Build Inward, Not Just Upward

I once walked into this restaurant that uniquely incorporated the Ethiopian tradition with that of the West. It was a beautiful place. I wanted to dine there even though the prices were a little steep for my purse. I was served with the meal of my choice along with ketchup. And as I dipped the fry, I realised with disbelief that the ketchup had been diluted with water.

It was shocking, especially for a meal that was already overpriced. It is astounding that the establishment would ask for that much money and yet offer such a product.

Our business model cannot be to keep hiking the prices with no regard for quality. We concentrate too much on the exterior with disregard to the interior.

Is this a reflection of who we are as a modern society?

A friend mentioned the other day that our level of consciousness and the country’s development do not seem to be going at a complimentary pace. And I thought about how right he was. His statement embodies everything that is wrong with modern Ethiopia.

We are living in a time where historic sites are destroyed to make way for tasteless glass and aluminium buildings with no character or inspiration. We have become too far removed from our genuine selves that we are constantly imitating and not building things of our own. We live in a country where contractors and engineers destroy public sidewalks as they construct buildings for the rich.

The contradictions of our existence are overwhelming. As a society, we have stopped reflecting before acting. We are building up without building within. We are too convinced the rest of the world has moved on without us; thus, we are consumed on playing catch up.

But we need to take our own route. This is not a race as one cannot compete without a finishing line to cross. Every nation is on a journey, which does not imply the destination but the process itself.

Ethiopia should not have to play catch-up for our society is imbued with a past that should catapult us to the next level. Yet, we hold on to the past like a clutch and fear a future we cannot control.

There are many positives in our culture and identity. Nonetheless, we need to right the wrongs we see. We need to be better.

We have become a community that is okay with looking away, too comfortable in saying things like, “You know nothing works,” and only surprised when things go right.

There is a lot of hope and pressure on those who have gone to school, but I fear even the educated have spent too much time unlearning all they know from their community that they are not able to link the formal education with the informal.

Learning is a part of our existence. For most, it comes from our schools but we should not be misguided to think that education happens only inside the four walls of a classroom.

As Ethiopians embark on this journey of education, it must be in search of enlightenment, not just a living. We must have ideals that contribute to our fellow human beings. Neither short cuts, get-rich-quick schemes, pretending to have the know-how nor imitating success can be ideals of a functioning society.

Money is not bad and being successful takes a mindset to achieve along with strong traits. There is no shortcut to success, at least not non-financial ones.

Often, people use the measure of one’s character, to define a person rather than the material success that person has. And also the success they had at times measures a person’s will and determination against many odds to create something that works.

Today, many turn their heads away not to see how a person has reached the status they have had. Often those successful foolishly think that it is only their hard work that has got them to the position they have in life. But one cannot succeed alone. There are many factors at play that put them in that position.

If hard work was the one sure-fire means of prospering, Ethiopia’s millionaires and billionaires would be the women who climb mountains with bundles of sticks fastened to their backs or heads.

In building modern Ethiopia, we have the luxury of learning from countries who have erred on the journey to development. We can stir our community to a healthy, environmentally caring, tradition respecting, conscious community. Building and rebuilding Ethiopia is up to us – those living in this moment. We should leave the world better than we found it under every  circumstance possible.

By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile ( is an Ethiopian writer, researcher and social worker who uses her writing to promote social and gender equality, identity and women’s rights. She is one of the organisers of Poetic Saturday at Fendika Cultural Centre where she performs spoken word poetry every first Saturday of the month.

Published on Jan 13,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 924]



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