Ethiopia Culture of Business

By | July 24, 2022


  • Introduction
  • Addressing
  • Business Meeting
  • Communication
  • Recommendations
  • Public holidays


Ethiopia and Ethiopians are specific compared to other peoples of Africa. They are very proud of their history (the development of Christianity, Ethiopia was never colonized) and they don’t like to hear comparisons with other countries that could put Ethiopia in a negative light. Due to the long dominance of the state and semi-state sectors, the private sector is only in the early stages of development. In negotiations, Ethiopians are very friendly and show interest. Achieving the result, however, requires long-term interaction and several visits to the country, as well as flexibility and patience. Personal presence is clearly preferred, at least in the form of a local representative.


At the beginning, it is necessary to evaluate if the offered product or service is also applicable in the Ethiopian market and if it is possible to find a suitable partner with whom it will be possible to cooperate. Despite the government’s emphasis on strengthening the private sector, it is still at an early stage of development. Companies from China are very active in the market, benefiting from the fact that price is often the most important factor. In some industries, this trend is starting to change, but competition is strong. In business circles, personal contact is strongly preferred, business relationships are established very complicatedly via e-mail or telephone.

  • Programingplease: Yearbook 2010 of nation Ethiopia, including population, politics, and abbreviations.

Business meeting

It is necessary to prepare well for negotiations with partners from Ethiopia. Frequent questions include examples of concrete use of the offered product or service in other countries, advantages offered compared to the competition, etc. Meetings most often take place directly in the counterpart’s office or during lunch or dinner. Due to the lack of exact addresses, it is necessary to ask in detail about the route and the exact location of the office (even within the building) or the restaurant. In this case, it is ideal to be accompanied by someone local, because orientation in the city is difficult and no one else is able to direct the guest except the representatives of the company/ministries themselves. The company’s presentation should be clear, understandable and convincing. The perception of time is different from European customs, in particular meetings at offices and ministries are confirmed a maximum of a day or two in advance, it is not possible to plan an exact schedule well in advance. In the case of a business trip, it is necessary to allow sufficient time reserve, arm yourself with patience and be flexible. The use of business cards is not a matter of course, it often happens that even high-ranking representatives of government structures (deputies, directors of unions) do not have a business card. It is therefore necessary to have a sufficient supply of your own business cards and at the same time ask your partners for their contact details.

A Czech businessman may be surprised by the friendly atmosphere of negotiations, Ethiopians are inquisitive and have a positive attitude. If Ethiopians arrive late for a meeting, it does not automatically indicate a lack of respect for the partner, traffic in the capital is erratic and delays in the lower tens of minutes are tolerable. In the case of online meetings, you need to expect a lower quality internet connection and outages. At the same time, these meetings are often disturbed by sounds from the building or the street. An Ethiopian vice is talking on the phone during business meetings. Usually, Ethiopians do not go straight to the point during negotiations, digressions to other topics are frequent, and sufficient space must also be devoted to social conversation at the beginning.

Ethiopians tend to be very well prepared for business negotiations. They are attentive listeners, but at the same time they often have specific additional questions. It is therefore necessary to be prepared to react flexibly. Ethiopian businessmen respect the foreign partner, negotiations take place in a friendly atmosphere. In negotiations, Ethiopians are very open to new ideas. Ethiopians are a very proud nation, it is necessary to treat them with enough respect. It is not appropriate to compare them with other Africans.

Religion is a very strong factor in Ethiopian society and must be taken into account in business negotiations. In Ethiopian and generally African partners, there is a deep-rooted respect for old age and a sense of hierarchy. Ethnic tension is pervasive in Ethiopia, ethnic identity is strong, and trade partners within the country are preferred within the same ethnic group. It is therefore not appropriate to bring up topics related to ethnicity and political opinions during business negotiations.

It is advisable to arrive on time for the meeting, but do not automatically expect the same from the Ethiopian side. It is necessary to be flexible, to allow for possible downtime and delays in planning. In the event of the other party’s delay, it is best to pass the matter on and concentrate on the content of the meeting. For meetings in the capital, it is necessary to take into account possible delays during transfers. When planning the schedule, it is good to allow enough time, negotiations with some partners are brief, but with others they can drag on.

Ethiopians are mostly positive and expect their partners to act in a similar spirit. Ethiopians can read their counterparts well and can react to the situation. They expect consensual behavior and mutual respect.

Local specifics can result from religion, ethnicity and climate in specific regions. Apart from the capital and other larger cities, residents are only minimally exposed to (foreign) trade. In the provinces, it is also necessary to take into account lower language skills and more limited human resources. In regions with a warmer climate, it is advisable to arrange meetings for the morning, as all activities are subdued towards the afternoon hours.

Ethiopians enjoy tea and coffee, which is an integral part of the local culture. It is not appropriate to offer alcohol.

The first impression and appearance is important. Ethiopians care a lot about their appearance, they walk very well groomed, you also need to pay attention to your shoes. For a business meeting, dress formally, preferably a dark suit and tie, ladies’ suit or dress. Clothing and appearance are definitely not good to underestimate.

There is an emphasis on status and seniority. The higher the business partner, the better. It is better to overestimate your position in the company than to underestimate it, Ethiopians will appreciate if a person who can make decisions for the company is a member of the delegation or a representative of the company. Respect for old age and a sense of hierarchy are deeply rooted in African partners. Therefore, it can be good for a senior colleague to be part of the business delegation. However, the government’s priorities include gender equality and women in senior positions are highly respected.

In Ethiopia, it is not unusual to invite a foreign business partner to your home, it is often only a social gesture and the visit itself does not take place. If the invitation and the subsequent visit really happen, it is a sign of interest and an effort to show the local culture to the partner. The visit usually includes lunch or dinner, probably in traditional Ethiopian style. It is customary to bring a small gift to your partner.


Is it important to bring an interpreter with you?

The ability to communicate in English is sufficient in business circles and in higher positions in the state administration, the majority of the population speaks it. You need to get used to the local dialect. A local partner, even if he does not act as an interpreter, is always an asset. Visit Allunitconverters for more information about Ethiopia culture and traditions.

How about language facilities?

The population has only a limited command of English.

Are there any communication taboos? Saving face is extremely important to Ethiopians. During negotiations, it is therefore necessary not to forget their national pride and to be careful that the counterpart does not get into an embarrassing situation or feel insulted. It is not appropriate to open topics such as the current political situation in the country or religion on your own initiative.

What is the best way to communicate (in person, email, phone, etc.)?

Definitely a personal deal. If the partners do not know each other for a long time, business relations do not develop after email or phone. It is necessary to build personal trust first, then it is possible to continue communication by phone. Ethiopians are very fond of using applications such as Signal, Telegram or Whatsapp. It is important to set certain boundaries of mutual communication, Ethiopians are able to call 10 times in a row if you do not pick up the phone. At the same time, they like to call outside of standard working hours, late in the evening and on weekends.


What would you recommend to entrepreneurs who are going to Ethiopia?

Basic principles when dealing with Ethiopian partners, the respect of which will help to promote the business plan:

Contact ZÚ Addis Ababa, who can provide up-to-date information, advise on the business case, verify the reality of the business offer, arrange meetings, provide assistance.

Get to know the business and economic priorities of the current government, have a basic overview of the country’s development in recent years.

Take your time. Gradually moving from general things to specific things will help the partner to better understand the proposals.

Expect program changes, rescheduling of meetings and rush hour traffic.

Prepare the project well and be specific in the argumentation, adhere to the agreed deadlines, although the approach of the Ethiopian side may be more lax.

Public Holidays

Public Holidays:

January 7, Genna – Orthodox Christmas

January 19 Timkat – baptism of Jesus Christ

2 March Adwa Day – victory over the Italians at Adwa (1896)

March 8 International Women’s Day

May 1 Labor Day

May 5 Victory over Italian Fascism Day (1941)

May 28 National holiday fall of the military regime DERG (1991)

September 11 Ethiopian New Year

September 27 Meskel – finding the True Cross

Moving holidays are also celebrated:

April Seklet – Orthodox Easter – Good Friday

April Fasika – Easter Sunday, the following Sunday

Eid-al-Fitr – the end of Ramadan

Eid-al-Adha – the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca

Mawlid – Birth of the Prophet Mohammed

Ethiopia Culture of Business