News / Africa

Ethiopia Sells Cooking Oil, Sugar to Correct 'Market Failure'

Addis Ababa residents standing in long lines to buy sugar and edible oil
Addis Ababa residents standing in long lines to buy sugar and edible oil

Ethiopia’s government has begun selling some basic food items directly to consumers after imposing price controls that created shortages in the marketplace. Long lines are becoming a regular sight in Addis Ababa as people queue at government shops for sugar and edible oil.

Tesfanesh Zewde stood in line for more than an hour in the hot sun this week to buy a liter of cooking oil and two kilograms of sugar for her family.

Tesfanesh says she was forced to leave her office during work hours and queue at a government-operated fruit stand for items that until recently had been easily available in neighborhood shops.

Sugar, cooking oil and other items disappeared from store shelves in January, after Ethiopia imposed price ceilings on 18 basic commodities. The controls were ordered about the time food riots in Tunisia triggered the political unrest that spread across North Africa and the Middle East.

Local media hailed state intervention in the market as a bold move to help cash-strapped consumers cope with soaring global food prices.

But shop owners rebelled. They complained the ceilings were too low to allow them a fair profit, and refused to sell at what they said was a loss.

When price-controlled items became scarce, the government accused suppliers of creating artificial shortages. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi last month announced that the market had effectively failed. He said the government would bypass retailers and sell directly to consumers until the business community accepted the lower prices.

"We plan to flood the market to overcome artificial shortages that have been created through inefficiencies in the market system. This includes artificial shortages in edible oil and sugar. We intend to import lots of edible oil and sugar and flood the market to ensure it is stabilized," Zenawi said.

Ethiopia’s Trade and Industry Ministry was assigned the job of setting fair prices and profits for controlled items.

Efrem Woldesellassie, head of the ministry’s regulatory affairs department, says a government survey determined that the market failure was due to excessive profits charged by wholesalers and retailers. He said the ministry decided to limit profits to 4-6 percent on sugar and cooking oil.

"These people. They used to get big profits, even without paying any tax to the government, but this time they got a profit [of] 6 percent for sugar, 4 percent for palm oil. To my understanding, covering all costs, this profit margin is sufficient for them to survive," Woldesellassie said.

Efrem says price controls and government sales outlets are a temporary measure until the market stabilizes. But market economists and business people argue any state interference in the buyer-seller relationship is ultimately counterproductive.

Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce President Eyessus Work Zafu says the price ceilings are another step in a long-term trend in Ethiopia toward greater state control over the economy.

"The government is becoming more and more preponderant in the economy in recent years, more than even 10 years ago. The long-term solution is not working on the assumption that government alone could bring about the balanced and rapid sustainable econ growth and development.  It cannot.  That paradigm has been tried for many years and failed." Eyessus said.

Eyessus says he sees great danger in the state’s increasing tendency, when economic policies don’t work, to demonize the private sector.

"When the first price control measures were announced, we started reading in the paper a very serious malignant hate campaign, letters, articles in the papers, and many have been engaged in widening the split between consumers and merchants or business people. [The] government will have to take the initiative to normalize things, because if the government does not, the differences will widen, and the ultimate consequences could be serious," Eyessus said.

Economists also question whether the price caps are helping to keep down rising costs. The government statistics agency reports an inflation rate of 14 percent in February, the first full month the caps were in effect.

And when the controls are inevitably removed, experts say prices are bound to jump to where they would have been anyway.

People waiting to purchase cooking oil and sugar this week wondered whether, given the rapid rise of global prices, Ethiopia might again see the day when local governments distribute food, as they did during the Communist era.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs