U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Ethiopia this week trumpeting a message of entrepreneurial liberation.
Pompeo Visits Ethiopia
On Wednesday, Pompeo spoke at the African Union, addressing government and business leaders from across the continent. He also visited blueSpace, the country’s first co-working space for entrepreneurs and gig workers and home to Small Business Trends’ new Ethiopian office.
While he stressed what it will take in Africa, and Ethiopia specifically, for more American companies to invest there, he said the true economic liberation comes from within – the county’s own entrepreneurs.
“You are the forces that will insure that those with power who promise liberation understand what that truly means. Hold on to that,” Pompeo urged in remarks on Wednesday. “True economic liberation delivers the greatest economic growth in human history in the United States of America. It can do the same for you.”
Keys to Economic Liberation
In his comments, Pompeo outlined the key ingredients to true economic liberation in both Africa and Ethiopia, specifically:
- Strong rule of law
- Respect for property rights
- Regulation that encourages investment
- Women’s full participation
- Governments that respect their own people
Currently, the U.S. government and the Trump administration backs Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Pompeo is the fourth American or White House official to visit the country in 3 years. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Special Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump each made visits in the past.
Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 after a promising start to his tenure as Prime Minister. He’s promised economic and political reforms in the country.
Pompeo said, “There’s nothing more noble than allowing our people the dignity of work. In the United States, you should know, that we believe in you. And we’ll be with you every step of the way. With the right policies and leadership, we believe that true economic liberation will happen here in Africa.”
Investing in Africa and Ethiopia
Pompeo brought a message of investing in Africa and Ethiopia. But it had a double meaning.
First, is about creating a situation that encourages big companies outside Ethiopia’s borders to invest in the country and its people. He cited an Ethiopian proverb which says, “A partner in business will not put an obstacle to it.”
He urged them to learn the lessons of the past and other failed states. Pompeo says it’s unlikely foreign aid will solve poverty in Ethiopia.
“Socialist schemes haven’t economically liberated this continent’s poorest people,” he said. “If you will all focus on the basics. If you will get transparency right, good governance right, American businesses will come.”
It’s expected that the first stock exchange in the history of Ethiopia will open in 2020.
But it also means Ethiopians investing in themselves and allowing entrepreneurs to have a stake in the country’s economic growth.
“These entrepreneurial moments will define Africa’s future. Every human being wants similar things. We want the freedom to do whatever we want with our own lives,” Pompeo said.
Small Business Trends in Ethiopia
At Small Business Trends, we’ve leaned on some very talented writers in Africa in the past. However, it was difficult to connect with everyone at once and connections weren’t always consistent and secure.
On Wednesday, Pompeo toured blueSpace to see how Ethiopian entrepreneurs use this co-working space. And we were there with an inside look at Pompeo’s visit. That’s because Small Business Trends recently leased an office inside.
The creation of blueSpace made it possible for Small Business Trends to establish an office in Ethiopia. The growth in IT infrastructure is allowing the three-person team in Ethiopia to work virtually side-by-side with our team members in the U.S. very easily. Our ability to stay connected on a daily basis has improved.
And blueSpace helped us work around some of Ethiopia’s circuitous regulations that often prevent business from starting there and outsiders from investing in the country.
The growth of blueSpace – and it giving entpreneurs in Ethiopia a modern place to work – has allowed us to invest in Ethiopia already. And it’s presented new opportunities for Ethiopian entrepreneurs like the three on our team.
blueSpace was created by Eleni Gabre-Madhin. She’s credited with modernizing Ethiopia’s commodity exchange, connecting the nation’s farmers to markets using technology and infrastructure improvements.
Gabre-Madhin also created blueMoon, an agri-business incubator, and then, blueSpace. These ventures made major investments in Ethiopia’s economic future on the micro level while the government works on policies that encourage bigger business investment.
Photos: Small Business Trends via blueSpace