Economic diplomacy will strengthen regional ties

Recently, I witnessed a historic event: the switching on of mobile telecommunications network and services in Addis Ababa, which marked the official launch of Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia, a subsidiary of Safaricom Plc.

Standing side-by-side with the rest of the Global Partnership for Ethiopia (GPE) members - Vodafone, Vodacom, the British International Investment, and Sumitomo Corporation - we heralded an exciting new chapter for Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia.

A new opportunity to open our firms, and really countries, to partnerships outside our nation and continent.

Kenya and Ethiopia's relationship dates as far back as 1954 when Ethiopia established its Honorary Consulate office in the country, but I'm sure the relationship started many years before as neighbours.

This relationship has prospered over the past six decades with the two countries continuously enjoying open borders that have enabled trade, cultural exchanges, economic and societal development.

And now with Safaricom's entry into Ethiopia, there is a more direct opportunity to catalyse other facets of cross-border trade ties including the ease in movements of goods via Moyale border.

Indeed, this development will further fast-track the implementation of the Moyale One Stop Border Post operational manual signed in Addis Ababa last year which aims to ease movement of people and goods across the border.

Safaricom's presence in Ethiopia began in 2013 when the two countries started exploring opportunities in the telecoms sector. This included knowledge exchange between Safaricom and EthioTelecom, which set the stage to support and reinforce relations between the two companies.

Almost a decade later, these relations have begun bearing fruits and promise to be of much more impact in the future, not just for our business but also for our two nations.

So how do Ethiopia and Kenya benefit from all these?

Investments and infrastructure

Following the laying of the necessary infrastructure, on August 29, 2022, Safaricom Ethiopia began a pilot-phased commercial launch of its network and services in the town of Dire Dawa. This has been followed by trials across 10 other cities in various parts of the country.

Safaricom is committed to providing commercial services in 25 cities, meeting its licence network coverage obligations as required by April next year. This translates to setting up over 8,000 towers, a monumental game-changer in the Ethiopian and regional infrastructural and ICT landscape.

Reliable connectivity is indispensable for competitiveness, and the development of world-class technological and innovative capacity is increasingly vital to the country's effective integration into the global economy. The improvement of this infrastructure works not just for Ethiopia but for the region.

Employment opportunities

Developing a nation-wide network means creating millions of direct jobs through towers construction, distributors and agents roll-out, and hiring of staff, among others. In Kenya, we sustain over one million jobs directly and indirectly and as such, our presence in Ethiopia will also make a tremendous contribution towards creating employment opportunities.

The Safaricom Ethiopia team has so far recruited over 500 Ethiopian staff including 50 graduate trainees to create the seminal talent cohort of digital innovators. It is also working with regional universities to recruit an additional 100 graduates this year. About 1,500 Ethiopian businesses are working with Safaricom Ethiopia, with intentions to expand these growing partnerships and supply chains throughout the country.

The telecommunications sector is one of Kenya's biggest employers, providing opportunities for millions of young people, both directly and indirectly. It enhances the performance of every sector, delivering improved services more efficiently, and enhancing citizen satisfaction.

Financial inclusion through M-Pesa

Kenyans know best of the immense power of the mobile phone and specifically on financial technology and the digital economy. We all have personal stories of how M-Pesa has helped us either grow our businesses or made it convenient for us to access much needed services or products.

With about 65 per cent of Ethiopia's population being unbanked, there is a relatively low financial inclusion rate. M-Pesa will be instrumental in allowing easy access to mobile money to the millions in Ethiopia as an alternative to banking.

Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia looks forward to positively impacting the people of Ethiopia with a sustainable and quality mobile network that will be a vital launch pad for nationwide digital telecommunications services to over 118 million Ethiopians.

The writer is the CEO, Safaricom Plc