Friends and money: Balancing affection and reciprocity among young men in urban Ethiopia

by Daniel Mains

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By Daniel MainsFull Article:

In Jimma, Ethiopia, young men’s friendships involve affection and reciprocal exchange of material goods, and in many cases the balance between the two creates conflicts. I examine tensions concerning exchange and friendship in relation to literature on love and transactional sex in Africa to argue for a conception of friendship that does not assume that calculation and self-interest conflict with affection. For friends in urban Ethiopia, affection and material interest are inextricable, and this often generates feelings of jealousy and mistrust. Similarities in the ways lovers and friends struggle to balance affection and exchange indicate that sex and romantic love may not be the primary sources of tension within relationships. I argue that friendship is often a particularly flexible and ambiguous relationship, and in comparison to relations between lovers, this flexibility reduces conflicts between those involved.