Experiencing Ethiopia: Around Town (Part 1)

Having landed in Addis Ababa yesterday, I thought I might write down some of my impressions. The last time I was here was over 20 years ago, as I would fly between Khartoum and Nairobi for boarding school. Needless to say, much has changed, except for the warm hospitality of the Ethiopian people.

Mobile carrier’s and their spam advertising

No mobile carrier ads in Ethiopia's main aiport

No mobile carrier ads in Ethiopia’s main aiport


It’s non-existent here. I was shocked when I landed at the airport, since there were no billboards or ads for any mobile operators (only the phone manufacturers). I didn’t realize how much mobile operator advertising there is in the world until I got to Ethiopia.

2g vs 3g SIM cards
“What is that!?” I thought the guy who was telling me about them was confused, but he wasn’t. The actually sell SIM cards that are different here, and you can’t buy 3g SIM cards right now, since the government-run company (ETC) that manages all ISP and mobile carrier traffic is upgrading to 4g. They’ll sell 4g cards then, and until then you’re stuck with sipping out of the 2g straw.

Rent-a-SIM

Feleg with the working BRCK using ETC

Feleg with the working BRCK using ETC


Luckily I have a friend who has a friend, named Feleg, who rents SIM cards. He’s an Ethiopian techie who spent much of his life in Colorado, and is now back building his own businesses. Besides hooking me up with a 3g SIM which now runs in the BRCK, it turns out Feleg is a really good front-end engineer and UX guy.

The Internet Speeds
They remind me of internet speeds in Kenya in 2007, pre-undersea cable. Usable, but not great. Everyone says that they were faster until recently, when all the big road works started to cut the cables and cause some disruption in the service.

The Roads are Amazing
Hardly any traffic and really well built. There are advantages to a centralized autocracy, as Rwanda shows us as well. Police/soldier are everywhere – literally on every corner. Traffic is hit/miss, but overall moves faster than in Kenya. Mostly due to there not being a lot of cars. Importing a car here has seemingly arbitrary rates of duty, ranging from 100-500% (so I was told) and that number might change while the vehicle is in-transit.

Great Leather

Enzi - high-end leather shoes made in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Enzi – high-end leather shoes made in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


I didn’t know this before, but Ethiopia is renowned for it’s leather. Some of my old contacts have a shoe company called Enzi Footwear, who make some of the best quality leather shoes you’ll find anywhere. One of the founders works in Italy’s fashion markets, so you can guess just how nice they are. Unfortunately, they didn’t have my big shoe size, but you might see Bono wearing a pair from time-to-time.

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  1. Pingback: » Ethiopia‚Äôs tech landscape: unique challenges, massive potential

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