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The Exchange
Articles

THE EXCHANGE


We are delighted to invite you to the one-year anniversary gala celebrating the opening of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange in Addis Ababa.

Popularly dubbed “ECX” by the five people who know of its existence, the innovative endeavor catapulted “ECX” into the lexicon of powerful names. Forget Wall Street! The next set of convoluted financial instruments—whether they be derivatives or swaps—will be Ethiopian inspired! The Mitmita Girls, as a public service, offer you an exclusive glimpse into the world of High Finance, Ethiopian Style! True to Wall Street tradition, we will be hosting the “ECX” (affectionately nicknamed by us as simply “The Exchange”) anniversary party at the Sheraton—(drinks and appetizers by the pool followed by dancing!)

Where capitalism and stock markets have in general been crashing and burning in the West, they are being resurrected in the horn of Africa. The US with its Bill of Rights and near fanatical obsession with freedom of the press and individual liberties saw Wall Street teetering on collapse. While many questioned the infallibility of the markets and capitalism as a whole, quite the opposite was taking place in Ethiopia. There, in the birthplace of humankind, no one is bothering with pesky concerns like regulations, oversight provisions or the invisible hand of the market. Discussions of that nature are academic here—by that we mean, they are nonexistent. It seems that we have had it wrong all along: capitalism doesn’t need a free society to flourish! Evidently it can sprout just about anywhere, even in a dictatorship. Much like building the perfect man, all you need is some magic dust known as US dollars, a sprinkle of an inflated Western Education via an Ivy League School and a dollop of that good ole “can do” attitude innate to Ethiopians!

The architects of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange appear to be students of history. It may seem antithetical to many, including we Mitmita Girls, that a ”free market system” can burgeon under the repressive conditions present in Ethiopia. The naysayers have already noted the obvious: lack of press freedom, a silenced opposition, no judicial independence, a petrified population, the government’s near chokehold grip on all aspects of the economy and finally the lack of any institutions that can support healthy trade and development. What we may view as obstacles are seedlings of hope for our potential traders and masters of industry. One need only look at the beginnings of capitalism in the United States to suddenly realize that conditions in Ethiopia are indeed ripe for the so-called unfettered functioning of the market.

Lest you have forgotten, dear reader, the greatest story of free markets began on the backs of African slaves and Native American blood. In short, whether John Adams admits it or not, the Wealth of Nations was secured by an out-and-out genocide. History has proven to us that the origins of the world’s most fabulous example of capitalism were something quite different from the usual themes of freedom, equality and brotherhood.

It is an antiquated and rather misleading notion that markets require a “free society” to function efficiently. In fact, discussions of capitalism in the United States would be quite remiss if they didn’t include a rather blunt admission of the existence of an essential element: slave labor. Institutionalized slavery and the wholesale extermination of indigenous populations on this continent contributed immensely to the wealth of this nation and to the phenomenal success of capitalism.

How? Here is a brief recap. To begin with, the land on which this nation blossomed was stolen from many other native nations. Recall Manifest Destiny? Second, bridges, roads, railroads, monuments and even the hollowed institutions of Washington—including the White House, were built by African slaves. Third, America’s industrious companies benefited from a convict lease system which following the “official” end of slavery, working to preserve the white supremacist status quo for decades. Fourth and most ironic of all, Wall Street, that venerable institution of capitalism is built on sacred soil—that gilded street rests on an African burial ground. Remains of Black slaves, who were brought to New York in the 1600s and who worked as skilled laborers and artisans were found in 1991 as contractors dug up the ground to erect another skyscraper in the financial district. It’s eerie to consider that on trading floors atop African bones, companies such as Aetna, slavery profiteers, bought and sold stock.

It is easy to sing the praises of capitalism and exalt the merits and wealth obtained through market efficiencies if one neglects history. Or as many do, engage in revisionist history, selectively choosing which history to acknowledge and which to discard as irrelevant.

So we surmise that the government of Ethiopia and the designers of the marvelous ECX must be counting on a similar road to success: before them lies a captive audience—80 million to be exact—whose lives and livelihoods exist at the whim of Meles Zenawi’s regime. They provide the free labor and serve as victims of a market experiment concocted by illustrious western educated economists convinced that the answers to chronic hunger in Ethiopia rests with the training of a class of speculators on grain, coffee and seeds.

As though the notion of some Ethiopian-inspired commodities and derivatives exchange isn’t fantastical enough for our big eager eyes to consider, we are reminded time and time again by the exchange mavens that the ECX is modeled after or inspired by the Chicago commodity exchange. This, no doubt, is supposed to inspire confidence in us because that mere fact alone speaks to the brilliance of an exchange in Ethiopia.

It is as if by any stretch of the imagination Chicago can resemble Addis Ababa. Because the last time we checked this metropolitan American city was like a third world capital rampant with corruption, greed and hunger. On second thought, maybe it can resemble Addis. If we hark back to when Al Capone or some other gangster ran the city, then perhaps the Windy city can resemble an African town with its working poor toiling day and night and the glitterati coming out to play only at night.

But we digress…we think that what we are supposed to get from the comparison with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is that our beloved country may yet be saved from its descent into third world shenanigans by shopping! At the end of the day even the founders of the ECX describe a commodity exchange as a “central place where sellers and buyers meet to transact in a organized fashion”—basically a mall! And while we have spent a better part of our youth swearing that not owning a particularly hot pair of shoes would kill us, we are unequivocal in our belief that Ethiopia does not need a commodity exchange. What we need is freedom from Meles Zenawi.

So we will continue to ask the improbable and gauche questions that Western journalists seem reticent to broach as they fall all over themselves to praise forcing a square such as a commodity exchange into a circle such as Ethiopia: will there be an Ethiopian regulatory agency similar to SROs—Self Regulatory Organizations or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission? We ask because the Ethiopian government has just been so exceptional at the whole transparency and accountability thing; we are sure they are quite eager to start up yet another ad hoc committee dedicated to, among other things, ensuring that everyone adheres to generally accepted accounting principles.

Never mind that it is the quite visible hand of the esteemed Prime Minister that orchestrates everything. What is the point of this dog and pony show? The government will regulate the price of sorghum as they see fit, regardless of the existence of a commodity exchange! Being intimately familiar with Wall Street, however, we understand that much of the intrigue of securities is in perception and appearances. Now that we have ECX, aren’t we quite the thoroughly modern Millie?

So perhaps the bells and whistles of the ECX may distract a less worthy adversary but we are keeping our eyes on the prize: you can have your commodity exchange, Prime Minister and we will fight you for our land. Don’t let the stilettos and flippant remarks fool you, we understand quite well plots to steal our wealth and we will be watching you.



http://www.mitmitaye.com/2009/07/exchange.html



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