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 Obama Remembers Fallen Troops for Memorial Day

    President urges Americans this holiday weekend to 'take a moment and offer a silent word of prayer or public word of thanks' to country's veterans

    Upsurge of Migratory Traffic Across Sahara From West to North Africa

    A report by the International Organization for Migration finds more than 60,000 migrants have transited through the Agadez region of Niger between February and April

    UN Blocks Access to Journalist Advocacy Group

    United Nations has rejected bid from nonprofit journalist advocacy group that wanted 'consultative status,' ranking that would have given them greater access to UN meetings

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora