April 15, 2006
Fortune printed a strange story last week. Under the headline The Diplomatic Landlord, it reported on how the caretaker of the Bulgarian Embassy in Addis Ababa was renting out parts of the building to businesses and private tenants. The story's opening paragraphs read:
Out of the norms of diplomatic engagement, and violating the country's commercial laws, one of the European embassies in Addis Abeba has involved in indiscreet businesses ranging from nightclub to renting its premises for businesses and residences. Nobody seems to care to stop it, learnt Tagu Zergaw, Fortune Staff Writer.
The Embassy of Bulgaria, with both its chancery and residence located on Haile Gebreselassie Road, opposite Haile Building, has been renting apartments and office spaces to companies and individuals.
This is against the regulations of the country, which state that a diplomatic mission or its stuff with diplomatic status, are by no means to be involved in commercial endeavors without prior consent and knowledge of the Ministry, according to officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It was a strange story for two reasons.
The first was that it wasn't really a story - there was nothing new about it. Everybody already knows about the Bulgarian Embassy. The big complex on Haile Gebreselassie Road is a relic of the Mengistu era when Ethiopia had strong relationships with the Eastern Bloc. These days there is next to nothing for a Bulgarian ambassador to do in Ethiopia. So the diplomats left and, over time, the private tenants moved in. The situation was so accepted that, as the article says, even the United Nations' Childrens Agency UNICEF was about to move some of its departments in. "Nobody [seemed] to care to stop it" because no one was that bothered. No one was losing. It was hard to get that excited about a technical breach in the "norms of diplomatic engagement" with all the other things that were going on in Ethiopia.
The second reason was that the story didn't mention that one of the main tenants in the Bulgarian Embassy, up until earlier this week, was one of Fortune's competitors in the English-language newspaper market - The Sub-Saharan Informer. Days after the Fortune article appeared, The Sub-Saharan Informer was called into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ordered to leave its offices just after its regular Thursday print run. As I write this the staff are out on the streets with their computers loaded into the back of a couple of cars looking for somewhere else to work.
Maybe Fortune could offer them a couple of rooms until they find a new home.
Posted by aheavens at April 15, 2006 9:43 AM