The Daily Nation, By MICHAEL KURIA
- We have the good fortune of living next door to a friendly nation of more than a hundred million souls that is liberalising sections of its economy that had been closed to foreigners for all eternity.
- These are sectors in which we have extensive experience and success: Telecommunications, financial services, agriculture, hospitality.
- But you can’t convince businesses to expand into an environment of mischaracterised and exaggerated country risk.
It is now de rigeur to see breathless proclamations of just how close to collapse Kenya’s northern neighbour is. These proclamations come mostly from the media but can also be traced to assorted online commentators — academics, think-tankers, policy fellows, varied experts and the odd tweep — most of whom are given to the easy catastrophising of events they, evidently, have a poor grasp of.
After every incident in that country, we are informed that it is, definitely, the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. “Ethiopia is the next Yugoslavia”, so goes the wisdom. And yet, year in, year out, Ethiopia does not collapse. It not only remains resilient in the face of events that would destroy any other African nation but, in fact, appears to gain strength from this disorder.
There are obvious reasons for this disconnect between the forecasts and reality. Most of these experts neither speak the language nor understand the culture or mentality of their subject. They have most likely never interacted with an average Ethiopian outside of the Bole road circuit and don’t know the country’s unique history.
They have never attended an Orthodox Tewahedo church service or sat among the hooligans in the Katanga section of the Addis Ababa stadium during a heated Kidus Giorgis FC versus Buna FC football match. They do not have a finger on either the soul or the pulse of that nation and most of what they pass off as insights are mere anecdotes.
It may sound trite but one doesn’t learn about people solely from books; one must break bread with people to know them. We exist in a state of mutual ignorance. Ethiopians know even less about Kenya. In 2017, many Ethiopians expected Kenya to collapse in a civil war.
Of course, Ethiopia has internal challenges but none of them are new. It has existed for thousands of years and, so, seen it all. Twice. To an officious bystander, the jailing of political opponents at Maekelawi prison is an unprecedented infringement on human rights. However, it is not, particularly within the Ethiopian context.
For instance, it was customary for Ethiopian emperors to imprison potential challengers and obvious successors (including their own sons and brothers) for life. The three ancient prisons on the Amba Geshon, Debre Damos and Wehni mountains are part of this millennia-old tradition.
This misapprehension and failure to contextualise events in a neighbouring country has real consequences for Kenya. It can lead to serious miscalculations by public officers charged with managing our foreign relations, creating official lethargy.
It is also bad for business. We have the good fortune of living next door to a friendly nation of more than a hundred million souls that is liberalising sections of its economy that had been closed to foreigners for all eternity. These are sectors in which we have extensive experience and success: Telecommunications, financial services, agriculture, hospitality. But you can’t convince businesses to expand into an environment of mischaracterised and exaggerated country risk.
Kenya is a member of the Horn of Africa community of nations and should take the lead in opening up the region for business. We could start with simple things — like a joint chamber of commerce. Or trade fairs showcasing products in each other’s capitals. Or high-level discussions to significantly reduce the minimum investment in Ethiopia for Kenyans.
The media can consider local correspondents in either country and avoid regurgitating misleading, unnuanced reports from foreign press. Relationships between peoples cannot be built without physical interaction; make it easier to attend each other’s universities.
As a person connected to both countries through the sacred bonds of consanguinity, perfectly at home in Kiambu and in the highlands of Gondar, I want the countries to prosper.
Mr Kuria is an anti-financial crime expert. firstname.lastname@example.org
Source The Daily Nation