Ethiopia's government is keen to further develop Ethiopia's cities and infrastructure and wants to increase its per-capita cement consumption from 35kg
/yr at present to ~300kg/yr in the period to 2017. To do this, it is encouraging the cement sector to swell from its current capacity (7.4Mt/yr integrated capacity with additional grinding capability) to over 27Mt/yr by the same year. At the same time, the country has banned cement imports, a bold statement of intent designed to protect its own growing industry.
This week, we have learned that the country is hitting its bold production targets, largely without assistance from outside players. However, it seems that Ethiopia is incapable of consuming the volumes of cement that have been produced. As of 12 August 2013, the Ministry of Industry announced that Ethiopia made 12Mt of cement in the year to 7 July 2013, more than double the 5.4Mt/yr that it demanded over the same period. This revelation casts the government's future predictions for rapid cement demand growth in serious doubt.
While it takes effort to picture Ethiopia producing 27Mt/yr of cement by 2017, such rapid development is happening in west Africa, where Nigeria's Dangote Cement is achieving 'regional-giant' status.
However, it would take a very great leap of imagination to believe that Ethiopia could consume 27Mt/yr in 2017, five times what it does today, even with the development of major projects like the Millennium Renaissance Dam (a US$4.2bn hydroelectric project), major city and road-building projects and a rapidly growing population. Its cement capacity would have to grow by 4.9Mt/yr, representing average year-on-year cement demand growth of 52.5%/yr. Even with a cement industry the size of Ethiopia's, this represents almost impossible growth. To support this increase in demand, GDP/capita, which is often closely correlated to cement demand, would probably also have to raise fivefold, from US$374 to US$1870. This difference would take it from the bottom 20% of African nations well into the top third by this measure.
If this over-production trend continues, it does not bode well for Ethiopia's domestic cement industry. While exports may appear attractive, options are limited. Kenya to the south has a larger and more well-established cement industry, Somalia has major economic and security drawbacks and Ethiopia's relationships with Eritrea and Djibouti, both of which declared independence from Ethiopia, are tense. With no coast of its own, maritime exports will be difficult, especially with low-cost cement flowing from India, Pakistan and Iran. South Sudan, with its lack of cement production facilities, plentiful oil and major trade/border dispute with Sudan, could offer a small market for Ethiopian exports, but not enough to satisfy a ~20Mt/yr overcapacity.
Read Global Cement's January 2013 review of the Ethiopian cement industry here.