MCI’s Regional Partnership to Promote Trade and Investment in Sub-Saharan Africa held its regional meeting May 7-9, in Mekelle, Ethiopia, where delegations from the three participating Millennium Cities were able to hold extended, frank discussions with their colleagues and with private sector investors, who did not hesitate to describe precisely what it is that local and foreign investors need and look for, in order for their businesses to grow and prosper.
Graciously hosted by the Mayor of the City of Mekelle, the Honorable Nigusse Gebre, with expert on-the-ground facilitation by MCI’s Mekelle Investment Promotion Specialist Moges Mesfin, the other delegations hailed from Kumasi, Ghana, and Tabora, Tanzania, and included the MCI Investment Promotion Specialists and local government representatives from each city, who in turn described the progress made in strengthening their investment targeting and promotional capacities and exchanged valuable experiences gained in the course of implementing the project’s many activities.
Numerous current or promising investment opportunities were also presented by each city’s team, ranging from the relatively large-scale development of the mining sector near to Mekelle to the opportunity for local pharmaceutical production in and around Kumasi.
Of special interest are the prospects in agribusiness that link back to source quality products from MCI’s sister Millennium Villages Project (MVP), including in the production of honey and dairy products (in Tabora and Mekelle) and edible oils (in Tabora and Kumasi). These farm-to-market proposals are being developed into detailed business plans by the business development and investment teams of MVP and MCI, with the aim of attracting domestic and foreign investors and partners.
Each city, all of which boast important cultural offerings locally and in their environs, is also developing its tourism sector and is seeking public and private sector investment in civil infrastructure so as to better accommodate the relentless population growth and hoped-for private sector investment in the years to come.
Representatives from the Government of Finland, the sponsor of the Regional Partnership project, and from global pro bono partner KPMG, contributed a great deal to the wide-ranging discussions and open atmosphere characterizing the three-day meeting, which included visits to several participants’ impressive factories in Mekelle’s newly expanded industrial zone. A visit in particular to the dazzlingly clean LemLem Food Complex, which produces flour and is now expanding dramatically into pasta and biscuit production, showed what can be accomplished in a short time period in this small city, estimated at 282,000, given visionary leadership, government loans, local incentives making it worthwhile to establish the business in Mekelle’s industrial zone and approximately $25 million of total investment.
An especially captivating session, led by Georgetown University Professor John Kline, focused on a new matrix Dr. Kline has developed to measure the relative sustainability of particular proposed investments, thereby aligning MCI’s investment promotion efforts more closely with helping each city achieve the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. This “sustainability matrix,” as Prof. Kline has dubbed his tool, weights such factors as a given company’s commitments regarding environmental protection and labor practices, as well as the estimated anticipated jobs created by the investment, the amounts of water and energy likely to be consumed, any promised health and social benefits and the estimated environmental health impact of a given project.
Professor Kline is currently in Durban, South Africa, where he will be utilizing his matrix to evaluate the sustainability prospects for two large proposed foreign direct investment projects, to see whether any of his criteria might need to be added or tweaked, when the tool is actually applied to real-world propositions. Commissioned by MCI and the Regional Partnership, Dr. Kline’s paper has already been peer reviewed and once again received thoughtful and positive feedback from the Kumasi, Mekelle and Tabora delegations, which declared it a useful and disciplined way to distinguish between would-be investors with regard to how they might protect and advance local social, cultural and environmental interests.
After the Regional Partnership meeting, MCI Director Susan Blaustein and MCI Social Sector Specialist Aberash Abay visited some of MCI’s local partners, including at the Mekelle University Teaching Hospital, where MCI just sent a team of urological surgeons from the Chicago-based KNOCK Foundation who carried out dozens of complex surgeries, trained surgical residents and other medical practitioners and donated an entire container of state-of-the-art surgical equipment. Also at the University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Blaustein and Ms. Abay met with Dr. Yibrah Berhe, who has helped to spearhead and is now working to bring to scale the reusable sanitary pad-making project in the schools that was developed by MCI partner Girls2Women and Columbia Nursing School Professor Mary Moran and facilitated by MCI.
Dr. Blaustein and Ms. Abay also met with Dr. Girmay Gebresellasie, head of the Mekelle City Health Office, to help finalize an agreement whereby MCI will support the completion and publication of a valuable household health survey carried out by the city. They also visited several public schools, as well as the Department of Architecture at Mekelle University, to explore a possible urban design collaboration for the coming academic year, as requested by Mayor Nigusse Gebre, to help design one or more model mixed-use, low-income neighborhood(s), using the abundance of beautiful local stone found in and around the city.
Exactly a year ago, MCI led stakeholder consultations in Mekelle, when the City, after being briefed on MCI’s research findings and after much lively discussion, chose water, sanitation and education to be its top development priorities and finalized a MDG-based City Development Strategy and budget document reflecting these. Although large-scale resources have not yet been identified or mobilized for the Strategy’s implementation, between the substantial new private-sector investments and the many gratifying social sector initiatives underway, it is clear from MCI’s weeklong mission that Mekelle has already made tremendous progress in advancing its agenda, by putting its youth and others to work on downtown beautification projects; planning in detail for a large hydro-dam to feed into the city’s water supply, as well as for significant school, library, science lab and latrine construction; and by forging important international and domestic partnerships to further the city’s physical, social and cultural development.