Despite the very stringent precautions taken by businesses and malls in the capital city of Jakarta in the aftermath of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, the fourth-most-populated and largest Muslim community in the Southeast Asian nation of Indonesia appears to be recovering and reviving.
It might be early and an unfinished story to talk about the total shutdown of business as a result of the sudden outbreak of the most infectious disease of the 21st century.
Although several nations have eased restrictions that were in place to tame the spread of the virus, other countries have started to resume life as it was prior to the pandemic. Indonesia seems to trudge along, with greater attention given to face masks and vaccine certificates, which are required to get services inside business entities.
Last week, a group of at least 70 Ethiopian business personalities travelled for over eleven hours across the Indian Ocean via Thailand to attend the largest Indonesian Trade Expo. The 37th edition resumed after a three-year COVID-19 interrupted period. The delegation traveled upon the invitation of the Indonesian Ambassador to Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the African Union, Al Busyra Basnur.
The ambassador, before the business delegates’ departure to Jakarta, spoke about his experiences and observations throughout the country. He believes Ethiopia is indeed a land of opportunity for investors who are aspiring to invest in Ethiopia.
“While plenty of Indonesian pharmaceutical and food manufacturing industries are searching for potential areas of investment in Africa, they are still uncertain and unaccustomed to investing in Ethiopia because of the lack of information and ways of business arrangements,” Basnur said.
He assured the delegates that they would find a business model and a partnership with prominent businesses in Indonesia.
Ethiopia is the second destination of Indonesian investors in Africa, next to Nigeria. The expo was held from October 19 to October 23, 2022, at the biggest Indonesia Convention Exhibition (ICE) in Jakarta.
In the week-long expo, Ethiopian delegates participated in multiple trade forums and signed MoUs with their counterparts to work in partnership, build industries in Ethiopia, form a joint venture, import manufacturing goods from Indonesia directly or as an agent, and provide scholarship grants and fellowship exchange between Ethiopian and Indonesian universities.
A major exporter of crude petroleum and natural gas, Indonesia is also known for being one of the world’s main suppliers of rubber, coffee, cocoa, palm oil, sugar, tea, tobacco, and spices. For the whole of 2021, Indonesia’s exports reached a record high of USD 231.54 billion, while imports totaled USD 196.2 billion
Businesses from both countries wish to circumvent bureaucratic hurdles and get a better platform to engage in overseas trade and business investment.
The world is eying Africa as a potential investment destination, and the continent is starting to make practical the free trade area agreement made by the bloc, which would increase foreign investment, according to an official from the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, speaking with The Reporter on condition of anonymity.
“Of course, we need to invest in Ethiopia. We see Addis Ababa as the epicenter of Africa, but my frustration is that the closure of the Ethiopian Embassy in Jakarta is not very timely as our businesses are keen to invest in the country and the continent too,” he said.
The official says it would have been easy to contact them at any time and discuss potential areas in the Ethiopian investment sector if the embassy was still there.
A year ago, the Ethiopian government decided to close multiple embassies and consulates, including the Ethiopian embassy in Jakarta, due to financial constraints. Ethiopian officials, however, say the closure of the embassy is temporary.
Fekadu Beyene was appointed as a non-resident Ambassador to Indonesia, stationed in Addis Ababa, with the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs calling the move a “laptop ambassador.”
Against all odds, businesses from both countries are optimistic that the closure of the embassy will not affect them.
An Ethiopian business woman who is willing to import motorbikes from Indonesia said, “It is really good to see that these two people have a very interesting resemblance, but there are a lot of opportunities that I haven’t noticed before that can be taken to our country.”
Ethiopian businesses visited multiple manufacturing hubs, giant universities, and consulted trade and business moguls based in Jakarta. The remaining decision to exploit this potential will be left to those Ethiopian business personalities to decide what to copy and capitalize on.
For instance, Indonesia earns more than USD 15 billion from tourism. Taking this lucrative investment data and practical experience and secrets behind this promising industry and investing in Ethiopia’s tourism sector is left for those 70 Ethiopian businesses that were present for the expo.
Ethiopia has a lot to take from Indonesia. Its capital, Jakarta, is the most populated city. Its congested street sides are more than malls, accommodating throngs of people. Each spot is cleaved nicely with its particular flavors, resulting in a delectably unique taste of the city that will leave someone in the scene wanting more.
Arif Berkah, a street food vendor, told The Reporter about the incredible impacts and unpleasant memories brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the struggle he dealt with to provide for his five-member family upon the shutting down of public spaces.
“When you are sitting here, you feel at home. You don’t even get this fresh feeling if you are sitting in a restaurant under a giant building,” Berkah said.
He believes that the local street cuisine is becoming a destination for foreigners, let alone the locals struggling with low income.
Despite the health risks of street food, street food vendors provide residents with employment opportunities and provide consumers with a fast and inexpensive source of food, according to an article published by one of the United Nations agency web portals. Migration from rural areas to urban centers also creates an increased daily need among many working people to eat outside of their homes.
Although it has been vastly underestimated and neglected because it is considered part of the informal sector, the contribution of street food vendors to the economies of developing countries is significant.
With their hidden beauty and prominence, street foods play an important role in capturing the attention of a growing community and low-income societies, particularly in a country like Ethiopia, which has a significant rural-urban migration.
Recently, Ethiopia’s streets are seeing food vendors’ presence increase steadily. Thus far, the providers are getting limited resources, and the perception both from the government and the public is not appreciative or encouraging. But officials in Jakarta view street food vendors as a means of meeting the food demands of a growing population.
Ethiopia needs to install systematic mechanisms that allow more street food vendors to flourish, sustain, and produce more. The country also needs a government food self-sufficiency policy to accommodate daily demands for bread by many low-income earners and destitute segments of the community.
Economically speaking, street food is more traditional and cooked with locally produced resources than the food provided at giant restaurants with lavish resources and materials imported from abroad.
Apart from their relatively affordable prices, many urban dwellers choose to eat street food because of the nature of their jobs, which take them out of their homes in the wee hours of the morning till late at night. Experts, despite the importance of street food vendors, also recommend strict regulations to avoid concerns about the contamination of street food.
In Jakarta, considered to be cost-effective and sustainable for the growing population, motorbikes are the most widely used public transport system. Even though the sheer number of motorbikes is overwhelming, it is rare to see traffic accidents happening amidst the swarm of rushing vehicles.
In contrast, this model of motorcycle public transport in Ethiopia, especially in the capital Addis Ababa, is either criminalized or prohibited except for deliveries. It is rather high time that the Ethiopian government and businesses take lessons from Indonesia, as visitors suggest.