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Dine for Basic Services

May 25 , 2019

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) hosted one of the most expensive dinner parties the world has ever seen on May 19, 2019. For five million Birr a plate, business people and representatives of different organisations dined at the newly refurbished Palace of Menelik II.

Nostalgic of the lavish parties Emperor Menelik II used to hold at the palace, the dinner was traditionally themed. There were raw meat and even Tej. As far as initial reports of the dinner were concerned, it was a success and guests were satisfied, even if they came out of it five million Birr lighter.

It was not just a dinner though. It was a fundraising event for a project in the capital. Shortly before the event, the African Developmental Bank gave 600,000 dollars, the government of Italy five million euros, two United Nations’ agencies gave a total of two million dollars and the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia contributed over 17 million dollars.

What sort of project would get such enthusiasm from government agencies, development partners, business leaders and organisations?

It was not one of the countless number of problems that afflict the nation, such as inadequate access to education or health services. The project did not aim to address the humanitarian crisis caused as a result of the displacement of millions of people, and neither was it meant for the street children in Addis Abeba.

It was all for the realisation of “Beautifying Sheger” project. It aims to revitalise and develop river banks and riversides along a 56Km stretch from Mount Entoto to Qality. It is planned to be finalised in three years and estimated to cost 29 billion Br. If the concept designs are anything to go by, the Beautifying Sheger project will give the city a facelift.

But it rings hollow. It seems too much like a luxury for a nation facing various infrastructure and macroeconomic bottlenecks. It is not that most do not wish for their city to look like what is envisioned in the project’s concept designs. It just does not strike one as a priority.

In the city where this dinner was held, getting by is getting harder by the day. Basic services are amiss. Costs are rising every which way, most of them as a result of a shortage of either foreign currency or supply chain disruptions.

Just this year, the city saw the kind of fuel shortage it has rarely ever seen before. The inability of the government to facilitate a functional market for wheat, cooking oil, eggs and milk has meant a significant rise in the cost of living. This is not to mention the regular scarcity in pharmaceuticals, sending citizens to scurry around to the black market.

A shortage in manufacturing raw materials and a consistent shortage in utilities such as electricity and water makes the possibility of a thriving private sector unlikely. A consumer that is hit with a high cost of living and a private sector burdened with a lack of basic infrastructure makes the likelihood of an economic resurgence anytime soon very unlikely.

The Prime Minister has a range of projects that he could dine for. The resources that are going into the Beautifying Sheger project could have been justified at almost any other time in the nation’s history. Now, there are too many challenges where such resources could have done a great deal of good and been used to heal the national spirit.

At the moment, this is a facelift for a city that is the capital of a country with all kinds of fatal afflictions. The government should instead spend its political capital, or what is left of it, and resources into strengthening the nation’s political and economic foundations.

PUBLISHED ON May 25,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 995]

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