East Africa - A Dynamic and Growing Market



On 17th August the high-level discussion East Africa – A Dynamic and Growing Market initiated the final year of SUSIE. The aim of the jointly organized event by SUSIE, Business Finland and World Trade Center Turku, was to encourage business life in Southwest Finland to see the potential of East Africa.

The host of the day Esa Rantanen, Commercial Counsellor of Business Finland in Nairobi, led the discussion and invited the three ambassadors of Finland in East Africa to start the session. Ambassador Theresa Zitting from Dar es Salaam emphasised that the development of Africa is critical in terms of the globe, as by 2050 one third of the world’s population will live in Africa. She continued that Finland has a strong development cooperation background in Tanzania, which will benefit the country in the future when Finland shifts from cooperation to economic and commercial collaboration. This is in line with the policy of the current president Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania, who has opened economy and broken down obstacles so that foreign companies can invest in the country without extreme bureaucracy. Ambassador Zitting also highlighted that the geographic position of Tanzania provides massive opportunities to companies. Huge ports are gates not only to Tanzania but to all over East Africa. Although Rwanda, which is also the area of responsibility of ambassador Zitting, has no sea connection, the economy of the country has developed very strongly during the last decade. In particular, Rwanda has invested in sustainable development and profiled itself as a climate sustainability and circular economy leader in Africa.

Ambassador Pirkka Tapiola stated that Kenyan economy is the largest in East Africa and due to Business Finland’s office in Nairobi Finnish companies receive excellent support to start their businesses in the region. Kenya has an ambitious green technology agenda, and the country has nearly reached the 2030 goal to produce 100% of energy from renewable sources. For the development of society ambassador Tapiola highlighted the importance of vocational training, which role is increasingly important for working life. Vocational education is not highly respected, which is visible in the working life where many vocational professions are undervalued. Ambassador Tapiola strongly encourages Finnish vocational institutes to collaborate with East African institutes. He has good experience from the students of Turku Vocational Institute, who prepare and serve Finnish food for the guests of the Finnish Embassy in Nairobi.

Recent Ambassador Sinikka Antila of Finland in Ethiopia reminds that although news from Ethiopia is often worrying we should remember that thanks to headquarters of African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has become an air traffic hub of East Africa. In Ethiopia needs are many and the know how of Finnish companies could provide solutions to challenges in various fields. However, she recommends that everyone who aims at African markets should invest in networks, relations and country knowledge, before starting the business.

Also PhD Petri Huhtinen, with a long career in Sub Saharan countries in public and private healthcare, was invited to talk at the event. To the audience he presented five essential points to which those aiming at African markets should pay attention. 1) The product: should not only meet the need but also the consumers ability to pay. 2) Focus: should be clear and straight rather than constantly changing following the trends. 3) Presence: Although online connections are significant they don’t substitute face to face meetings which are necessary to build up and maintain networks and connections. 4) Flexibility, which refers not only to time but also to the way things are done. Although things are not conducted as you would like to do, it doesn’t meant that they are not managed. 5 and final point is patience. Huhtinen encourages to leave the Finnish straight forward attitude at home when in Africa and respect the alternative and local way of conducting the business.

At the end the host, Esa Rantanen, presented some facts which have huge impact not only on the development of Africa but also globally. Urbanization is aggressive in Africa and the fast growth of the population taking place mainly in cities. A good example is Dar es Salaam that in a few decades will be one mega city in Africa. The growing middle class is one key of the economic growth in the continent and the need of this group of people create a ground for new services, business and work. The population of Africa is young: two third of population is under 25 years. Young citizens are educated, they follow global trends and they are used to e-services.

At the end of the session the audience had an opportunity to comment and present questions to the African experts. Maybe because of the global situation participants were interested to know how East Africa has reacted to the turbulent geopolitical situation, who are seen as allies and how Finnish companies should understand the political signals. Before closing the session the leader of SUSIE, Ritva Hyttinen, offered support for companies by saying that Turku UAS has long operated not only in Tanzania but also in other African countries and companies are welcome to benefit from this knowledge: “Don’t hesitate to contact us!” was her message. Ambassador Zitting agreed and saw that the excellent collaboration between Tanzanian universities and Turku University of Applied Sciences as well as Turku University has been valuable and the projects such as SUSIE are excellent examples of know how export.


Author: Ritva Hyttinen, TUAS