"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


the real thing

I study state failure. We throw around that phrase all the time, but there's actually a substantial debate as to what precisely makes a state "failed," or whether it's "collapsed" or just "weak."

(Bored yet? You should read the literature review in my dissertation.)

Measuring state failure is difficult. I've read complicated explanations that try to account for institutional activity and political effectiveness. One paper at APSA last year used postal service usage rates as a determinant (which is pretty clever, except that by that measure, Germany becomes a failed state circa 1995 due to the advent of e-mail). But there's one indicator that seems to be agreed on by everyone: if there's no Coca-Cola or beer available, your state is in deep trouble.

I don't know if you've ever been deep in a Congolese jungle or out in the middle of nowhere in southern Kenya, but I've certainly never been anywhere in Africa that didn't have readily available cokes. Sure, the more remote the location, the less likely they are to be cool, but they're always there. Coke is cheap (hate to tell you this, America, but it doesn't cost anywhere near $1.50 to bottle and transport a container full of high fructose corn syrup), highly addictive, relatively easy to move in crates, and the recyclable glass bottles that are still used throughout the developing world mean that a bottling company's intial investment goes a long way. Not to mention that Coca-Cola distributors typically have a monopoly over operations in their territories.

By this measure, Ethiopia is in trouble. They've run out of coke. In Addis Ababa. It's apparently an issue of access to credit and/or foreign currency. And technically, they haven't run out of coke, but rather have run out of metal bottle caps. Enterprising street children are apparently busy collecting the millions of bottle caps that litter the streets of Addis just like they do every African city.

Of course, Ethiopia isn't a failed state. Yet. The government is corrupt, but still strong enough to engage in lots of political repression. And their lack of transparency in governance and problems managing the economy are clearer every day. Too bad none of Ethiopia's leaders will be able to cool off with a nice Coca-Cola to forget.


Blogger Lisby said...

Yes! Coke is so, so available in the middle of nowhere in the Congolese jungle. And it's transported on someone's head or maybe a bicycle if they're lucky.

However, it's perhaps worth noting that regardless of the almost infallible supply of Coke in Congo, there is essentially no reliable postal service (apart from DHL). That is, unless you want to wait a year to get a package that's already been opened and picked through. We use a BP in Rwanda just across the border.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 4:38:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Oh, yeah. I had to do the same thing when I was there; the FedEx in Gisenyi saved me more than once. But the informal postal network of friends carrying packages for friends is incredible. I knew I'd really earned people's trust when they started using me as an in-country courrier while on my travels.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 7:32:00 PM

Blogger J. said...

Is there any place that comes to mind where they've run out of beer? (I mean, besides, like, Yemen or Afghanistan...)

Friday, March 27, 2009 11:25:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

I think parts of Somalia don't have coke distribution. But beer? The thing is, people can always brew their own booze, right?

Friday, March 27, 2009 6:55:00 PM


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