Internet is back up in Ethiopia
Last week I was using a Telegram application to communicate with our team in Addis Ababa. The week prior to that, we were limited to the trusty old landline. Internet was down for two weeks.
First it was shut off by the government during the national school exam period. This reduces opportunities for students to cheat, for obvious reasons. Shortly afterwards there was an attempted coup, so the government shut down the internet again, reducing opportunities for further anti-government incitement.
In the race to get our coffees on the water, the internet stoppage cost us two weeks. But this is Ethiopia. Internet outages are common enough that we simply factor it in as part of our timeline for getting coffees shipped.
Other expected unexpected delays
Political tensions, conflict and violence
Last December I was in the south, visiting the different washing stations partners. I was there to understand the general quality of the upcoming harvest, and to gather information for our sales and marketing team. The harvest had been going on for a few weeks already, and it was apparent there was conflict on the border between different ethnic regions. I passed villages and houses that were completely destroyed and empty. Where were all these people? I quickly learned that over 1.5 million people had been displaced by violent clashes between two ethnic groups. Those caught in the middle had mostly fled to the south, far from their homes, where they waited for answers from the government on a relocation plan. This is a difficult reality in Ethiopia, one with far deeper human impact than an internet outage.
From a professional perspective, it means several things. Foreign aid agencies will relocate their resources to the south, and they will need containers to transport food and supplies which will reduce container availability for export of other goods like coffee. This year, because of NGOs mobilising in the south, the container shortage started in May/April. Regional borders are going to be more difficult to cross, so parchment from the washing stations warehouses will take longer to reach the milling warehouses in Addis.
Desperation leads to conflict and different rebel groups might seek to take advantage of the general insecurity. Suppliers trying to get their parchment to Addis are sometimes hijacked en route, the driver told to get out of the truck and leave its cargo on the side of the road. Alternatively they might be denied passage through a region because of ethnic or regional power struggles. Driving around the disputed areas can add weeks to the coffee’s journey to port.
Last year low rainfall in parts of the country led to a dried out dam, which led to a shortage of hydropower. The government decided to shut down the power supply to Addis a few days a week starting mid-March. A few days a week meant that exporters could not mill enough volume to have a balance between incoming coffees and exportable coffees in the warehouse. This resulted in overflowing warehouses and related confusion. Some of our coffees dropped to the back of the line and missed their milling slots, causing more delays.
Malfunction of the milling machine is a recurring problem. Things break down, especially machines that run 24/7 without any break other than a few hours a week for cleaning. This happened twice this year in May and June, and delayed our shipments by five days each time.
Loving the challenge
Some days sourcing in Ethiopia feels like a game of whack-a-mole, no sooner is one issue solved than another appears, or two or three or four. And, for the most part, it is equally fun. We wouldn’t do it otherwise.
Ethiopia is the cornerstone of our business. It is where our sister company Nordic Approach began sourcing, and the first place we opened an origin office for Tropiq. It is also a very complicated place to work, and I love it.