Raphael Morav was born in France in 1958. After completing in 1981 his military service in the Israel Defense Force (IDF), he obtained his B.A. degree with honors in International Relations and Economics from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Raphael Morav has gone on to have an illustrious career in diplomacy from the onset of 1986, representing Israel with superb diplomatic capacities across various countries and continents. As from November 23, 2017, he started his post as the new Ambassador of the State of Israel to Ethiopia. Capital sat down with the Ambassador for an in depth look into Israeli investments in Ethiopia, cooperation in development, and relations between Ethiopia and Israel. Excerpts;
Capital: How would you sum up your stay here?
Amb. Raphael Morav: I have spent a little over 3 years here in Ethiopia. I would personally say that it has been a fascinating period, that is, to be part of a community and a country that I had never been in before. Meeting the Ethiopian people, to see the beauty of the country, that stretches from its landscapes and also witnessing the potential that this country has as well as seeing a change from the authoritarian government to a democratic one, that is centered in social, economic and political reform is something that I find to be very interesting and fascinating in the time that I have been here.
Capital: What would you say is your greatest achievement during your stay here?
Amb. Raphael Morav: I view achievements as a collective because we are all working strongly together. Furthermore, in my line of work, there are achievements’ that you might get or sow but the fruits develop much later after you have gone. Some of the achievements we have had, not only personal to me but also as a collective include; Highest level visits such as the first ever state visit by an Israeli President in Ethiopia and also the first visit of PM Abiy Ahmed after taking office, since he had visited when he was the Minister of Science and Technology.
We have also registered significant achievements in the Development Cooperation especially with the flagship project of the ‘Avocado Culture’ here in Ethiopia. This program has proven to be of great success because today the avocado fruit is not only the most profitable fruit but also it has started to be exported by tens of thousands of small-scale farmers to outside markets such as the European market. This has brought remarkable changes to the farmers livelihoods and they have made this transformation from subsistence to commercial agriculture. We hope to continue this culture with a ‘Wheat-irrigated culture.’ Wheat is important to this country because, half of the foreign exchange income of the country goes to the import of wheat. Hopefully, in order to bridge the gap of food insecurity, we are engaged with several investors that are interested to invest in this crucial sector, so as to grow wheat for local consumption.
Capital: What are some of the investment portfolios being done in the country?
Amb. Raphael Morav: There are indeed various agricultural investments in agricultural farms which are really exemplary. A good example is of JoyTech, when there is a head of state or government, PM Abiy Ahmed takes them to this farm in Bishoftu to show the most advanced agriculture that exists in Ethiopia. We are really proud of this since its purely a private investment.
We also have investments in the marble sector, whereby marble is extracted and elaborated and exported as a high value product, as well as in the textile for export.
We are also soon going to announce a huge investment project in Geothermal, which will be officially announced in weeks to come, therefore we have much more to look forward to.
Capital: What is your view on the security in the country in regards to the Israeli Investment?
Amb. Raphael Morav: Throughout the period I have been here, there was a tense period as well as a State of Emergency. Although not pleasant, so to speak, I am pleased to say that none of our investors had any incident concerning the security situation. Neither was any farm burnt nor was there any damage done and everything remained intact. When our investors come in to the country not only they view the aspect of making money but also the aspect of Corporate Social Responsibility. A very good example is of a farm that I visited recently that produces seedling of Avocados, grow gypsophila flowers, and at the same time provide electricity and water to tens of houses outside the farm and the surrounding. They are selling neither the water nor electricity but they are giving back to the community. I believe this mentality goes a long way to protect the investors during riots or insecurity in the country as the communities see these investments as their own. Therefore, they are keen to protect the investments at all time since they view it is also as a source of employment and development.
Capital: How has COVID-19 affected the investment flows from Israel to Ethiopia?
Amb. Raphael Morav: It has definitely slowed down the flows although not severely. Luckily, Ethiopia remained open most of the time apart from the initial quarantine obligation period. The problem is more so in Israel where we presently have a third lockdown, which means that when an Israeli comes back from his/her travel they have to quarantine for 10-14 days. This affects a businessperson who visits Ethiopia for a time slot of 3-4 days and has to quarantine for two weeks which results in long time loss. On a positive note, however, Ethiopian Airlines continues to fly once a day to Israel therefore there is still a volume of visits from both countries. In general, it has slowed down though not considerably; we can say that it has postponed several operations.
Capital: What is the status of the Jewish Community project, in Ethiopia?
Amb. Raphael Morav: A project that we are really keen on is what we call the ‘Footpath of the Beta Israeli communities.’ Ideally, in Israel, we have about one hundred and fifty thousand Israelis whose origin is from Ethiopia. This beta community who left the country lots of years back would love to visit and tour the country to see their roots. The idea is to use this inflow of tourists by creating superb tourist sites that include developing splendid trails for tourists to enjoy their historic tour as well as visiting old cemeteries, synagogues and old villages where they lived, that will take them back in time. We have worked in this respect with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as well as the local authorities in Amhara to develop this. We are also looking to establish a museum in Gondar of the Beta Israel heritage in Ethiopia, to share this culture as well as have research centers as we promote also the tourism around it. We believe this is not only important to the Israeli tourists but also to other tourists from other countries as well.
Capital: The Israeli government, in its bid to re-unite families in its initiatives is repatriating the Jewish community again. Would you kindly elaborate more on this?
Amb. Raphael Morav: The Israeli government has continued its commitment to unify the families that have been divided during the ‘Solomon Operation,’ which happened thirty years ago. During the operation, which was done swiftly during the Derg regime, they managed to evacuate about fourteen thousand people and many families were cut in the process.
Therefore, for this re-unification process the government has committed a yearly quota of 1-2 thousand peoples, who come with an absorption package. The package gives provision of housing, Hebrew lessons for the children, professional training for the parents so that the families can be properly integrated into the society. We are hopeful that this initiative will be complete with families happily reunited 2 years from now.
Capital: How are you helping communities in increasing their produce, for example avocado and are there other projects in this regard?
Amb. Raphael Morav: Basically, at our core, we believe in capacity building. It’s not only about sophisticated machines or seedlings but it is building the capacity by helping strengthen the know how and promoting the technologies therein so as to move from subsistence farming to a commercial one.
In this regard, we have a strong believe in irrigation, which is crucial for the development of intensive agricultural since we cannot rely only on one rainy season, even though Ethiopia has a good rainy season throughout July to September. Therefore, we come in to assist with the knowledge of advance methods of irrigation that can be drip irrigation, micro sprinklers or normal sprinklers, and more. This brings with it a good shift in better ways to farm. We say that the adoption of advanced methods of irrigation is not just the introduction of new technologies but also a change in the state of mind. We also introduced intercropping methods to help the farmers to grow more produce throughout the year.
We also promote the adoption of hybrid seeds, which can produce five to ten times more while better resistant to pests, drought and extreme weather conditions. These seeds are not genetically modified but have gone through a series of trial and error to withstand pests, diseases and other conditions thus are more sustainable and beneficial.
To this end, Mashav and other Israeli NGOs such as Fair Planet are working round the clock to promote better produce through demonstration farms and capacity building programs.
Capital: What is the acceptability level of the farmers of the new technology that you are presenting them with?
Amb. Raphael Morav: It is a process. Of course, the younger generation is more open than the older ones and I believe seeing is believing. Therefore, every time we present these technologies, we use demonstration farms. By seeing, they visualize this as a game changer and if they do need help, they can be aided by the Israeli experts. Therefore, they gain a safety net of 2-3 years until they are able to replicate the same where they thought they were incapable.
A success story is of one farmer I visited in Dire Dawa area who grows tomatoes. As a result of the significant increase of his production, he was able to buy a tractor where he also leased it out to other farmers on pay thus, he increased his stream of income even more.
Similarly, since everyone wants to improve his or her livelihood, I believe there exists an openness.
Capital: Your embassy recently graduated some youth courtesy of the Israeli Embassy’s Leadership program. Can you kindly, expound on that?
Amb. Raphael Morav: With respect to capacity building, we strongly believe in the future leadership of the country. We started with two schools in Addis, and we identified students aged 15-16 and for one year they followed a leadership program where they discussed leadership, how to promote values and visions with an implementation project using all the tools they received.
We acknowledge that leadership begins from one’s self. Though they are not Prime Ministers at this time it is good to create the discipline of leadership since it is required in all levels ranging from a family set up to even work places. We plan to expand this program to more schools and others locations outside the capital.
It is our great hope to create a future generation of strong valued and visionary leaders who will lead the country to exponential heights.
Capital: Is there anything you would like to add?
Amb. Raphael Morav: As we approach Timket, I would like to wish everyone ‘Melkam Timket’ and I wish this country prosperity and good health. I am also looking forward to a peaceful election come June, which will propagate this country to better sustainability, good governance and a stronger unity.