9 June 2018

Ethiopia: Good Rules Not Made to Be Broken

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It was 10:00PM and the taxi I was riding in was going in the opposite direction on a one-way road.

"Are you allowed to go this way?" I asked.

Half smiling the taxi driver replies, "I just thought I would since it's so late."

It seems as if most of the traffic rules designed to prevent accidents are mere suggestions to be heeded at the discretion of drivers. When a friend directed me to a hashtag conversation targeting youth, #CorruptFreeGeneration, it made me contemplate how such mindsets have taken root in Ethiopia.

The normalisation of corruption and manipulation of the legal system come to mind frequently.

A movie character asks, "if I'm not caught, does that mean I cheated?" Therein lies our attitude towards the rule of law, even amongst those that are informed of the law, who justify their actions with the view, "this is how things are done here."

This is a type of social corruption that leads to a dog-eat-dog world where every citizen looks after his own personal interests, often at the expense of others.

This may be as a result of the lack of proactive laws, and inadequate and stagnant provision of services that hampers citizens to a point where they are forced to work around the system just to get by. It may also be that there are some people who want to beat the system and get ahead of the pack.

This mentality could be one of the reasons that the traffic mortality rate in Ethiopia is amongst the highest in the world, with 325 fatalities recorded in the city within the first quarter of this fiscal year alone. Whenever there is a chance of avoiding getting traffic tickets, many opt to break the rules instead of playing by the books so that they can save on gasoline or reach their destinations faster.

I fear that this may also stem from lack of trust the public has on the expertise of the authorities. Despite recent measures undertaken to reduce traffic accidents, such as the use of breathalysers or point based penalty systems, the regulators have been unresponsive to changing environments and unable to adequately enforce the laws.

I was around during the construction of one of the ring roads in the city. The disarray of the ploughed roads masked the promise of modernity. Once it was finished, it became useful for drivers, but pedestrians have not been as lucky. The road crossings are set too far apart leading to too many people dangerously taking risks to jump over the traffic dividers.

Recently, in an effort to discourage such behaviour, traffic barriers have been designed to make it harder to climb over. Yet, pedestrians have improvised by adding stepping ladders to climb over the barriers.

Ethiopia has taken on too much and too quickly. As we rush to catch up with the rest of the world, we have skipped many steps in between to get to where we are today. We have adopted the policies and practices of other developing countries, setting aside our own experiences. We have disregarded our communal concerns for each other and shared values.

Some rules may merely serve as formalities because as citizens of a single country, we must look out for each others' and our collective interests. This also implies that we proceed with a sense of co-existence.

Do we need rules to form a queue while waiting for taxis?

There are those who think that they are smarter than the rest of us. They try to sneak in ahead of a taxi line or at the queue of a doctor's office. Such behaviours create precedences that can corrupt the value systems of an entire society.

Our community has normalised many of the "shortcuts" of the rules that are slowly chipping into the fibre of our co-existence. If we are going to make progress, everyone needs to have patience and let changes take hold before we dismiss them as nonsense. The authorities must likewise be proactive, flexible and issue rules that consider the multiple-faceted nature of the issues.

If we continue to be complacent of the abnormalities that we encounter, we become part of the problem and not the solution.

Ethiopia

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