Fear of Economic Shock in Ethiopia

Abiy Ahmed Photographer: Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

Bloomberg

Fear of Economic Shock Hampers Ethiopia’s Coronavirus Fight

By Antony Sguazzin and Samuel Gebre

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed struck a deal with billionaire Jack Ma to distribute medical supplies across Africa and wrote an impassioned plea in the Financial Times for international aid to fight the coronavirus on the continent. Yet at home, he’s moved slowly.

The 43-year-old winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace prize postponed general elections due in August, closed schools and just a week ago declared a state of emergency. But crucially he has kept Ethiopia’s main airport open and allowed the national carrier to maintain flights, leaving the country vulnerable to new infections. Testing in Africa’s second-most populous nation has been paltry.

The contradiction between Abiy’s public concern about the pandemic and his reluctance to impose tight restrictions reveals deep-rooted fears about derailing his efforts to modernize the economy, said a government official familiar with his thinking. Evidence to support his concern is widespread in the rest of the world, where tough lockdowns have provoked economic contractions and mass unemployment.

“I don’t think this pandemic could have come at any worse time than this,” State Minister for Finance Eyob Tekalign Tolina said last week. “We cannot afford to leave a lasting shock on the economy because we have too much to lose.”

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