the law overnight, since they have an unconstrained hold on this,” Assefa Fisaha (PhD), constitutional law instructor at Addis Abeba University, told Fortune.

Zefmesh, Ethiopia to Launch a Mega Mall Complex

Zefemesh plc, Ethiopia announced plans to launch a mega mall complex. The complex will be cover 9000 m2 and will be seven floors high, to house various services.

The building will be located in the Megenegna commercial area of Yeka district chosen for its strategic location according to Nega Asfaha, Project Management Consultant for the Zefemesh Grand Mall project.

The 4000m2 mall building will be open for business in six months he said.

The building will have parking space for 450 cars with 350 parked over ground and the remaining 100 finding parking in the basement.

The building is designed with multiple entrances, with a large lobby and three panoramic elevators, two of which can carry 14 people and the other 24. The building will also have eight escalators and stairways.

The ground floor of the building will house small and medium sized shops as well as a Kaldi’s Café. The mall will house 300 different shops from the ground floor up to the third floor said Nega.

Zefmesh has already received 1000 applications for the 300 available shop spaces according to Nega.

Shoa Supermarket is expected to open one of the largest supermarkets in Ethiopia on 3200 m2 in the basement of the mall building.

The fourth floor will be reserved for cinemas holding up to 1200 people, with VIP seating and showing the latest international movies.

The fifth floor will be reserved for traditional arts centers and the sixth floor will be home to a family entertainment center noted Nega.

The top storey of the building, the seventh floor, will house the food court offering a view of Addis Ababa and an indoor tropical garden.

The building will be equipped with special access for wheel chairs and sport spacious snack areas as well as providing handicapped parking spaces.

The Zefmesh Mall will also provide special areas for smokers to respect their rights without endangering the health of non smokers said Nega.

Meet Young Entrepreneur Eskat Asfaw: College Shuttle

Ethiopian American Eskat Asfaw is the founder and owner of College Shuttle, a company that provides shuttle services to students in seven colleges & Universities in the DC metro area. (Courtesy image)

By Martha Z. Tegegn

When Eskat Asfaw joined the Entrepreneurship Club in Frostburg State University’s business department as a student, he had no idea a great business venture would soon be born. When his professors pointed out that there was an unfulfilled need for transporation for college students, Asfaw had a moment of enlightenment and immediately set to work to address that gap.

“I have always wondered how students without cars moved around,” said Asfaw, who immediately brought his exciting idea to his colleagues and advisors: to provide transportation to students who reside a good two and half hours away from major public transportation stops. Asfaw then presented his idea alongside his two major investors — his parents who agreed to help him finance the purchase of his first van.

From there College Shuttle was born — “an innovative business addressing a need that is largely not met,” says his sister Alegnta Asfaw.

Today, after two years in operation College Shuttle has become a company with 7 colleges and university clients and serving close to 100 students in any given week. Asfaw runs three more vans and provides access to a dozen more.

To meet the growing demand, this young entrepreneur runs his business literally all day and night. “If I am not responding to a phone call I am checking the website (, or driving occasionally when the demand is high. I will take a break when my company grows to its potential.”

The self-professed music lover admits that before he bumped into this great venture he had always wanted to own a nightclub. In the past, he had supplemented his living through parties that he organized in the Metro Washington region and at Frostburg State University, where he earned his business degree.

Asfaw’s business is not only a pioneering idea but also a great job opportunity that pays well for students who are looking for weekend jobs to supplement their income. He has more than a dozen students working for him as web developers, marketers, and van drivers.

College Shuttle transports student to and from public transportation stops throughout the Baltimore and DC metro regions. “It was an instant success” said Eskat (short for Eskatnaf). “All I had to do was put some flyers up with my number and email address.” Although starting up any business includes some level of risk, his family says “he is always careful and makes sure ….he is responding to a need.”

Dr. Marty Mattare, one of his professors who was instrumental in the success of his company and still lends a hand when needed, says “Eskat has shown great persistence in his pursuit of College Shuttle. He worked very hard to make it a success and sought feedback and advice from a number of people. College Shuttle has also provided great opportunities for students to work in an entrepreneurial environment and contribute to a successful small business startup. I have no doubt that Eskat will go far with this enterprise!”

College Shuttle has received the Trident Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Asfaw is recognized in the Frostburg/Alleghany area for creating jobs and stimulating economic growth. According to his professor, he has inspired other students to become entrepreneurs and has himself mentored more than 15 students in Frostburg and continues to do so. His sister Alegnta says, “I believe this is the kind of leadership and innovative thinking that we want to showcase among young Ethiopians in America.”

The 26 year-old businessman left Ethiopia as a young boy in the early 90s has never been back. However, someday he wants to return with “some philanthropic project in Ethiopia—particularly in the education area.”

MT: How do you feel about the award and your professor’s comment?

EA: It is very humbling and nice to get everyone’s support.

MT: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

EA: Well I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we lived in Bole area; and then migrated to Kenya when I was about 7, then moved to America in 1996.

MT: What was it like growing up in Kenya?

EA: Kenya was nice, I went to elementary school there. I liked Kenya. I have more memories of Kenya than Ethiopia — I only remember our dog and house {in Ethiopia}.

MT: You went to college in Frostburg, Maryland. Tell me about Frostburg.

EA: Frostburg is in Western Maryland. That is where I went to school. I was a business major. I went to Montgomery college first and then transferred to Frostburg State University, and I graduated from there in 2009.

MT: I read in one of your college newspapers that your idea for College Shuttle was appluaded by the business department at Frostburg State University. Can you tell us more?

EA: I joined the Entrepreneurship Club as soon as I heard about it. I used to go to all the business conferences religiously, and when I heard about this club I had to go — who better to join than me [laughs]. The club advisor was a really nice man. He was telling us about different things that the school needs….since he was there for 27 years. One of the needs was transportation. I was wondering about transportation myself so I kind of took it to heart and kept thinking about it, writing down numbers and stuff in class. My advisors were very impressed with my idea.

MT: Transportation for whom?

EA: For the students in Frostburg. It is about 2 and 1/2 hours away…and there is no way to get there except by train or car.

MT: Where are the students from?

EA: Most of the students are from Baltimore and DC metro area.

MT: So, you were still in school when you got started.

EA: Yes, it started there and then. I didn’t know anyone. I used to go to class and then back to my apartment. I met with one guy and I asked him if he can help me to get to know people. That summer I put together some flyers with my personal information. I did the flyers a week before school started …….and the calls started coming. The majority of our customers are freshmen or sophomores and don’t own cars yet.

MT: How do you handle the logistics of running such a business?

EA: We now have an 877 toll free number as well as a web site. Most of our customers go online and register and pay online. Once they do that we send them a pickup time.

MT: Your shuttle service is limited to weekends. Why?

EA: The whole point is to get the students home for the weekend. They have different reasons for going home every weekend, leaving on Friday and returning on Sunday.

MT: Do you drop off the students at their homes?

EA: We drop off our customers at public areas close to their home such as metro stations, malls etc. It is a lot easier for their parents to pick them up when they are at a closer location. The majority of the time it is parents who make the arrangement for their kids. They would rather do that than driving two and half hours to come get their kids.

MT: How large is your customer base?

EA: We serve seven colleges now: Frostburg, West Virginia, Allegany College, Petomac State College, and three more colleges in Eastern Maryland. Our focus is just students. Our motto is students need their own transportation services. As students they have already a lot to deal with. We are just trying to fulfill the transportation part of it. Our time slots and services are flexible to students to meet their need. Students are very rash themselves. We work with their ever changing last minute decisions.

MT: What makes your business different than other shuttle services? Do you have any competition?

EA: Yes, there is a competition such as the bus line and train stations….but what we do is quite different. The way we treat our customers and the simple fact that our business is solely dedicated to students makes us preferable and it makes a world of difference to our success.

MT: How many employees do you have?

EA: I am the sole owner but I have many drivers. I also drive when necessary. I love driving. I have a lot of students that work for me, about a dozen. They work on graphic design, web designing, marketing; a lot of the work is done by the students themselves. So it is kind of a great side job for them. I set high standard for them and if they meet that standard they get paid more and they stay with me longer.

MT: How many vans do you have?

EA: We have three of our own but we do have access to many more on a need basis. Our vans are 15 passenger buses.

MT: Where do you say your entrepreneurial spirit comes from?

EA: Well, I always enjoyed business. Even when I was in high school in Silver Spring I had a lawn mowing business. My sisters used to work for me and we worked in a couple of areas in the neighborhood. I just enjoy business. When I got to college I started promoting parties. That is how I made most of my money. Then this came along and I just knew I wanted to make it a success and I truly believed in it.

MT: Do you have role model?

EA: Nick Friedman from College Hunks Hauling Junk. We have a lot of similarities and the way he transformed a simple idea to a nationwide success impresses me. I met him for a coffee once and he gave me few feedbacks and it helped shaped my business. I still communicate with him when I need to. He is my strong role model in business. On a personal level, I also look up to my father and older brother; they are great individuals that see the future clearly. And one thing I figured out as I matured is that my father is always right. Sometimes I wish I listened to him more. Another thing is my father supported all my decisions in life. He cares about my business as much as I do.

MT: Tell me about your family. How have they influenced you?

EA: Family means a lot to me. We are very close family. Everyone knows everything about everyone…my mom calls about ten times a day to checkup on me. My mom and dad were my main investors when I started the business. Without them I wouldn’t have been a business owner. They helped me buy the first van. To this day I turn to them for advice. In Ethiopia my grandparents were business owners. My mom was also into coffee business. In this country, my parents own a popular store in Chevy Chase. So from early on I understood that business played a huge role in American lifestyle. I would say, the culture in whch I grew up has a big influnce in me. Even if I grew up in America, I feel like how I was brought up makes it easier to respect my customers and easier to talk to them without feeling of entitlement. And I get a lot of positive feedback from customers saying, you are very down to earth and I think it is an Ethiopian thing.

MT: What’s the long-term plan for College Shuttle?

EA: I want to go national and hire a lot of college students. My goal, in about 6 years or so, to be in as many universities and colleges as possible. I am doing the research on the need. I see it happening already. A lot of rural universities and colleges have transportation gaps. Most of the colleges we service right now, we were asked to be there. I feel like we are doing a community service as well. Parents can have safe transportation for their kids to and from colleges. We service everyone and our customers are from all walks of life. I think it is also a great idea to explore what you can do as an individual and contribute to the work force. You will end up creating a job not only for yourself but for others too.

MT: Thank you and we wish you great success.

EA: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my story.

So What If Joe Mamo Made $788 Million?

Attempts to curb a Washington, D.C., Ethiopian Gas Station mogul raise issues of money, power — and race.

When he was a 13-year-old braving northern-Midwest winters, Eyob “Joe” Mamo couldn’t have imagined that he would someday control a mini-empire of gas stations on the East Coast.

In 1981 Mamo’s father, Yenberber Mamo, who owned the Mamo Kacha bus company in Addis Ababa, sent Joe to a North Dakota boarding school to protect him from the communist regime that ruled Ethiopia. Now the commercial success of Joe Mamo, 44 — founder, owner and CEO of privately held Capitol Petroleum Group, which controls 42 percent of Washington, D.C.’s gas stations — is being questioned.

Mamo buys gas from oil refiners and sells it to the operators of the stations that he owns. A few of those operators say that Mamo has hiked their rent, the gas-delivery price and gas prices — driving away potential consumers. District residents always complain that they pay more for gas than in the suburbs because of a mix of station location, taxes and other expenses. On Oct. 3, the street prices of a gallon of regular gas in the District and in adjacent Bethesda, Md., and Arlington, Va., neighborhoods were mostly comparable, with gas at $3.31 to 3.89 in Arlington and $3.05 to $4.29 in the District.

In response to the operators’ complaints, D.C. City Council member Mary M. Cheh has sponsored antitrust legislation against Mamo’s business “to break up what some members call a near monopoly of the local gasoline market.”

Cheh says there will be increased competition in the District’s retail gas market if fuel wholesalers, who would still be allowed to own retail stations, are prohibited from operating the stations or collecting the income associated with gasoline sales. But the Washington Post reported recently that the proposal has hit a solid wall.

The proposed law strikes at the heart of Mamo’s business and bothers his supporters. Consequently, in a city where there is a dearth of sizable black-owned businesses, the attempts of Cheh, who is white, to persuade at least seven of the 12-member D.C. Council to support her potential law failed. The Post said that was “because of growing skepticism from mostly African-American council members concerned that the bill unfairly targets a successful black entrepreneur.”

In an interview with The Root, Mamo said, “I broke through a racial barrier by becoming a fuel distributor for Texaco, Exxon and Shell, and there are fewer than 10 black distributors nationwide. The law that Cheh proposed also does not exist anywhere else in the United States, and we contend that it is unconstitutional.”

Diaspora Returnee Building Shopping, Hotel Plaza in Addis Ababa

By: Yonas Abiye

New gleaming skyscrapers with tinted windows line major roads all the way from airport to the city center of Addis Ababa. There are great many new skyscrapers in several parts of Addis Ababa, both completed and still under construction. In fact, much of Addis Ababa seems to have turned into a massive construction site.

Locals and investors alike agree that in the next few years, the Addis skyline will change beyond recognition.

However, people also feel that most of the buildings have familiar look and have similar architectural design, featuring the usual amenities and services.

Yet Addis Ababa is now on the verge of having a rare type of design completely different from the commonly seen four-sided or box-shaped buildings sprouting in Addis Ababa.

In what it’s said to be the first of its kind in Ethiopia, Rosetta plc, owned by a Diaspora returnee from Asia, launched this week the construction of a new multi-complex shopping mall that the builder says will cost from 250 to 300 million birr.

The newly commenced building, named Rosetta Metro Plaza, will be built in the heart of Bole area just opposite to Friendship Mall, and features a five level, international style mall, 4D movie multiplex, business conference facilities and luxury accommodations – all wrapped up inside the stunning architectural design that would normally belong in the heart of Dubai.

According to the owner of the building, Rosetta Metro center will provide its tenants with state-of-art facilities, professional management and promotional muscle to vault it into top shopping destination for discerning shoppers in Addis.

On the grand ceremony of the commencement of the metro Plaza at Hilton Addis, Tewodros Shiferaw, Managing Director of Rosetta P.L.C, said the 16 story building will be made with an international standard that would make immense impact on the country’s image. Its design and general service are made considering that Addis Ababa is one of the busiest diplomatic cities, he adds.

Tewodros indicated that the new building which is to be erected at the most expensive area in Addis Ababa will have 70 shops that are available for sales. According to Tewodros, so far over 100 people have been registered for the 70 retail locations that will be made available for sale.

The newly proposed building will allocate its three stories for parking lot that can accommodate over 100 vehicles at a time.

In what is also said is the first its kind for Africa, the 4D cinema that is incorporated on the architectural design of the building will also have an international standard.

Yet, the 4D cinema is only the highlight of the investor’s multi-purpose business scheme set to be put together inside a 16-storey building, which, according to Tewodros, will incorporate a high-tech shopping mall, and a star-designated hotel.

Rosetta Metro Plaza, will also have an open, five-floor shopping mall each having a 1000 square meter area, incorporating seven state-of-the-art cinemas and sporting a 150-room star designated hotel.

“The hotel particularly is designed with a special target to attract transit passengers from the Ethiopian airlines,” he said. Tewodros further sees that “the proximity of the building to Bole international Airport, which is only 2-3 minutes drive, will enable his company to easily host those passengers.”

Tewodros, 39, is a Diaspora returnee from China who came in 2008 following government’s call to the Diaspora to engage in local investment. Since the last three years Tewodros has been engaged in various investment ventures including aviation service, real estate development, and Mining extraction and trading.

Ethiopia Sale of State Assets Would Raise $7.6 Billion

Ethiopia’s government would raise 132 billion birr ($7.6 billion) if it sold the country’s five biggest state-owned companies to private investors, Access Capital SC said.

The sale of Ethiopian Airlines Enterprises, sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest carrier, Ethiopian Shipping Lines, Ethio Telecom, the Ethiopian Insurance Corp. and Commercial Bank of Ethiopia would generate funds needed to finance infrastructure projects in the country, the Addis Ababa-based research company said in its annual economic report. Proceeds from 81 other public enterprises earmarked for sale by the government would raise more than $1.9 billion, it said Jan. 9.

“Ethiopia needs cash now and it makes perfect sense to liquidate the net worth held in long-accumulated assets for something as grand as ensuring a transformative change in the country’s economic history,” Access said.

A five-year growth plan unveiled by the government in 2010 calls for 569 billion birr to be invested in projects including roads, dams, sugar factories and railways by mid-2015. Privatization is necessary because Ethiopia doesn’t have the savings to finance the “needed, justified and on the whole appropriate” public spending, Access said. The sale of assets would also boost foreign investment in sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-biggest economy, it said.

Forbes: Africa’s Most Successful Women – Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

By: By Mfonobong Nsehe

Every now and then, I profile outstanding African women who’re  making giant strides in business, politics, technology, entrepreneurshipand leadership on the continent and elsewhere around the world. This week, I profile the spectacular Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, an Ethiopian entrepreneur and the founder of SoleRebels, a thriving eco-sensitive footwear brand that pundits hail as Africa’s answer to brands such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas.

Entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu was born and raised in Zenebework, a small, impoverished rural community in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia. As a child, she discovered that people of her community were living in abject squalor because there were very few jobs available.

While the most of the locals were unemployed, Bethlehem discovered that several of them possessed remarkable artisan skills which remained largely unexploited. This observation drove her to brainstorm on ways through which she could transform the skills of her community members into a sustainable enterprise that could generate livelihoods for them, and create wealth over the long term.

By 2004, armed with startup capital sourced from her husband and members of her immediate family, Bethlehem mobilized artistically-gifted members of her community and founded SoleRebels- which has become one of Africa’s most recognizable footwear manufacturers.

Basically, SoleRebels produces footwear locally that often features a strong infusion of ancient Ethiopian culture with subtle undertones of modern, western design influences. Practically, all SoleRebels shoes are redesigns and reimaginations of the famous Selate and Barabasso shoe, a traditional recycled tire sole shoe which has been worn by Ethiopians for a very long time. The Selate and Barabasso shoe was famously worn by Ethiopian rebel fighters who vehemently opposed western forces from colonizing the country. As matter of fact, that’s where the name ‘soleRebels’ emerged from.

SoleRebels manufactures comfy sandals, slip-ons and lace-up shoes hand-crafted from recycled, weather-beaten tires and an assortment of locally-sourced natural fiber ingredients such as the ancient Koba plant (an indigenous plant which has been cultivated in Ethiopia for over several thousand years) and organic Abyssinian jute fiber which are used mainly in creating the mid-soles of SoleRebels shoes. By blending this ancient recycling tradition with contemporary, western-influenced, hip shoe designs, SoleRebels has built a successful footwear brand utilizing a production process that is zero carbon production and very eco-sensitive. All of SoleRebels shoes are hand-crafted by Bethlehem’s staff of over 100 people strictly using Ethiopian craft practices such as hand-spun organic cotton and artisan hand-loomed fabric.  And the company sources all of its raw materials locally.

Today, shoes under the SoleRebels brand are sold in over 30 countries around the world and through various e-commerce sites like Amazon and Endless. SoleRebels also sells its products through its own e-commerce site. Prices vary, but you can get a pair of SoleRebels for anywhere from  $20 to $100.

SoleRebels has become a hugely successful, sustainable, truly world-class enterprise. I asked Bethlehem sometime last year for revenues of her company. Like most African entrepreneurs I’ve encountered, she refused to divulge the numbers. But SoleRebels takes in at least $1 million in annual revenue. I know this because the company was among the top 5 finalists of the 2011 edition of the prestigious Legatum Africa Awards For Entrepreneurship. One of the criteria for the finalists was that their companies had proven annual revenues of $1 million – $15 million.

Bethlehem has earned significant international recognition for her work at SoleRebels and is now one of Africa’s most recognizable female entrepreneurs. Early last year, she was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. In June she won the award of ‘Most Outstanding Businesswoman’ at the annual African Business Awards organized by African Business Magazine, and in November, she was named the ‘Most Valuable Entrepreneur’ at the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).

A lady of grandiose ambitions, Bethlehem is relentlessly pursuing her dream of building an international footwear brand right from the heart of Ethiopia. And she’s making significant progress.  SoleRebels has opened up a retail outlet in Taiwan and has franchise proposals for Canada, Italy, Australia, Israel, Spain, Japan and the United States among other countries. In a recent interview with Tadias Magazine, Bethlehem estimated that revenues from Sole Rebels retail operations will hit the $10 million mark by 2016. Considering the exceptional success she’s achieved in less than 8 years, she’ll probably exceed her estimations.

How to get rich? .. It starts with your surroundings

Once you make that decision that you want to be rich, place yourself around things that are associated with wealth, learn to think like the rich, and feed your subconscious mind in order to achieve accordingly

Nokia to Invest in Ethiopia

Plans to set up manufacturing plant here in the long run

Nokia, one of the largest phone makers, is planning to invest in Ethiopia within the coming six to twelve months, Brad Brockhaug, head of sales for Nokia in Africa, said.

Brockhaug declined to reveal how much money Nokia might invest in Ethiopia.He said that the company was considering opening a manufacturing plant in Ethiopia in the long run.

Nokia’s short term investment focus is working with local offices, agencies and distributors. The company is also preparing to connect the Ethiopian market directly with Finland where the company’s headquarters is. “This is what we intend to do for now,” Brockhaug said.

Brockhaug was here this week to find out how to carry out the investment in collaboration with partners and distributors to facilitate bringing Nokia devices directly from Finland instead of from other countries around the world. He said that the purpose of his visit was also to speak with the Ethio Telecom about providing better service for the consumer.

Prior to the transfer of management to the Ethio Telecom, Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation’s mobile operation had selected Nokia to supply and deploy GSM network equipment, including the Nokia Connect GSM solution for optimized network coverage in a deal valued at 48 million dollars.

Source: NewsDire

Ethiopian Investment Agency Announces 133 Projects Licensed in the Last Quarter

The Ethiopian Investment Agency has licensed 133 investment projects, with a combined capital of 11.6 billion birr in the last quarter according to Getahun Negash Agency Corporate Communication Director.  113 of the new projects are international he said.

The investment agency also announced that it has provided 152 investment projects with beginning production, starting construction and follow through help in the last quarter.  The investment projects have a combined capital of 5.2 billion birr.

The investment projects were licensed prior to this fiscal year but were unable to commence services as scheduled explained Getahun 88 projects had their licenses revoked and were required to reimburse the various incentives they had been offered to the relevant government bodies said Gethaun.
The number of investment licenses and the amount invested is less than the same period last fiscal year according to Getahun. He attributes this decrease to the increased screening of investors in terms of the launch date of their projects.

Ethiopia attracted an estimated 124.6 billion birr in investment in the last fiscal year.

Source: Ethiopian Herald

Ethiopian Diaspora investment reaches 19.4 billion birr

By: Addis Ababa Online

"Ethiopian Diaspora"

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said Ethiopians in the Diaspora and foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin have invested 19.4 billion birr at home.

Diaspora Information and Research Director at MoFA, Tesfaye Wolde, told WIC  over 2,235 investment projects have been registered over the past 10 years.

The director indicated that the projects focused on hotels, real estates, agriculture and construction.

A total of 1,141 projects are operational and the remaining 1,925 are under construction, Tesfaye said.

He also added that the Diaspora’s engagement in knowledge transfer is also on the rise.

“There are many Diasporas teaching in various universities of the country,” Tesfaye told WIC.

Ethiopians in the Diaspora have also expressed their backing for the successful completion of the Renaissance Dam by purchasing a 100,000 USD worth bonds from the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo).

Tesfaye urged Ethiopians in the Diaspora to strongly continue their participation in the country’s political, economic and social affaires.

Ethiopian Investment Conferences to be Held in California

By: Meron Tekleberhan

Ethiopian Investment conferences are to be held in North California and Los Angeles on the 4th and 11 of February respectively. The conferences are planned to discuss opportunities for investment available in Ethiopia for members of the Ethiopian Diaspora.

The conferences to be held under the title “Collaborative Investing by the Ethiopian Diaspora in the U.S.” are a continuation of the inaugural efforts began in Washington D.C which attracted notable media coverage and a significant number of attendees according to organizers.

A key note speech at the conferences will be delivered by Zemedeneh Negatu an internationally successful Ethiopian-American business executive.

The conferences will also offer opportunity for interactive talks with participants discussing investment opportunities and the mechanisms in place to allow members of the Ethiopian Diaspora to undertake collaborative investment in sectors including Agro industry, infrastructure development manufacturing, mining, real estate and the service industry.

Young parking lot czar is the face of Ethiopian success in the D.C. area

By Derek Kravitz (Washington Post)
Ask any of the thousands of Ethiopian immigrants working as parking attendants or cabbies around Washington whom they aspire to be like, and you’ll probably hear about Henok Tesfaye.

Tesfaye, 37, started as a parking valet in downtown Washington two decades ago, saving a few hundred dollars each month to pay for business classes and start his company. Today, his U Street Parking (named after his first parking lot, at 12th and U streets NW) ranks among the biggest parking companies in the region.

His success is part of a wave of accomplishment by Ethiopians, who began settling in Washington after fleeing violence in their native country in the 1970s. Tesfaye’s 12-year ascent in Washington’s notoriously cutthroat parking industry is especially notable because it was so unlikely.

Parking is not an easy business. It’s marked by high volume, long hours and low margins. For Tesfaye, the years of 16-hour days and endless financial pressures culminated in a phone call in December. A year after partnering with a Los Angeles-based parking giant, Tesfaye won a lucrative contract to oversee 37,000 public parking spaces at Dulles International and Reagan National airports, including four garages, three surface lots and a valet service.

“When I got the call that we had got the contract, I cried,” said Tesfaye, from his office in a rowhouse on Rhode Island Avenue NE. “We were a long shot. We’ve always been a long shot.”

U Street’s 25 percent share of the nearly $1.3 million in annual management and incentive fees from the airport contracts, which started this summer, could net the company millions over the next five years, along with increased visibility and other clients.

Tesfaye had become the Ethiopian version of the American Dream.

“He’s the leading young entrepreneur in our community. . . . I know him from when he was a parking attendant, and it’s great to see these types of businesses grow,” said Dereje Desta, the publisher of Zethiopia, an Ethiopian newspaper in the District.

The Washington area’s Ethiopian community is the largest in the nation. According to Census Bureau data, about 30,000 Ethiopian immigrants — about one-fifth of those in the United States — live in the region. But the local figure has a history of being underreported and probably tops 100,000, according to the Ethiopian American Constituency Foundation and the Ethiopian Community Development Council.

Ethiopians came in droves after a bloody military coup in 1974, and they worked in low-paying first jobs as cabbies and cooks and parking attendants. But they have begun to stake their claims. Tesfaye’s company now employs 100 people, including many immigrants from Ethiopia and Mauritania.

Open for business

Ethiopian businesses have sprung up across the Washington area. A new crop has appeared in the Skyline section of Falls Church, and restaurants and coffee shops are opening across Shaw, especially along Ninth Street NW, known informally as “Little Ethiopia.” (Five years ago, an attempt to get a formal designation from the city failed.)

“We’ve grown, and now we’ve really begun to make a name for ourselves, in the business sense,” said Tamrat Medhin, a financial adviser at Access Capital, a Falls Church real estate investment firm that has poured millions into luxury properties in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

Other Ethiopian success stories include Abebe “Abe” Abraham, the founder of CMI Management in Alexandria, which has landed millions of dollars’ worth of government maintenance and other contracts since it was started in 1989; restaurateur Zed Wondemu, who started Zed’s restaurant in Georgetown and has since expanded into Virginia; and the Ethiopian-born doctors at Blue Nile Medical Center in Alexandria.

It’s a younger generation of Ethiopians, however, that is making the biggest strides, community members say. Hailu Fulass Hailu, a professor of linguistics at the University of the District of Columbia who left Ethiopia in 1977 and arrived in the District two years later, said many hardworking Ethiopians younger than 40 “are quite adventurous, and many have turned that into being quite successful.”

Many of Hailu’s generation came to the United States on education visas and scholarships, he said. “I find it remarkable because the success we have now is not about education,” he said. “It’s about risk.”

The Ethiopian Community Development Council, based in Arlington County, has stimulated business growth by granting micro-loans to entrepreneurs such as Tesfaye. Recent clients include the owners of a gas station and a salon in Northern Virginia, who have expanded and hired dozens of other immigrants.

“With more and more people coming, there’s a greater diversity with the types of businesses we’re getting and the types of Africans, especially with the young,” said Tsehaye Teferra, the council’s president.

A chance to expand

Tesfaye’s start is reminiscent of the modest beginnings of some of his parking-lot predecessors. One of the local industry giants, Colonial Parking, was started by two young George Washington University graduates on a tiny lot at 25th and E streets NW in the early 1950s. All-day parking cost 30 cents.

In 1998, Tesfaye, then working as a parking valet in downtown Washington, was exhausted and struggling to pay his bills. He was 24 and, as he puts it, “clueless about the world. It was difficult.”

After years of saving, Tesfaye took a gamble on a rough-and-tumble stretch of U Street NW, renting an $800-a-month, 20-car lot at 12th and U streets.

Problem was, people thought it was too dangerous to park there. “I would get out on the street and wave people in, but no one would come,” Tesfaye said.

But as the revitalized U Street corridor slowly grew, so, too, did Tesfaye’s business. The parking lot expanded to include a used-car lot. Valet service was added at a few nearby restaurants and bars. Tesfaye’s three brothers immigrated to the United States to join the rapidly growing family business. Tesfaye took out a $35,000 loan from the Ethiopian Community Development Council, and his company took over management of the 1,200-car parking lot on the site of the old Washington Convention Center.

By the mid-2000s, Tesfaye was a success story. He has held fundraisers for the mayor and bought a home in Alexandria. He even bought his mother a restaurant along U Street and named it Etete, her Amharic nickname.

L&R Group, which oversees parking at the New York area’s three international airports and at Oakland International Airport in California, reached out to Tesfaye in late 2008. The company wanted to bolster its presence in the Washington area to compete for the Dulles and National contracts.

Scott Hutchison, a senior vice president at L&R Group, said Tesfaye’s back story was a draw, and he compared U Street Parking to profitable parking firms started by Ethiopian immigrants in San Francisco, where L&R subsidiary Five Star Parking has contracts.

“I heard Henok’s story and I knew he was the right one,” Hutchison said. “It was impressive. And I know I could be competing against him within the next 10 years.”

The partnership formed, Hutchison and Tesfaye moved to develop a strong business plan for the airports contract, which is chosen through a sealed-bid process by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. The trick to beating the incumbents, Hutchison and Tesfaye said, was to keep the management fees low.

The Five Star-U Street management-fee quote for National was about $160,000 a year less than the previous contractor’s. For Dulles, the quote was about $585,000 a year less. Among four finalists, the firm received the worst score for its operations, management, customer service and personnel plans. But the low management fees essentially won the contracts, Hutchison and Tesfaye said.

Airports officials said that the scores were close and that they expect customers not to notice much different in parking operations.

The companies that U Street replaced — AeroLink Parking in Falls Church and District of Columbia Parking Associates — had to lay off hundreds of workers this year, but the vast majority were hired by Tesfaye’s group, airport officials said.

Tesfaye said he is not resting. The big fish, he said, is managing a parking garage for a high-rise office building.

“That’s where the real money is, but it’s very tough,” Tesfaye said, as his brother Yared, 31, nodded in agreement. “We want to be a big player.”

Just in case, Tesfaye said, he has a fallback plan: He keeps a valet parking attendant’s red jacket in the back seat of his car.

Ethio­pian Yellow Pages: Life, by the book

Mama Tutu Belay’s Ethiopian yellow pages have helped make her one of the most prominent members of Washington’s Ethio­pian community.


With her bulky Ethiopian Yellow Pages jostling in the passenger seat, “Mama Tutu” Belay lurches her black Mercedes to a stop. She squints suspiciously at a new bakery operating in a basement on Georgia Avenue that claims to use clay plates to make an authentic version of injera, the spongy bread that is a dietary staple of her homeland.“It’s suspect!” Mama Tutu decrees while looking over the bakery, which is painted pumpkin orange and flies American and Ethiopian flags. “I need to make sure it’s legit before it goes anywhere near my book.”
Her book is the Ethiopian Yellow Pages, which includes hundreds of the Ethiopian American businesses that have taken over once-blighted storefronts across the Washington region.Seventeen years ago, Mama Tutu, 48, started keeping a list in her kitchen of businesses run by fellow immigrants. Her regional directory now runs more than 1,000 pages and has spun off a lucrative empire that includes a monthly newspaper, a series of mini-Yellow Pages booklets, a Web siteand an annual Ethiopian Expo, held in the District. Her base of operations is a spacious, renovated rowhouse in Shaw, where the Yellow Pages and its offshoots are administered by a staff of nine.The weighty Yellow Pages and their affiliated Web site are visual proof of the economic power of the area’s Ethiopian community. According to the Ethio­pian Community Development Council, there are up to 100,000 Ethiopians living in the Washington area — the largest concentration in the United States.Mama Tutu runs the business with her husband, Yehunie Belay, who is one of Ethiopia’s best-known traditional singers. Yehunie is known in the Ethio­pian American community by his first name, “like Prince or Madonna,” he says, chuckling.The pair are a Washington power couple — just not the kind you see on “Meet the Press.”“Mama Tutu and her husband, Yehunie, are Washington household names . . . and isn’t it wonderful that they also happen to be Ethiopian,” says Peter Hagos Gebre, author of “Making it in America: Conversations With Successful Ethiopian American Entrepreneurs.“Mama Tutu was a very wise woman. She knew that to make her Yellow Pages successful, she would have to earn the community’s trust. It’s not just a book; it’s like a passport to success and the Ethio­pian American dream.”Many Ethiopian professionals and business owners say it’s essential to buy space in her book, whose advertisers run the gamut from Ethiopian parking-garage moguls and wedding photographers to dentists and the Ethiopian farmer in Virginia who offers immigrants an “Ethiopian day in America’s rural areas.”Mama Tutu is “really out in the community, and that has made the difference. The Yellow Pages are a lifeline for Ethiopians in Washington,” says Senait Abebaw, 43, the owner of Fasika restaurant in Petworth, which advertises in Mama Tutu’s book.The Yellow Pages charges from $125 for a small listing to $2,200 for a full-page color ad and, by Mama Tutu’s estimation, lists about 80 percent of the Ethiopian businesses around town.

National Law Journal Names Gejaa Gobena To Minority 40 Under 40 List

Ethiopian American attorney Gejaa Gobena was recently chosen by the National Law Journal as one of 40 distinguished minority lawyers, all under the age of 40, who have been honored for their accomplishments within the legal profession.

“The lawyers profiled were all born in the 1970s, a decade when law schools and law firms were just beginning to welcome minorities in significant numbers,” the publication said. “The thriving careers of these lawyers — at law firms and in government, academia and public interest — attest to the greater opportunities available to them, as well as to their talents.” NLJ added: “But progress has been mixed. As Paulette Brown notes in her commentary, the economic crisis of 2008 took a great toll on diversity. And ethnically diverse lawyers still comprise only about 6 percent of equity partners.”

About Gejaa Gobena:
By Mike Scarcella

When it comes to health care fraud enforcement, the U.S. Justice Department’s Gejaa Gobena has seen both sides. A former associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, where he had a white-collar defense practice focusing on False Claims Act matters, the 36-year-old Gobena is now a leading trial attorney working on criminal health care enforcement actions in Detroit. Gobena, a lawyer in the Criminal Division’s fraud section since September 2009, works on the department’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force in Detroit, a targeted operation that has netted charges against 84 people for alleged schemes that bilked the government out of $85 million.

DOJ put together investigation and prosecution teams to focus on cities where statistics showed a spike in fraud. “I’m motivated by the fact health care fraud is a major problem out there,” Gobena said. The victims, he said, are not just the federal government. “There’s a human element to the story,” said Gobena, addressing elderly patients who get caught up in scams. In a recent case that Gobena prosecuted, a Detroit-area clinic owner was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison for his role in a $9.1 million scheme.

Gobena is a 1998 graduate of Columbia Law School. His expertise in the criminal arena is complemented by his work in DOJ’s Civil Division for nearly seven years. Gobena on Oct. 19 was named one of several recipients of the Attorney General’s Award for Fraud Prevention for his work on the team that recovered more than $680 million from pharmaceutical manufacturers that included Abbott Laboratories. That investigation revealed the companies had falsely inflated drug prices.

Gobena describes himself as a mentor to younger lawyers, helping them prepare for grand juries and discussing trial strategy. “In the near term, I can’t see myself doing anything other than public service,” he said.

3 Responses to Business

  1. So what do all these mean to the poor in Ethiopia? There are still lots of poverty stories.

    • Asmerom Kibrom says:

      Dear Mr. Kedir,

      Ethiopia is very reach in many ways and can easily get out of that situation in mid term but the most unfortunate is that our economy is an agricultural layer, we need to move faster to develop more economic mix trend, and to do that one available best in time way is to move to industrialize our economy or develop industries that can provide large number of jobs for the citizens that eventually help make a dramatic change on GDP and drastically reduces poverty. Simply to do that our government needs to make proper legislation that promote for local and foreign investment instead of remaining on current funny policies that keeps us out of investment market like marry my daughter but you can’t take your kids if you divorce her.
      Asmerom Kibrom Tsehaye

  2. Hayley says:

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