Ethiopia: An Increasingly Comfortable Urban Middle Class is Learning to Enjoy Itself

Addled in Addis: Shoulders and posteriors in action. (Corbis)

The Economist | From the print edition

Mar 23rd 2013 | ADDIS ABABA

THE brightly lit bars lining alleys off Bole Road in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, come to life around midnight. Folk melodies mix with electronic beats. Customers wiggle posteriors and rotate shoulders in fast dance-bursts derived from traditional music. Some disappear with hand-holding waitresses through a narrow door to a “kissing room”, only to return a quarter of an hour later more exuberant than ever. And it’s only Monday.

Illicit joys are proliferating in Ethiopia, even if its prim statist government sees pleasure as an enemy of development. Nightclubs are hazy with marijuana smoke. Qat, the leaf of a mildly narcotic plant, is ubiquitous; drivers talk of “taking a short qat” when stopping their cars to stock up. Two years ago non-medical massage parlours were confined to hotels frequented by foreign businessmen. Now Addis may have about 200 such establishments. Gratification costs the equivalent of three packs of Western-brand cigarettes.

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