Celebrating Gena amidst an Inflationary Universe
Amidst the joyous anticipation of Ethiopian Christmas, the vibrant streets of Addis Ababa transform into a bustling hub of holiday markets. These markets, once filled with an abundance of goods and vibrant energy, now face the harsh reality of soaring inflation. As the sun rises over Addis Ababa, casting its warm glow on the city’s holiday markets, the first signs of inflation become apparent. Stall owners, their brows furrowed with worry, meticulously arrange their wares, acutely aware of the escalating prices.
Yet, amidst the struggle, resilience shines through. The spirit of “Gena” endures, as families and entrepreneurs alike strive to find joy and preserve their traditions.
A middle-aged woman, adorned with the gentle etchings of a life well-lived, delicately plucks an egg from a rustic, woven crate. With a sun-kissed glow illuminating her face, she examines the egg, harnessing the morning’s tender rays. Standing closely behind her, her 10-year-old child clings to the edges of her dress, eager to emulate her actions and picking up an egg of his own.
Yet, in a protective but swift gesture, she lowers the child’s hand, cautioning, “Oh, my dear, I cannot allow your sweaty hands to touch this delicate egg and drop it. We would have to scrape it off the ground and eat it because I will not pay this much and leave it there.”
Disappointed yet obedient, the child retreats beneath the comforting folds of her dress, eyes never leaving his mother’s every move.
A brief negotiation ensues between the woman and the vendor sat across the crate. After a spirited exchange, a mutually agreeable deal is struck: 10 birr for each egg, resulting in a total of 20 eggs.
This transaction unfolds in the vibrant Kera market, nestled within the heart of Addis Ababa’s Kirkos sub-city, an enclave near the neighborhoods of Gotera and Bulgaria Mazoria. Renowned for its affordability, the market beckons to residents far and wide, providing an oasis where the demands of holiday traditions can be met without straining meager budgets.
Beyenech Ossu, one such resident, says: “The prices just keep getting more outrageous as each holiday approaches.”
Although never considered a middle-income earner, she says she used to manage quite well, ensuring she could provide all the necessary items for the festivities. This typically included a sheep or goat, poultry, at least two dozen eggs, and a few kilograms of beef, locally referred to as “Kircha.”
When pressed to compare this year’s Ethiopian Christmas market, the cherished “Gena,” with its predecessors, Beyenech chuckles lightly, sidestepping the request.
“If I had told you this 20 years ago, you would have thought it was a fairy tale. We could buy a liter of edible oil for nine birr and poultry for no more than 12 to 20 birr. But those years are now so distant that children today would never believe it,” she said.
For a woman surviving on a monthly salary of 6,000 birr, there’s no need to journey further into the past to witness the fluctuations in market prices. The stark difference between the holiday season and the recent New Year’s celebration is dramatic enough to capture attention.
According to her, at the bustling and renowned “Kera market,” just a week ago during the New Year festivities, a kilo of red onions sold for a modest 60 birr. However, last Thursday, that same kilo commanded double the price. The poultry market experienced a significant surge, with prices soaring by at least 200 birr. From 800 to 900 birr, the cost of purchasing poultry has become quite a burden.
She says the price of beef, known as “Kircha,” has also undergone a staggering transformation, leaping from 8,000 to 12,000 birr per kilo. Interestingly, the egg market remains an exception, showing little variation as its price increases by no more than a single birr from one holiday to the next.
Beyenech breathes a sigh of relief, grateful that two of her daughters have married and one has reached the age of 20. Their independence provides her some comfort, allowing her to focus on purchasing holiday essentials while still maintaining the festive spirit for her youngest child.
Gena is one of the grandest holidays in the country, celebrated by more than 37 million Christians. The festivities, intertwined with carefully selected foreign Christmas customs, adapt to the vibrant atmosphere of the capital city, Addis Ababa. The city usually starts embracing its festive ambiance when there are at least two weeks remaining, eagerly preparing for a joyous celebration that will soon turn the entire nation white in celebration of this beloved holiday.
Addis Ababa is abuzz with business activity as business enthusiasts transform various corners into bustling exhibition sites and bazaars. These holiday-specific markets cater to the festive spirit of the season, attracting eager residents who flock to both the specially organized holiday markets and the permanent ones near residential areas.
The Reporter visited these bustling marketplaces to gauge the state of affairs from both the buyers’ and sellers’ perspectives.
Many buyers, like Beyenech, find themselves grappling with limited resources, their enthusiasm for upholding the traditions of the holiday overshadowed by the prevailing inflationary pressures.
“You don’t need to look too deeply to see the impact. The price of wheat flour has surged from 75 birr during the New Year market to 100 birr,” shares Tsegereda Girum, a 25-year-old mother and assistant teacher with a monthly salary of 4,000 birr, browsing the Saris Adey Ababa Market, located in the Nefas Silk Lafto Subcity.
At Saris, the red onion market experiences even higher prices compared to Kera, reaching 150 birr per kilo. As of Thursday afternoon, poultry was being sold for 1,200 birr per head, and the Kircha market, where portions are distributed among four to six individuals, stands at 14,000 birr per person.
Tsegereda observes that price tags continue to climb, with increments occurring by the hour as the celebration draws nearer. However, she expects a slight decrease in prices on the morning and afternoon of Christmas day.
“These are the rules of engagement, and everyone is aware of them. Despite the inflation forcing us to cut our holiday grocery lists in half, we do our best with the money we have,” Tsegereda said.
Demse Abebe, one of the exhibitors at the Addis Ababa Exhibition Center, specializing in red onions, told The Reporter that, while he entered the event with ample supplies, the quantity purchased by each buyer has shrank since the previous week of the holiday season. He only managed to sell one quintal of onions by that point.
As the holiday season unfolds, Demse stands firm, offering his red onions to buyers. With 10 bazaars under his belt, he understands the weight that current inflation has placed on consumers’ wallets, leading them to be cautious with their purchases. He revealed that the price for his prized onions stands at 130 birr per kilo.
At the bustling Exhibition, Asnakech Ayele, a diligent buyer, shared her experience. She says she has bought some home furniture and spices she needed for the holiday by preparing months in advance. Asnakech laments that the market lacks the vigor it once possessed.
“There are all sorts of sellers here, but people are not buying as much as they used to in previous years,” Asnakech said. “The inflation is worsening, and people are barely able to afford their daily meals. Knowing that, a slow holiday market is expected.”
Concerned about the future, she worries that if the current conditions persist, the holiday market’s spirited atmosphere will be extinguished entirely.
Another seasoned entrepreneur, with 11 years of holiday market experience, now finds himself selling furniture in the Millennium Hall bazaar, a stone’s throw away from Bole International Airport in the vibrant Bole sub-city. Despite having an ample supply of goods, the businessman admits that demand has not met expectations.
To adapt to the sluggish holiday market, the furniture seller says he has diversified his offerings, including drinking glasses, casseroles, and various home equipment. However, he notes that consumer interest predominantly revolves around agricultural products, such as onions, red pepper or “Bebere,” and wheat flour. In previous holiday markets where he excelled in providing these products, his stock would sell out within the season, he claims.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the businessman says his original plan was to focus on agricultural supplies. However, the prevailing security concerns in different parts of the country have hindered his ability to source these products, forcing him to rethink his strategy.
The Reporter embarked on a comprehensive exploration of the holiday markets, which were hosted in event halls and exhibition centers near the renowned “Shola” market site in Yeka sub-city, as well as in Nefas Selk Lafto, Kirkos, and Bole sub-cities. However, the findings revealed a subdued atmosphere with a noticeable decline in buyer attendance.
At the market surrounding Saris, the price of butter ranged from 800 to 1200 birr per kilo, varying based on its freshness. Fresher batches commanded the higher prices. Local breed poultry was available at a price of 2000 birr, while a kilo of red onions was priced at 150 birr.
Sellers told The Reporter that the supply of poultry and red onions was significantly lower than in previous years. However, garlic managed to maintain a steady demand and was sold for 250 to 300 birr per kilo.
Moving to Saris Market, the price of eggs fluctuated between 15 birr each and 17 birr in local stores, while the Kera Market offered them at a more affordable rate of 12 birr. As for live animals, a small sheep could be acquired for 8000 birr, while medium and larger-sized sheep commanded between 11,000 and 16,000 birr, respectively. Similarly, a small live goat had an initial price tag of 8,000 birr, with medium and larger-sized goats ranging from 14,000 to 21,000 birr.
Livestock traders shed light on the situation, explaining that they were left with limited stock from the New Year and Meskel holiday celebrations. They attributed the scarcity of supply to the prevailing security issues across the country, which made it challenging to acquire more animals.
Meanwhile, at Lafto Market, prices displayed a slight decline. A small sheep was valued at 5000 birr, medium-sized sheep started at 9,000 birr, and larger ones were priced at 17,000 birr. The sellers said they had proactively secured their supply before the holiday season concluded, ensuring a consistent availability of animals.
However, the holiday market is experiencing a notable decline in customer turnout compared to previous years, casting a shadow over the festive spirit. Brimming with excitement and anticipation, it offers a glimpse into the challenges faced by both buyers and sellers during the festive season. Despite the trials brought on by inflation, the resilient spirit of the people remains intact as they adapt and make the most of the resources at hand in order to savor the joys of “Gena.”