The Chamber of Commerce of Djibouti (CCD), which is celebrating its 110th anniversary has hosted the first ever international trade fair and regional integration forum at Palais du Peuple from December 3 to 10. The fair attracted participants from all over the world. The side meetings discussed ways to realize the regional integration in the Horn of Africa. Capital’s Muluken Yewondwossen, who attended the entire event, interviewed Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh, President of CCD, about the preparation, the trade fair and its outcome. Excerpts;
Capital: What does it like to prepare for a new event like this?
Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh: We were getting ready for over a year to host this event. It was very tough since it is the first time we have organized this kind of exhibition. We were really wondering how things would move along but thanks to God it was something that we would not expect in terms of organization. It was perfect. I am a businessman that wants everything perfect and the organization to be carefully planned. We use architects, engineers, and specialists on electricity, water and sewerage because this venue was not dedicated for this kind of event, it was a conference room and we obtained a 5,800 square meter plot inside the compound for free from the government to undertake these events.
The hardest days were the last three months because we expected to receive all the equipment that we ordered, and expected to receive the confirmation of the exhibitors, journalists, other participants from all over the world. It was a successful event from all sides including the visitors, experts and other aspects.
Capital: What external consultants did you bring in?
Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh: We engaged with a UK consultancy firm, who identified experts for the forum. We also used our close relationship to invite prominent experts like Carlos Lopes, Yussur A. F. Abrar and people from other countries.
Capital: How much did it cost you and who covered it?
Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh: Eighty five percent of the total cost is covered by the Djibouti private sector and the balance was filled by the French Development Agency (AFD). It cost almost USD 1.5 million. We bought equipment like, air conditioning, carpets, cables, infrastructure equipment and even tents for the exhibition from China. There were also advertisement boards outside the exhibition compound that cover the advertising costs of companies in Djibouti who paid USD 15,000 each.
Capital: How many members does the Chamber have?
Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh: We have 4,800 members but we have well organized businesses because we have the value added laws. It means if you want to make a business you must take a license and you must pay 7 percent of your income to the chamber. By obligation you are member of the chamber because you paid seven percent.
Capital: How many exhibitors attended the event and how many visits were there?
Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh: As of the morning of Thursday December 7, 7,800 visitors attend the exhibition and it is expected to reach more than 20,000 by the weekend. We have a waiting list of 47 companies as exhibitors that are now looking to pay from five to ten thousand dollars for just one day. On the initial price tag a booth is USD 1,500 for a day. We didn’t get a chance to rest in November but we are proud not only of organizing this but in terms of capacity and attracting people.
At the forum we were expecting 150 for exhibitors. We had 120 booths reserved for foreigners, and 500 people came. I have been informed that a company from Ethiopia also came days after the event started and it was looking at least a half day session to show its product at the exhibition. Japanese have 46 but that was not expected. My expectation was up to 4 but the actual number is very high. I really want to thank God and friends for their help. Ahmed Shide, Minister of Transport of Ethiopia, told us, as a brother that if you make it every year it would be very successful and create a good reputation for Djibouti.
Capital: What kind of issues were discussed during the forum?
Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh: There are many examples of Djibouti and Ethiopian integration. The two countries are connected by water, railway, electricity, port activities, roads and other infrastructures and this was done by the leaders of the two countries. The private sector has to follow this integration. We will sign a MoU in Addis with the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association.
The MoU will have seven points and will facilitate the integration of the private sector in Ethiopia and Djibouti. The other issue that we agree with Ethiopian chamber is to make a joint capacity building for our young entrepreneurs. As a Djibouti Chamber we have a gift of 11 million euro from the European Union to construct a training facility.
The MoU also includes organizing the bi-national business community forum, dedicating two individuals each from both chambers to undertake a feasibility study of how we can merge in this region. In terms of finance I told my counterparts in Ethiopia that we received 7 million euro from AFD. The remaining part is the articulation of action.
Capital: How do you evaluate the outcome of the fair and forum?
Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh: In my opinion it was very positive. Everybody, who participated in the forum and exhibition, was satisfied and most of them told us they will come back. If they come back here they will also go to Ethiopia because it is a one hour flight.
We also connected Ethiopian and Djiboutian tour operators, who don’t know each other, for the first time. It is a big thing. My concern is I must approach the Ethiopian and Djibouti private sector in collaboration with leaders of the Ethiopian chamber to find better sustainability for the business community.
Besides the national chamber leaders from Ethiopia Somalia and Afar chambers have attended the event in Djibouti. We need the business community to do the same thing in the future. We also need the support of media to make it real. Prominent media organizations from different countries attended the forum and exhibition as well as bloggers.
Capital: Do you think you have got more trust for the coming events?
Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh: I said every time that we must be humble and very careful. We want to make something amazing with the help of Allah and our president and the government. Some companies from Turkey and China that were not here last time will come.
I would like to stress that we cannot make an exhibition without the presence of Ethiopia.
Capital: What caused the low number participants of Ethiopian companies?
Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh: I want to remember that this event is for the first time I informed them five months before the event. Since it is for the first time they were afraid it would not be successful. I can imagine I would do the same but I am sure that they will be there in the coming year.
Capital: What have you learned from hosting this event? And how are you planning to host the next one?
Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh: There were not enough booths so next year we will have 100 more for a total of 350. We will also improve the parking. We will also split the event into two. The exhibition will be every year at this time and the forum will take place every February, three months after the exhibition.
The place is also very small but next year’s event will be held there. But by 2020 we must have a very nice hall with hotel like everywhere in the world.
I think the Islamic financial firms, who are the major financer for such kind of investments in other world, shall provide finance for us.
I know such kind of projects take more than 2 and half years so we can say that in 2020 we will have our own venue.
Finally, I would like thank the traditional music group of the National Theater of Ethiopia, and Ahmed Shide, who was part of one of the session at the forum and Ethiopian Ambassador Shamebo Fitamo for their support. I would like to thank the business community who attended from Ethiopia.