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Ethiopia’s new telecom operator, Safaricom Ethiopia, global investment firm Sumitomo Corporation, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have joined forces to assist Ethiopia in its digitization journey. The trio has solidified this intention by officially signing a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Ministry of Innovation & Technology (MiNT).

The Memorandum, signed today, July 19, 2023, aims to realize the Ethiopian government’s goals outlined in its National Digital Transformation Strategy, Digital Ethiopia 2025.

Through collaboration, these four entities aim to accelerate the development of innovative solutions by effectively utilizing digital technologies.

This strategic partnership will involve the establishment of working groups focusing on the five pillars of Ethiopia’s digital strategy: Infrastructure, Enabling Systems, Digital Interactions, Business Ecosystem, and lastly, Regulatory Framework, Job creation, and Capacity Building.

Enhancing digital financial services, digital ID systems, cybersecurity, e-government, e-commerce, digital transformation in sectors such as education, agriculture, healthcare, and tourism, and upgrading the regulatory environment are some of the outcomes expected from the collaboration.

“Digital Ethiopia 2025 is a call to all stakeholders to participate in realizing Digital Ethiopia and ensuring Ethiopia’s digital economy is inclusive and all citizens benefit from the development,” said Belete Molla (PhD), Minister of MiNT.

“As a response to this call, a number of stakeholders and development partners are working with us,” the Minister added.

Safaricom Ethiopia has paid a total of one billion dollars to enter Ethiopia’s telecom market and commits to investing 300 million dollars annually for the next few years. Stanley Njoroge, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Safaricom Ethiopia, who was present at today’s signing, stated that Safaricom’s contributions to the realization of Digital Ethiopia 2025 include the construction of a digital network, fiber, and a data center to provide high-speed data services. He also mentioned the MPESA service as a contribution to the government’s financial inclusion program.

“Through this collaboration with the government and other stakeholders, we believe we can promote various digital services that contribute to transforming Ethiopian lives for a digital future,” said Stanley.

Abiyot Bayou (PhD), a senior advisor at MiNT pointed out to Shega that some of the stakeholders involved in the initiative are engaged in business activities aligned with the government’s interests, and the cooperation will work on deploying initiatives that are beneficial for all parties.

“We will design specific projects with the help of these stakeholders. These could be digital financial services for farmers built on MPESA or other interventions that could potentially be built on the products and services of these partners,” he added.

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According to Tadao Saida, General Manager for Africa at Sumitomo Corporation, Ethiopia has been positioned as a priority country for Sumitomo.

Sumitomo is a shareholder in the consortium, the Global Partnership for Ethiopia, which is locally incorporated as Safaricom Ethiopia. Furthermore, Sumitomo Corporation is a leading global trading and business investment company with a presence in over 100 locations in overseas countries.

Meanwhile, JICA is one of the world’s largest Official Development Assistance (ODA) providers. JICA has been involved in various activities related to Ethiopia’s innovative ecosystem. The agency, through its Next Innovation with Japan (NINJA) Program, has been hosting pitch events and sponsoring local startups to attend international tech exhibitions such as GITEX.

“JICA has been cooperating with Ethiopia for over 50 years. Based on this MoC, JICA will promote further collaboration with the private sector and digital human resource development to promote industrial development and [Digital transformation] in various sectors,” said Toshiyuki Nakamura, Special Assistant to the President of JICA.

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Kaleab Girma, an Addis Ababa-based reporter and researcher, with over six years of experience in the field. He currently serves as Shega's Editor-in-Chief and specializes in reporting on small businesses, innovation, technology, and startups in Ethiopia.