Yesterday afternoon, amid much fanfare, the Ethiopian government announced a partnership with the European Union that entails a $16.5 million, five year program that is “designed to boost the Ethiopian coffee sector”. The news was sold as a boon for Ethiopia whereby coffee bean farmers would gain a wide array of “benefits” including access to credit, increasing export volumes and strengthening premium market channels.

What was missing in this grand pronouncement was any concrete plan to build industries in Ethiopia that have the capacity to turn raw coffee beans into finished and branded goods. This $16.5 million program is not meant to enhance the economic viability of Ethiopia as much as it is an investment in the supply chain of multinational coffee corporations. Companies like Starbucks, Illy and Dutch Bros stand to reap huge profits by increasing the supply of coffee beans which will subsequently drive down the bargaining power of coffee bean farmers. What is a health potion for the EU is a poison pill for Ethiopia.

Over the past decade, the price of coffee beans has witnessed more than a 70% drop in valuation driven by a glut in market supply. During that same time period, the price of branded coffee goods has increased sharply. This is the reason why coffee bean farmers earn pennies on the dollar while companies that brand coffee and sell them on shelves reap all the profits. Unless Ethiopia find ways to export our coffee as a finished good and brand our products on the global market, we will remain indentured servants of European conglomerations.  

Sadly, the grand pronouncement that was made yesterday only ensures Ethiopia’s continued subservience to big coffee corporations. In a place where coffee was discovered, countries like Italy, France and the United States reap billions in profits from the drinkable “black gold” while the land that produces some of the most desired coffee beans are given crumbs off the table. There is a reason why 90% of Ethiopia’s youth are living in “multidimensional poverty”, building an economy with the aim of being exporters of commodities and importers of low wage employment is not a plan for success but a scheme to sell Ethiopia to the lowest bidder.

Consider these staggering facts. This year, the net export of Ethiopia is slated to be around $2.5 billion (most of which will be raw commodities like coffee and perishable goods). On the other hand, Ethiopia’s net import is estimated to be over $13 billion. This means we consume $10 billion more as a nation than we produce. There is no other way to describe this than to call it what it is, Ethiopia has become colonized economically. This is what many ethnonationalist demagogues and short-sighted tribal politicians don’t have the cognition nor the courage to discuss, they would rather have us fighting over our differences while all Ethiopians become indentured servants of the world.

There is a better way, the Ethiopian government must incentivize entrepreneurs, decrease red tape and eliminate corruption that makes it nearly impossible for Ethiopians to start businesses back home. Instead of spending fortunes improving the supply chains of foreign interests, it is time to invest in Ethiopian industries. Just as important, it is vital to brand our products and build our own market channels. This cannot be done unless there is a private-public partnership within Ethiopia, imagine the transformation of society if we were able to create a means to certify products as Ethiopian owned and Ethiopian manufactured goods and market them on a global scale.

The appetite for Ethiopian culture is exponential, the minute we come up with a coherent way to market and brand our goods, Ethiopia can reap tremendous benefits.

If the issue is lack of knowledge when it comes to economic policies in Ethiopia, reach out to Ethiopians within the “diaspora”, many of whom have advance degrees and excel in a multitude of industries within America and other “developed” economies. For the past 27 years, Ethiopia has tried to develop the economy by courting foreign capital and treating Ethiopians as bystanders. This has led to riches for a few and poverty for too many as more and more Ethiopians struggle to keep up with inflation. At what point are we going to start building Ethiopia for Ethiopians instead of enabling the pillaging of our natural resources.

What is missing in Ethiopia is a vision for economic self-reliance. All too often, we are content with hustle mode and not willing to lose a little today in order to gain big tomorrow. Our culture, from food, clothing to art and beyond, is one that is loved by other nationalities from the minute of first contact. Imagine if we worked together to promote Ethiopia and branded our products and the changes that would bring to our country.

Instead of taking loans from outsiders and being exploited by the world, it is time to build an ownership society and ensure a shared prosperity for all #Ethiopia|ns. Click To Tweet