Ethiopia

Ethiopia is an unlikely setting for a revived “food versus fuel” debate. As a country once overwhelmed by famine, it may seem odd that the Ethiopian government would be in favour of anything associated with food security risk. But the case for biofuels in Ethiopia is strong and it’s growing stronger.

Like many countries, the Ethiopian government was eager to realise the potential of jatropha, a biofuel crop with “green gold” credentials, ten years ago. Opinions soured in 2007 and 2008 when the global food price crisis struck and biofuel production was identified as one of the root causes. This, coupled with disappointing jatropha harvests, prompted a swift exit by Ethiopia’s biodiesel developers. Read more

The number of middle class households in 11 key sub-Saharan African countries – excluding South Africa – are set to triple to 22m by 2030, creating a burgeoning consumer market for items such as vehicles, insurance policies, property and health products, according to a Standard Bank research report.

Simon Freemantle, senior political economist at Standard Bank and author of the report, said the prospective boom in middle class households – those earning between US$8,500 and US$42,000 a year – is also likely to be complemented by a swelling in the number of lower middle class households that earn between US$5,500 and US$8,500 annually. Read more

Following a decade in which Chinese largesse has helped to transform Africa’s prospects – and challenged the supremacy that western companies once enjoyed over the continent’s natural resources – Beijing has sent word to Washington that the world’s two biggest economies might combine their efforts to generate some much-needed electricity in one of the poorest.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, an expanse the size of western Europe that perennially ranks among the worst countries in which to do business, has known little but conflict and penury for decades. World Bank-backed plans to build a third dam at Inga are part of a broader vision for a dam complex capable of generating 40,000MW – twice the size of the Three Gorges dam in China. Read more

After a deal-making spree in Africa in 2013 that included investments in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya, private equity group Abraaj is on track for an equally active 2014.

Abraaj, which has $7.5bn in assets under management and is based in Dubai, expects to complete four transactions in the region by the end of the year, including in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, partner Sev Vettivetpillai told beyondbrics. Read more

Addis Ababa: hello PE

When I heard about the US investor, Gabriel Schulze, who’d gone out on a limb and started up Ethiopia’s first private equity fund, I couldn’t wait to meet him.

The feeling wasn’t mutual. Famously reticent, it took me more than a year to convince him to meet me. But when we did, we ending up busting our two-hour time slot over tea and coffee at a private members’ club in London and speaking for six hours. You can now read the interview from that meeting, Portrait of a frontier investor, on FT.com. Read more

Somaliland, a small, fragile economy struggles for a regional role against the odds. Katrina Manson, East Africa correspondent reports on the new airport recently built in the capital Hargeisa.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, delivering 6,000MW – but the project has attracted much controversy. The FT’s East Africa correspondent Katrina Manson reports.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, delivering 6,000MW. The cost and the potential impact of diverting the Blue Nile have created controversy in the region. The FT’s East Africa correspondent Katrina Manson reports.

Bullish comments from Ethiopia on Wednesday about its chances of World Trade Organisation membership. The foreign ministry said it was on track to join in 2015.

Is that realistic? Read more

Checking prices

When Ethiopia set up its commodity exchange in 2008, few observers foresaw the demand it would generate. But five years on, the ECX has shown that a bourse can help tackle food insecurity in poor nations, and countries are now falling over themselves to replicate its successes. Read more

Ethiopia’s government is famously protective of its economy, especially telecoms, banking and retail. So when the late prime minister, Marxist-influenced Meles Zenawi, met senior Walmart executives face to face last year, it might have seemed an incongruous pairing.

But rising food inflation, combined with traders hoarding goods to avoid government-imposed price caps, made the prospect of big stores arriving to deliver cut-price goods appealing.

Negotiations are continuing with the American giant under Meles’s successor Hailemariam Desalegn (pictured). But progress is slow. Read more

At between 4-5 litres a year, Ethiopia’s beer per capita consumption is one of the lowest in the region. Yet its market has doubled over the last five years thanks to its growing population, urbanisation and rising incomes. All this is proving to be an irresistible draw for global brewers – with Heineken the latest to announce plans to build a new $156m brewery in the country. Read more

The link between one of the world’s most powerful corporate leaders and a small bank in Ethiopia might not be immediately obvious. In this case, it’s an IBM server, which powers Awash International Bank. But soon it could be a lot more if Ginni Rometty (pictured) has anything to do with it.

Rometty, IBM’s chief executive, is spending a week in Africa with her top 15 executives. It’s the first time so many of them have been in one place outside New York. It’s also the first time IBM has convened its chief executives from all over the continent. Read more

Ethiopia appears to be doing something right. One of the world’s five fastest growing economies in 2010, it’s expected to reach 7 per cent growth this year and next and the government hopes for double digit growth in the medium term.

But this is not a natural resources bonanza. The economy is still largely dependent on agriculture, but has seen much of its growth from a boost in services. Yet foreign investment is limited, and the country has not benefitted from the non-cash payments revolution that has boosted other countries in the region such as Kenya. No wonder, then, that companies such as Visa are making encouraging noises. Read more

Sifting through data on payments for goods and services to garner information about consumer buying habits is a well-established marketing tool in the west.

In sub-Saharan Africa the practice is still in its infancy due to a lack of sources of information, but that’s changing fast. With the rise of mobile payment transactions, a host of information is becoming available on consumer habits. In Ethiopia, for example, one company has already begun culling and collating data. Read more

Flower growers, among Ethiopia’s key export revenue earners, are confident that the death of prime minister Meles Zenawi, won’t push the govenment from its commitments to supporting agribusiness.

Hailemariam Desalegn, acting prime minister during Meles’ absence, is set to be sworn in as Ethiopia’s leader until 2015 in an apparent effort to smooth the transition, and is expected to carry on where Meles left off with supportive conditions for investors in agriculture, Ethiopia’s most important industry. Read more

The Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi, whose death was announced on Tuesday following prolonged ill health, won’t be mourned by the dissidents that he repressed or their supporters.

But he will be missed by those who value his role in creating political stability and in promoting growth in an impoverished country.

While Ethiopia remains one of the world’s poorest countries (ranked 174 out of 187 on the UN’s Human Development Index) real growth in GDP has averaged 11 per cent over the past 6 years, well above the sub-Saharan Africa average. Read more

The World Bank has approved loans worth $684m for the Eastern Electricity Highway Project, which aims to transport Ethiopian power to Kenya and beyond.

The project is part of a $1.3bn plan to open up an eastern African power network, but has attracted controversy due to social and environmental worries over the knock on effects of hydro-power in Ethiopia. Read more

What will 1,500 Turks be doing this year in the desolate space between Weldiya and Awash in Ethiopia? The answer is “building a railroad” following an announcement on Thursday by Turkish construction company Yapi Merkezi.

The contract is part of ambitious plans by the Ethiopian government to build a 5,000 km railway network – and a sign that Chinese companies increasingly face competition from other EM companies in the battle for Africa’s infrastructure. Read more

When it comes to commodity exchanges, African countries are hoping it’s second time lucky. The continent’s first forays into the arena – mostly in the 1990s – weren’t much of a triumph. But several countries are now trying to fare better as they work to establish or revive their marketplaces.

The driving force behind renewed interest? The unexpected – and fairly significant – success of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange. Read more