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Improving Ethiopia’s Investment Profile

By Tom Scriven | Thu Apr 18 2019
We at RENEW join Ethiopia in celebrating the heightened attention it has received recently within the international investor and business community. The country’s liberalizing reforms are gaining momentum under the fast-moving leadership of Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, presenting increased reason and opportunity for the rest of the world to take notice. Many have seen great economic potential in the country’s fast GDP growth, abundant natural resources, growing middle class, political and strategic importance in Sub-Saharan Africa and relative political stability. Yet, the challenges of doing business in Ethiopia have caused many U.S. and other foreign investors to be reluctant to invest in Ethiopia. We applaud the administration’s efforts to change this reality.
RENEW is heavily invested in Ethiopia’s success. Our team, based primarily in Addis Ababa, facilitates angel investments into companies in Ethiopia and works with these investee companies to help them become more competitive in both international and domestic markets. We have been operating in Ethiopia since 2012 and, together with the Impact Angel Network (IAN), have become one of the most active private equity firms in the country. Since 2012, RENEW and the IAN have made twelve investments in ten companies supporting nearly 2,200 jobs, generating millions of dollars in export earnings, and supporting more than 5,700 small-holder farmers along multiple agricultural value chains. RENEW has implemented an “accelerating business growth” (ABG) program in Ethiopia in partnership with the Canadian government. We are advised by an ABG advisory group which includes prominent businessmen and government officials from Ethiopia. We have learned a lot about investing in Ethiopia from our local advisors and are very thankful for their support.
Recently, we were invited by members of the Ethiopian government to report on the challenges that we are encountering when investing in the country and to suggest areas for improvement. We have had a number of fruitful discussions following up on this invitation as part of the government’s efforts to reform its investment regulatory and administrative framework to align it with recent changes in economic policy priorities. The focus of these discussions has been on the areas and recommendations outlined below:
Image Source: France 24: Abiy Ahmed: Ethiopia's first Oromo PM spreads hope of reform
  • Restrictions on Investment Structures Commonly Used by Investors in Early Stage Companies:
    Investors frequently cite a lack of options for structuring their investments, particularly in early-stage companies. We recommend loosening restrictions on lending (including interest rates), considering long-term options to open the debt markets, allowing other entity types (such as a PLC) to issue preferred shares, and providing greater flexibility for small equipment leases.
  • Enforceability of Investment Agreements:
    Oftentimes, investors are nervous that their investment agreements (such as a share purchase agreement or shareholders’ agreement) will not be enforceable. We suggest clearly stating in the law that all investment agreements will be separately enforceable, in addition to companies’ memorandums and articles of association, and clearly outlining any witness or other authentication requirements for such agreements.
  • Frequent Regulatory Modifications:
    Investors express some concern that regulations will be modified unexpectedly or without explanation. To alleviate this concern, we suggest providing additional notice periods for regulatory changes so that investors can plan accordingly and seeking public commentary before final laws are published.
  • Delays and Uncertainty in the Process of Registering Capital:
    Various agencies play a role in registering foreign investments, including the EIC, NBE, MOTI and DARA. Officials at each agency sometimes provide conflicting guidance and the number of agencies can cause delays and uncertainty as to whether an investment will be reliably approved. We recommend enhancing the training of government officials responsible for registering foreign investments, streamlining the number of agencies involved, and restricting notaries’ duties to ensuring the authenticity of documents (rather than performing substantive reviews).
  • Repatriating Capital:
    Investors often fear that they will encounter significant administrative delays when trying to convert currency and repatriate capital. To ease these concerns, we recommend that the NBE publishes its track record of paying remittances and, if possible, provide a platform through which investors can track their place in the queue to repatriate dividends or capital.
  • Sector Restrictions on Foreign Investors:
    We recommend opening up additional sectors to foreign investment. Rather than having a list of defined sectors in which foreign investors can invest, we recommend a narrow list of prohibited sectors, leaving all other sectors open to foreign investment. Certain sectors could first be opened through investment by a joint venture between foreign and domestic investors, to allow for a gradual opening of the sector.
  • Treatment of Local Companies with Foreign Minority Shareholders as “International Companies”:
    Foreign investors often take a minority equity interest in a local company, in an effort to help that company compete with international players. However, we understand some companies have lost certain privileges they had as a local business due to these minority investments. We recommend abolishing any policy that favors 100% locally-owned companies over local companies which merely have a foreign minority shareholder, so as not to harm these companies and undercut the growth that the foreign investment is intending to facilitate.
  • Registration of Title:
    Providing for title registration at the municipal level can oftentimes cause delays in the operation of a company’s business, if the local office is closed or unavailable for any reason. We recommend providing for an alternative to municipal registration in an effort to alleviate delays.


Renew Capital is an Africa-focused impact investment firm that backs innovative companies with high-growth potential. Renew Capital manages investments made on behalf of the Renew Capital Angels, a global network of angel investors, foundations and family offices who seek financial returns and sustainable social impact. For the latest on investing in Africa, subscribe and follow us at our social links below.

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