Random and inexpert thoughts on Addis

I’m in Ethiopia for a week to check in on my industrial job experiments. Everything is going wonderfully except for the pesky fact that many of the businesses have yet to open. The next few months look pretty good, though, especially in the agribusiness sector, so we will see.

The under-qualified macroeconomist in me expected Ethiopia’s recent devaluation to actually spur rather than slow the manufacturing sector. In time that may be so. But in a place where inputs and machinery are imported, a devaluation is a mixed blessing. Existing firms must be adding real value to production to succeed. The agricultural export sector, where few foreign inputs are needed, seems to have a brighter future.

Meanwhile, the utterly unqualified epidemiologist in me wonders why E. Coli and other nasty bugs are so common in Addis. My evidence is entirely anecdotal. Example: a colleague’s child has had a serious bug no less than 15 times in three years. And this is the only place in Africa I’ve ever gotten stomach bugs (and I go straight for the dodgy street food wherever I land). I would have expected a more temperate climate and modern capital to have less not more sickness. Mostly, though, I’m surprised that this seldom happens to me or colleagues in my other haunts: western Kenya, northern Uganda, or Monrovia. Can anyone offer an explanation? Please note, “Idiot: your sample size in Addis is two” has already occurred to me.

Speaking of Addis, this is the only African capital I’ve visited where there are tall buildings under construction at every turn. This may be a sad statement on my experience in African capitals, but I think it does say something about the growth boom, not least in real estate. If mortgages existed in Ethiopia, I’d fear a bubble. But people mainly pay cash, before construction, for their properties. I suppose there are other bubble drivers, but I hope this growth is lasting.

But looking back on the visit, mostly I am proud that a friend dragged me through a 9-mile run around the airport, at an elevation of 7,500 feet, no less–something I have great difficulty doing at sea level. One of the nicer things about running in Addis, besides the permanent springtime weather, is that there’s a good chance that a world famous Olympian will blast past you at speeds I couldn’t sprint, even if chased by lions towards a Krispy Kreme donut outlet.

I expect my running regimen will suffer next week from Liberia’s 100 degree weather, and the week after that by New York’s ice and snow. All the more time, I suppose, to get pumped using my mouse.