Ethiopia — Life’s Little Luxuries

What price life’s little luxuries? That’s not an idle question here in Ethiopia. As a landlocked country (Eritrea got the seaports) Ethiopia has just one way to the sea — through the seriously congested port of Djibouti. It seemed a like a good idea at the time to concentrate its export efforts on low-volume, high-value commodities.

Just look at the export list. First, there’s coffee, and not just any old coffee; Ethiopia is aiming to break into the speciality market, with trademarked regional varieties.

Then there are roses and other cut flowers, and fancy, out-of-season vegetables. And there’s chaat — the narcotic leafy plant much chewed in the Middle East. And finally – tourism; not the sea-and-sand, Club 18-30 kind (well, Eritrea also got the beaches) but up-market holidays for older, richer people interested in culture and antiquities.

In fact the only necessity at the top of the export list, the only thing which Ethiopia sells to poor people, is pulses — peas and beans and lentils.

Now the world recession is on us, people will still eat lentils. In fact they may eat even more lentils, if they can’t afford steak. But what about the rest?

Tourism is starting to show signs of strain. There’s been a time lag, because some holidays for this winter season would have been booked well in advance, before the downturn began to bite. But some operators — especially those with a lot of North American clients — have now had to cancel departures for March and April because they don’t have enough bookings to make up the groups.

Flower growers have just warned of a downturn in the Dutch market, the gateway to Europe for most of their flowers. Faced with a likely 40% drop in demand, they are frantically trying to diversify, to sell to Dubai and Saudi Arabia, Dubai and the Far East.

But that still leaves coffee and chaat. And the good news is that both are addictive. And the bankers and brokers, savers and investors in the once-rich world may need a good cup of coffee even more, to help them through the hard times ahead.

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