The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

4 January 2014

Ethiopia: Mimi Juggles the Globe

(Page 6 of 6)

A very troubling issue is the low level of formal intra-Africa trade, what are your thoughts on this and how should Africa boost intra-Africa trade amongst member countries?

As long as African countries are only selling raw commodities as opposed to processed goods, there will be low levels of trade. There is no reason for Kenya to export loose leaf tea to the UK, and then import English Breakfast tea. We know the UK does not grow tea but they are one of the largest exporters of tea. Africa should aim to become exporters of English Breakfast too! Another impediment is infrastructure. It is cheaper to import coffee from Indonesia to the Port of Durban in South Africa than from Port of Mombasa. That makes no sense. Ford in South Africa is sending their vehicles by air cargo to Kenya. How ridiculous is that? But that is the reality because of poor infrastructure. Increased investment in infrastructure is key. Soft infrastructure and better policies are also important. 54 countries with 54 passports is a little outdated in this globally integrated world we live in.

The Obama Administration is committed to expanding Africa-US trade and investment and to facilitating trade within Africa itself. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is an important tool for achieving these objectives. The Administration also seeks to strengthen AGOA, which has been around for over a dozen years now, to make it a more effective instrument for Africa and the United States. Toward this end, President Obama announced Trade Africa in Tanzania in July 2013.

Trade Africa is a new partnership between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa that seeks to increase internal and regional trade within Africa, and expand trade and economic ties between Africa, the United States, and other global markets. This initiative's initial focus is the East African Community.

Some African countries are consistently ranked near the bottom on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, the World Bank's governance indicators and various other indices on competitiveness and governance. How do we encourage transparency, accountability and good governance with African leaders?

First of all, it is important to note that many African governments have made significant progress introducing regulatory and legal reforms, and generally improving the business and investment climate. More needs to be done, but as governments see the benefits of their reforms I think the progress will beget more progress.

Lastly, what advice would you give to African women corporate executives and entrepreneurs?

The most important thing is to find out what you are passionate about. I know there are all kinds of people giving advice about this topic at the moment - from telling people to "lean in" to warning that "women can't have it all". Every woman is unique, and what is the appropriate balance for one is not necessarily right for another.

What is truly important is mentoring young women who look up to us. It's our duty to mentor as many young women as we are able. One of my other favorite quotes is from Madeline Albright who said; "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women". She is right. We have to do our part to make sure the next generation learns from our experience and hopefully benefits from it.

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