Ethiopian consumers grope in the dark

Addis Ababa- Ethiopia (PANA) -- Due to the vagaries of weather, Ethiopia's food industry can hardly stay in good shape for long.
So are the local consumers.
On account of this reality somebody must keep an eye on what is available to feed the population, half of whom survive below the absolute poverty line, and on consumers in general.
However, pitfalls abound in the country where economic growth is stifled by, among other constraints, unskilled labour, poor infrastructure and technological backwardness in the sectors of communication as well as energy and water supply.
"We don't have consolidated consumer protection laws," laments Abebe Asamere, legal advisor and member of the executive committee of Ethiopian Consumer Protection Association (ECPA).
Without adequate legislation to back up ECPA's efforts, the bulk of consumers in this country will remain unaware of their rights besides being in the dark across their life span on how to manage the challenges of a modernising environment.
Consumer information centres, found almost everywhere in developed and many of the developing countries, are not even on the table of Ethiopia's policymakers.
Manufacturers, traders and service providers alike would not even arrange something like an Oprah Winfrey's show to kick off sales or convince consumers to buy more locally produced tinned fruits, cooking oil, pasta and other goods.
They defend their passivity, arguing that the market is too small to warrant budgeting for commercials and sales promotion activities, though the population is surging to over 70 million.
While junk foods fill the shelves of many outlets, adulterated drinks, especially imported whisky, is a frequently cited menace in bars.
Consumers in Ethiopia not only suffer unfair deals but are unaware of their rights and responsibilities as regards such products.
ECPA is just four years old and still struggling with growing pains.
In 2003 it registered with Consumers International, the global voice of consumers, but its impact is yet to be felt on the home turf.
So far the association's activities are within Addis Ababa only.
As a consumers' national watchdog, it needs to extend the frontier of its influence.
"There are so many defects in services, marketplaces, public transport, and telecommunication, for instance.
The people, especially the poor and disadvantaged always get a raw deal because they don't have access to essential information that would make their day-to-day life easy.
"There are a lot of abuses in the local market practices that can be tackled through public awareness creation for the business to be in favour of the consumer.
But our outstanding handicap is the association's low capacity to deal with these issues," Abebe told PANA.
ECPA's founder president, Alemu Jotie is optimistic that one day, consumers in Ethiopia will be able to count on the association as a reliable partner that cares about their welfare.
"We won't sit still until we see quality demands by Ethiopian consumers and fair business practices become the norms of life in this country," he said.
"No single organisation [in Ethiopia] has ever taken the trouble to deal with consumer issues.
It is a very difficult task to get the message across, but we are planning to open at least three regional branches next year.
" The proposed branch offices will be located in Awassa for Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region, Bahar Dar for Amhara Region and in Adama for Oromiya Region.
Presently, because of limited resources, ECPA concentrates on consumer education through seminars and workshops for select groups of government officials and businesspersons.
At the same time it strives, with some support of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce, to promote consumer rights through lobbying legislators and local authority functionaries.
"We can undertake a wide range of activities, but we face capacity limitations.
For the same reason we fail to promulgate our ideas through the mass media," Alemu pointed out.
Food marketing should be a fast-growing industry even in Ethiopia where self-sufficiency, let alone food security, still eludes a large part of the population.
Inevitably, ECPA will one day be at the fountainhead of consumer protection not just in terms of what nourishes the body, but also other basic necessities for comfortable living.

22 Setembro 2004 11:38:00




xhtml CSS