3 November 2018

Ethiopia: To Achieve Development, Conservatism Needs Harnessing

opinion

While corruption, nepotism and instability are attributable to Ethiopia's underdevelopment, the inability of successive governments to harness the deeply ingrained conservatism of Ethiopians is a chief cause, writes Ambessaw Assegued.

The confusion starts soon after a non-national litigant arrives at the High Court in Lideta, six hours earlier than the scheduled time for the hearing.

"But my lawyer said 8:30. Is it not what it says on the summons?" he asks the clerk, who struggles to communicate to him, in what little English she manages, that he is in error and should come back later.

"The appointment is for this afternoon, not this morning," she pains to inform him, and the matter is resolved when the non-national leaves the courthouse sulking and banging on his mobile phone.

Apparently, he is more angered by his lawyer's failure to remind him about the correct time.

Ethiopians begin to count daytime from dawn, when the Sun rises in the morning; and start to measure nighttime at dusk. This is in contravention of the occidental timekeeping which divides the 24-hour day between noon and midnight.

Nothing is at it seems in Ethiopia, a nation quilted out of oriental and occidental fabrics. Time is measured here as if it has no constants that tick and progress in discrete points of hours, minutes and seconds.

Time is understood in vague references, in lump sums and aggregates that indicate random, inconstant and uncertain occurrences of events. An appointment with a colleague is left to chance and probabilities. If it is consummated, it is greeted with surprise; and when it fails, it is dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders.

The litigant returns to the courthouse with his snug and gloating local lawyer, who has failed to orient him about Ethiopian time. They both take a seat in the crowded and sullen chambers of the Seventh Bench where a low murmur hangs in the air while everyone waits their turn.

A clerk peaks her head out from a side room and calls out names and escorts whoever responds to a back room and disappears. After an hour or two, she emerges carrying a huge bundle of files in her embrace and tells everyone to follow her downstairs.

There is a mad stampede for the door and into a huge office where chairs and desks are arranged along the walls, where court officials are pouring over documents. The anxious non-national and his lawyer join the crowd that mill around the desks.

The clerk flops her bundle on desk number seven and rushes out while she announces to her tail that all the files have been processed. There is already a pile of documents stacked up several feet high and spewing every which way on the desks.

Dossiers, some bound and others loose, are pulled out by the officials to be examined and then transferred to other bedlam piles on the desks; some are placed on the overburdened shelves behind them or are tossed to the floor.

There are stacks of files in every corner of the room, knee-deep, all bound in tattered folders, standing askew, brimming with layers of dust that attest to the length of time they have stood unperturbed in the room.

Suddenly, the court officials announce that all matters from the Seventh Bench are concluded for the day and dismiss the crowd until the following Monday. The non-national sulks and follows behind his lawyer who is by now engaged with other matters in his brief at a different table.

Into this scene of Byzantine officialdom, a modern network of computers, printers and mobile phones have intruded. Never mind that these contraptions only work when the electricity and the internet systems are uninterrupted, which is seldom.

Why, we ask, with all the appendages of progress in place, has our country remained in the doldrums of modernity today? Why do we have electricity that is constantly interrupted after spending billions of Birr in building power generation plants? Why do we receive water intermittently in our taps when the country is endowed with enviable water resources that range from lakes to streams, rivers and underground aquifers?

The standard answers for our all our failures have been rampant corruption, nepotism and instability over the decades. Indeed, these are contributing factors, but they fall short of other factors at play. Namely, the national psyche and tendency of Ethiopians toward conservatism.

The failure of the Dergueand the EPRDF regimes is that the changes they advocated are not anchored in conserving traditional values of communities, cultures and traditions. The maintenance of this conservatism in the nation is essential in energising the changes and the progress that we envision for our country.

Ethiopia, rich in ancient learning and skills, has not caught on to science.

Why else would the nation's engineers, doctors, nurses and health professionals tolerate living with disease-laden piles of trash and decaying refuse piled on streets within their neighbourhoods?

We are a veritable reservoir of rich resources of minerals, fertile land, scenic landscapes and human culture. Yet we have not perfected the means and tools by which we can mine them to our advantages.

Ethiopia is steeped in political culture, governance and civic administrations, but it is not directed. Parties and organisations know how to assault and belittle one another but often remain incapable of producing a single coherent manifesto of their organisation, or to practice democracy with resolve.

We lack the compelling motives for progress, directed-perseverance and purpose, two elements that can drive us forward. Instead, we have resigned to mediocracy at the expense of pedantry.

Our High Courts have no proper filing systems; government offices operate in darkness when the electricity is interrupted; water is delivered to households on the backs of donkeys in the middle of the city; and official and casual appointments are rarely honoured.

Ethiopia is yearning for a dynamic democracy to affect the changes we envision; solid political organisations that reflect the national tendency for conservatism; individuals that take personal responsibilities; and citizens that are engaged and are willing to muster their forces to fight tyrannical governmental abuses.

Ethiopia

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