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 Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid