Consequently, the Ethiopians are largely having to go it alone, and one of their success stories in recent years has been the emergence of a fit and healthy advertising industry.
Four years ago, I swapped a job at M&C Saatchi in London to come to teach in a film school in Ethiopia. Gem TV is now a fully fledged production company and, as well as making films for the likes of Unicef and Save the Children, also pays the bills by making TV commercials for the growing number of ad agencies in Addis Ababa.
By far the most successful is Cactus, which is wholly owned and fully staffed by Ethiopians. Its enviable client list includes Coca-Cola, Kodak, Mobil and Unilever. Client service-focused and good creatively, most of the advertising coming out of Cactus has a distinctly Ethiopian look and tone of voice.
The number of domestic advertisers is growing too, fuelling the growth of small and large Ethiopian businesses alike. A typical ad break on ETV, Ethiopia's only terrestrial service, will usually be ten minutes long and include ads for Ethiopian supermarkets, local breweries, banks and insurance companies, as well as international brand washing powders, beauty products and soft drinks. This begs the question: who's buying all this stuff?
The past few years have seen the emergence of a new Ethiopian consumer.
They are almost exclusively to be found in the cities, and they are often university-educated and work in the professions or run their own businesses.
Nowadays, BMWs and Mercedes are not unusual on the streets of Addis Ababa.
The must-have accessory is a mobile phone and many well-to-do Ethiopians will take shopping trips to Dubai. Not exactly the image most people have of Ethiopians.
Of course, they are the small minority, but with good governance the trickle-down effect of creating more of a consumer society can only be good for everyone. And the Ethiopian advertising industry is playing a major part.
- Bob Maddams is a producer at Gem TV.
This article was first published on Campaign