Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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The car ‘makes’ the man!

“Four hundred thousand birr! Did I hear you say that?”

“Yes, you did?

“Are you telling me he bought a car for four hundred thousand birr?”

“You heard me right.”

“How could he do that! Just last week he was complaining he doesn’t have enough money to get his wife better medical attention!”

Years ago, that would have been common exchange to kick off small talk any street corner or watering hole. It just didn’t make sense. Four hundred thousand birr for a car! The guy could have gotten himself an entire clothes factory or something for that kind of money! Hmmm…

Who thought things would change so fast! I mean, changed in ways you couldn’t have thought possible a few years back. Looking at the cars tattooing Addis streets, any faint hearted soul would be excused to think they have come to the biggest car show spanning an entire city on this increasingly hapless planet.

“A million birr?”

“Yes, I am telling you he bought a car for a million birr! Isn’t that news?”

No, that is not news, not any more.

“So what?”

“So what! That’s all you have to say!”

“Look, people are driving cars costing four, five million birr and you’re making waves about a million birr car! Wake up; the nineteen eighties are long gone!”

On couldn’t have put it better. The nineteen eighties are long gone. I’m not sure if that calls for raising champagne glasses.  But, I couldn’t help asking myself if we guys in the street should be happy to see all those shiny toys.

“Where do people get so much money?”

“Are shockingly expensive cars what the country really needs?”

“We aren’t exactly in some twenty-second century metropolis! Who are we trying to impress?”

The questions power in because Addis could be anything but a Beverly Hills!

A friend recently hosts a guy from somewhere in central Europe. He takes him to places where almost everyone ventures these days, like the ‘Chechnya’ stretch. Yes, we got a Chechnya of our own! Well, the guy seemed to enjoy things. Absolutely no complaints; On the Eve of his departure my friend asks his guest what he thought of the city. He didn’t have to think long;

“Can you tell me what all this expensive cars are doing on the streets of such a poor country?”

My friend, a guy who prides himself of having nerves of steel, was left speechless

His guest worked his muscles sore for days, both on the dancing floors and on the sleeping mattresses, and that is all he has to say! My friend expected something like, “Your ladies! Oh my, oh my! Your beautiful ladies!”  From the twenty-something to the seventy-something, that what visitors are used to saying. My poor friend just giggled and changed the subject. What could he have said! I mean, convincing his guest people were entitled to do whatever they like with their money in a country where every dollar is some Arc of the Covenant wouldn’t have been that easy!

The lady with the car that looks one from ‘The Fast and The Furious’ could snap at you; “Don’t tell me what sort of car I have to buy! It is my money and none of your business.”

That’s my lady! She is right; it’s appears to be none our business. But, like it or not, it is? We don’t barter cars for sacks of corn or something! We shave off millions from our foreign currency reserves; and could any straight thinking person have the guts to tell us that is none of our business!  In times like we are in where things seem to be getting bleaker by the day, throwing away foreign currency doesn’t seem a very smart, and responsible, thing to do.

But then there is this human thing of upping the game, because that is what it is, a game; a game mastered by especially businesspeople who love flexing their financial muscles. A businessman buys an eight hundred thousand birr car and parks it in front of his shop or whatever; the guy across the street is not going to take that lying down. Not while he has a whiff of breath left in him! Within a short time a million birr shiny car adorns his shop front. Game tied; no checkmate, no extra time winning goal. Justice has been made.

People around the million dollar guys tell us that sense of ‘not being left behind’ drives many to the point of utter futility. We hear they take loans for projects which seem marvelous on paper and instead buy the latest cars! One wouldn’t want people to say, “He still drives that five hundred thousand birr car! What the matter with him!” “Maybe his business failed and he is peddling candies and chewing gum.” Laughter! Life is not about your fifteen thousand birr suit, but your million birr car.  

Ok, the businesspeople are throwing away their own money, hard-earned or otherwise. “Hello! It is their money wise guys!” But why should government bigwigs need cars driven by Hollywood stars? The rank and file doesn’t expect to be impressed by how quietly their million birr pieces of toy glide but by how the institutions they lead perform.  Nobody is going to say, “What’s wrong with the guy! How could he drive that sort of car?”

The uncomfortable reality is that precious foreign currency, of which we posses less and less, is being thrown to the wind. An organization a certain CEO manages has been in the red for the last five years yet he warms the seat of a three million birr car! Even a Freud would find it hard to come with any explanation!

When one venture to certain parts of the city like the Bole Medhanealem area, one’s attention isn’t hijacked by the architectural wonders, of which there are practically none, but the types of cars that line the front entrances of buildings.

When the car ‘makes’ the man, the train must have jumped a couple of stations.

Recently, a few of us were talking about the car issue; one lady asks, “Many businesses are finding it hard to get foreign currency to import things. Yet very expensive cars are being imported. What’s going on?”

She said it all. What in the world is going on!


Contributed by By Ephrem Endale





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