Entrepreneurs are redefining the future of Ethiopia

Addis Ababa is nuts. The city is impossible to get around because there’s construction everywhere. It’s a chaotic boomtown that aspires to be the Dubai of east Africa — and might actually have a chance.

The main thing Ethiopia has going for it is a pervasive entrepreneurial spirit. Everywhere you go are traders and small shops. You meet one over a beer in the courtyard of the Monarch Hotel, he has plans to turn his carpentry business into a million-dollar concern — and is already winning contracts and hiring workers (the local beers, by the way, are quite good: try Habesha).

And Ethiopian Airlines is first rate. They are not Gulf-class but they are way above what many passengers might expect from an African airline. So the infrastructure is being put in place for Ethiopia’s rise.

Most of it is being put in place by Chinese companies. There’s also an Italian presence, because of Italy’s past as Ethiopia’s colonist. 

This is the point where we might normally point out how much the country’s stock market has risen in the past year or two. But that’s the catch (there’s always a catch).

Ethiopia doesn’t have a stock market. Five years after the strongman ruler Meles Zenawi died, the biggest companies, including the airline and the telephone company, are still in state hands. 

There really aren’t a lot of ways to invest in Ethiopia as it prepares for takeoff. There are some private-equity players, and there are exchange-traded funds that focus on Africa as a whole, and there is a commodities exchange in Addis, but you can’t plunk down money on an Ethiopian company.

What you can do is visit the place. Especially recommended: Lalibela with its churches carved into cliff faces, and the Tigray highlands for hiking.

If you’re an investor with a taste for frontiers, Ethiopia is is one to watch.



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