Coca-Cola bottler suspends production in Ethiopia
By Anita Powell, Associated Press Writer | March 19, 2009


A Coke Kiosk in Addis Ababa
A Coke kiosk in a beautiful setting in Addis shows how much the Coke culture has been integrated into the society. Coke closing down production, even temporarily, means missing a piece of the lifestyle or taste. Photo courtesy: Irene2005
ADDIS ABABA - It has survived two coups and three Ethiopian regimes, earning the devotion of the people and a place of honor at many a wedding, funeral and social gathering.

Its name, one of the few English words so widely recognized, can be heard in every corner of this rural and impoverished land. Its iconic red logo covers ramshackle tin-roofed shops in even the most remote village.

But now, Ethiopia's Coca-Cola production has gone flat, interrupting a five-decade reign.

Ethiopia's shortage of foreign currency means the local bottling company cannot import crown cork, the squishy white material found inside bottlecaps. The cork seals the bottle, maintaining the drink's carbonation.

"The shortage is forcing us to temporarily stop the production of Coca-Cola products," said a statement that the East Africa Bottling Share Company circulated this week, explaining measures it took last week.

The local bottler last Thursday sent its 1,000 employees home on forced leave until they reopen, but on full pay, the statement said.

A company worker in Addis Ababa, who asked not to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the press, said this was the first time Coca-Cola has stopped production since beginning operations in Ethiopia in 1959.

But this is not the first time Ethiopia has struggled to keep foreign money in its reserves. The recent global financial crisis has led to dwindling foreign investment and fewer exports, which means less foreign money is coming into the country.

The Ethiopian government also strictly controls foreign money inside the country, placing limits on how much can be taken out of the country and limiting how much Ethiopian currency can be converted into foreign currency. In 2008, police conducted a sting operation on illegal exchange outlets around the capital, shutting them down and punishing those involved.

In recent days, the drink _ called "Coca" by locals _ has disappeared from shops in Addis Ababa and in other towns around the country. Its departure has driven up the prices of other soft drinks, to about 40 U.S. cents. A bottle of Coke usually sells for the equivalent of about 28 U.S. cents.

"It's bizarre," said Abebaw Asefaw, 45, a neighborhood recreation center manager. "It's a problem I've never heard of in this country, as long as I can remember."

Solomon Negussie, 27, a university student, said he misses his daily jolt of the caffeinated cola and has had to substitute with strong Ethiopian coffee.

"I drink it once a day," he said. "It's one of those things I thought we would never run out of. I took the availability for granted. I wish they would solve the foreign exchange problem soon so that we get Coca back on the market."

The Coca-Cola Co. is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia in the U.S.


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