A Facebook campaign, "fuel blockade", which mainly targets Addis Abeba, was called for seven consecutive days starting last Tuesday, March 13, resulting in many drivers rushing to fuel stations across the city to be on the safe side. With fuel truck drivers feeling uncertain about the situation, protection was provided by security forces. The government declares that there is no fuel shortage in the country and it is fear that disturbs people, reports SOLOMON YIMER, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
Walelgn Yonas, a blue cab driver, went to two fuel stations to fill his fuel tank on the morning of last Friday, March 16, 2018; however, his attempt bore no fruit.
He visited a fuel station which retails received fuel from Oil Libya Company and another company which works under the umbrella of Total Ethiopia; the former is located at Addisu Gebeya while the latter is at Dil Ber.
For a taxi driver whose business depends on fuel supply, it was a surprise not to get fuel, at least at the two stations he stopped by.
"I have been searching for petrol, since the morning," he told Fortune. "The stations I visited posted a notice which reads 'No Fuel'," he adds.
What he did next was park his old blue cab by the side of the street and start thinking of ways to get fuel. Finally, he ringed up his friend who told him that Addis was probably hit by a fuel dearth for a week.
He learned that there was a campaign across the country aimed at halting any fuel supplies coming to the country and to block the transport of fuel inter-regionally.
Called and promoted through Facebook, the campaign 'fuel blockade' was called for seven consecutive days, starting from last Tuesday, March 13, 2018.
The effect of this became visible just a day before the campaign as many drivers were rushing to fuel stations across the city to be on the safe side. They were filling their tanks as much as they can, before the anticipated fuel shortage surfaces in the country.
Mekuanent Ayele, a young pump attendant at one of the fuel stations under the chain of Yetebaberut Beherawi Petroleum (YBP) in the CMC area, in front of Tsehay Real estate, applauds this.
"Last night, we were very busy filling cars until midnight as there was a long queue of drivers who were worried that stations in the city would go dry by the next morning," he said.
Though the station that Mekuanent is working at had a sufficient supply of fuel, the fuel trucks supplying them had suffered a lot before reaching the stations.
Owned by Yared Tesfaye, two fuel trucks were parked inside the station after passing through a challenging journey, especially in the Oromia Regional State.
"To escape from attacks by protesters, the drivers drove in the night," he told Fortune.
Yared owns four fuel trucks that carry 50,000lt of petroleum each, which regularly supply his four filling stations in Addis Abeba, Ziway, Adami Tulu and Meki.
Yared's challenge last week was not singular as the 800 filling stations, which happens to be one-third of the number of stations in Kenya, that retail fuel received from the 24 fuel distributors were uncertain about the fuel supply to the country, which is growing by 10pc every year.
The campaign was started by calling for fuel truck owners to refrain from transporting any fuel into and inside the country. The call includes a warning that serious measures would be taken on those who do not respond to the call.
The protesters aimed at cutting the distribution of the petroleum supply in the country, which annually consumes 3.5 million tonnes of petroleum procured at 2.5 billion dollars. The fuel is supplied to the nation through Djibouti and Sudan.
Re-established in 2012 and merging with the National Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the Ethiopian Petroleum Supply Enterprise procures the petroleum and supplies it to the 24 retail companies, of which 18 are local companies while the remaining are owned by, French, Kenyan, and Sudanese investors, to distribute it.
NOC, Libya Oil, Total, Taf Oil and YBP are the major players in the retail market, comprising the highest distribution share.
The current reserve capacity of the country stands at 367 million litres of petroleum and is reserved in 13 strategic locations of the country, which could enable the nation to withstand shortages for about 36 days.
The government is working on extending the reserve duration to 65 days when the under-construction depots are finalised. A new depot was inaugurated recently in Awash while the construction of another depot is underway in Dukam and currently the Enterprise is in the process of selecting a consultant for the project.
The blockage mainly targets Addis Abeba, which consumes 30pc of the diesel and 80pc of the petrol of the total fuel consumption of the country, supplied by 10 of the 24 retailers.
Scared by the warnings of the protesters, fuel truck drivers have been parking their trucks in Awash and Metahara towns for hours, afraid of crossing some places they assumed are not safe to drive through.
One of the drivers, who has been a cross-country driver for over 20 years, is one of the drivers that stayed for a day in Meki, fearing attacks.
"We were stopping in some places, fearing violence and attacks," he told Fortune. "We resume our journeys when things get back to normal."
Due to such inconsistencies, the fuel distribution in the capital was disrupted as users like that of Walelgn, the cab driver, faced challenges in getting diesel.
The filling stations were not constantly getting fuel, and so they were ceasing operations until another round of supplies saves them. And this ritual was common last week for many stations, leading drivers to drive for additional miles to get fuel.
But government officials from the Ethiopian Petroleum Supply Enterprise and the Federal Police Commission deny the disruption.
"Except for the social media hoax, the Enterprise has observed no supply problems," said Alemayehu Tsegaye, supply and sales manager at the Enterprise, "we are doing our regular job, as usual, distributing fuel to our customers."
However, police have confirmed that the fuel trucks which were entering and moving inside the country were protected by security forces, according to the Federal Police Commission.
"As a result of this, there was no supply shortage in the market," said Assefa Abiyu, the Federal Police Commissioner, speaking at the press conference held last Saturday on the premises of the commission located on Chad Street. "Since the end of the week, the trucks are entering without any protection."
Even though officials claim that supply is similar to that of the previous years, users such as Walelgn felt the shortage and were forced to stop by at the doors of at least three or four stations to refill their tanks.
The blockade campaign will extend until the middle of this week, leaving the city's residents, filling station owners and truck drivers uncertain about the situation.