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Greg Dorey


Part of UK in Ethiopia

28th March 2012

Ambo in Ambo

“Ambo” is slang for Ambassador. So as soon as I knew of the existence of a town by that name in Ethiopia, I was keen to visit – I’ll go a long way for a good blog title. So I visited Ambo last Friday, not least so I could learn more about development outside of Addis Ababa. The town is about 100km west of the capital, on the main road that runs to the Sudanese border.  Some 50,000 people live there and it is host to Ambo University (not a diplomatic academy), the famous Ambo mineral water factory, flower farms and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  I visited all but the swimming pool (I have no desire to have my acquatic performance contrasted with Ethiopia’s sporting hopefuls).

We started the day at the Ethio-Argi flower farm in Holeta, near Ambo.  It is a substantial site (about 50 hectares) that produces nine different types of roses.  The majority of the flowers are picked, chilled and flown to Europe and the Middle East and the farm is an important local employer – employing around 700 people.  I was highly impressed by the quality of the staff I met, who explained to me in fluent English about different growing techniques and how they are trying to improve access to market.  The farm has unsurprisngly been affected by the global economic downturn and is in the process of diversifying into vegetable production – I saw huge greenhouses filled with broccoli, cabbage, snow drops and strawberries, many grown organically. It was striking though that almost all the inputs are imported from abroad: if these could be produced in Ethiopia, production cost savings (and profits) could be much higher.

Next stop was the Ambo Mineral Water factory, bottling natural spring water since 1930.  Ambo is the most popular (and the only naturally produced domestic) sparkling water brand in Ethiopia.  The factory produces 24,000 bottles of sparkling water a day; runs 24 hour around the clock: and has recently launched a new range of flavoured sparkling waters.  Aside from their large domestic market, Ambo is increasingly targeting other countries in the region, the Middle East and even China.  Ambo is being run by SAB Miller, a South African firm, and has brought in high-end technology to make the bottling process more efficient.  There is a new emphasis on training and upskilling staff.  Despite challenges in operating in Ethiopia (particularly power supply), the factory’s manager talked enthusiastically of the potential of a market of 85 (and growing fast) million people.

There has been a higher education college in Ambo since 1960, making it one of the oldest educational institutions in Ethiopia: it was granted formal university status two years ago.  There are 10,000 full-time students, and as many again part time students.  This is one of Ethiopia’s planned 36 universities, which will help train and prepare millions of young Ethiopians for employment (this year alone will produce 100,000 new graduates in Ethiopia).  The university has four campuses, with some new and excellent sports facilities.  Ethnic groups are deliberately mixed to promote inter-ethnic relations.  The University President and I met some impressive representatives of the Student Union, who grilled me about Britain’s role in Ethiopia and our global foreign policy – it was encouraging to find a very positive view of the UK’s image.  I left my namesake town with a very positive image of Ethiopia’s tremendous potential and talent – not least in business development terms – which is being unlocked. This week, a British trade mission organised by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and featuring around 20 UK business leaders is visiting Ethiopia to learn more about the investment climate here.  (Last week a similar number of British educational establishments and academic publishers were here for an Education Exhibition and Conference organised by the British Council and UK Trade and Investment.) From what I saw in Ambo last Friday, there is a lot to be excited about in Ethiopia.

1 comment on “Ambo in Ambo

  1. Dear Ambassador Greg Dorey.
    I was living in Ambo when in 1975 the Derg had nationalized my sawmill and when my parents and I went to Brazilian Amazon to continue the forestry business. At that time in Ambo there was seven white family: four british at the agricultural school, one italian manager of the mineral water, another italian owner of the limestone factory and me, italian as well. We were not many, but enough to spent good time meeting at night.
    I liked the expression Ambo in Ambo, I did not know, even having spent so much time with my old british friends. Best regard.

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