Ethiopians, like their government, are in overdrive, juggling between jobs to earn higher. More often than not, it leaves them unable to meet the ambitious goals they set, writes Ambessaw Assegued (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A lawyer, in one of the many law offices tucked inside metal containers around the High Court in Lideta, is busy changing into a clean suit and shirt. He empties miscellaneous articles from the pockets of one jacket and lays them out neatly on his desk. He then surveys the pouches of a pant leg, removes pieces of soft tissue, loose change, receipts and toothpicks, which he also arranges carefully on the table.
Meanwhile, a client enters the office and is directed by a clerk to take a seat, and the man nervously perches on one of the benches. The lawyer continues to groom himself, straightens out his trousers and applies vigorous shakes to a coat before he places it on his shoulders.
He walks around the dingy, darkened office with unbuttoned sleeves and a loose belt absorbed in cleaning chores. In the middle of his tidying up, another client enters holding a thick dossier and immediately begins to reproach the lawyer that he has been waiting for him at the court chambers and demanded to know why he is not at the hearing where he is expected to be.
“Please go buy a stamp, affix it here and wait for me there,” says the lawyer dispassionately, gingerly picking up a document from his desk and passing it to the irritated patron. The man, instantly and incongruously mollified, dispatches out of the room as rapidly as he came in.
His chores done, the lawyer settles behind his desk, turns briskly to the waiting client and addresses him, “what is it that you want?”
“Nothing very big; I just need consultations on this judgment here,” comes a humble response, and a thicket of dossiers is produced from a tattered file that causes the lawyer to frown and intimate his disapproval.
“Today won’t do, not at all. I am already late for a court appearance. Then, I am off to Sidist Kilo. Couldn’t you come at a more convenient time?”
There is no firm commitment in the grunt reply the client makes. Although it is evident that the lawyer has overbooked himself and that he is operating beyond his capacity, he is still reluctant to let go of a new client.
“Just come back tomorrow morning, could you?”
Almost everyone, from the common labourer to the engineer, is overbooked in Ethiopia. People are hurried and hassled, because there is not enough money to be earned from salaries and wages, and most resort to moonlighting to earn extra income to pay their bills.
Doctors shuttle from government-run hospitals to private clinics, which often leaves both ends of their commitments in total disarray. In some private clinics, the operations resemble assembly lines where three or even four different examining physicians handle a single patient, because the surgeons are freelancers, working in shifts.
A contractor, with a handful of commitments and with an overstretched capacity, operates his business as if he is a five-ball juggler but without practice or skill. He may start grabbing and clearing in one area, deliver building material to another, assign a few workers to a third or hurry to mollify an irate owner who is pushing back about delayed work.
The entire country, both private and government, seems to be fueled by bliss, by the flowery promises of projections, by wishful future achievements – all delivered without the underlying girding of competent studies, planning or due diligence. Unachievable goals and schedules, unrealistic scopes and budgets are applied for home buildings, public infrastructure, the collection of taxes and job creation.
The nation is transformed into the land of jugglers and conjurers, where private individuals, municipalities, institutions and regional and federal governments all issue endless and improbable goals and objectives.
Ethiopia, under the Second Edition of the Growth & Transformation Plan (GTP II), has set an ambitious plan that has already failed to fulfill many of its lofty goals. The design, no doubt put together by good-intentioned experts, emulates the “transformational” achievements of Southeast Asian countries.
It envisions, according to UNDP study ‘Growing Manufacturing Industry in Ethiopia, Case Study,’ “shifting economic activities from low productivity [agriculture] to high productivity sectors, especially in the manufacturing sector.”
The problem is that the commitments and grandiose projections of GTP II are beyond the delivery capabilities of the country. The lack of skills and technological know-how, ill-prepared workforce, constant power interruptions, shortages and irregular supplies of domestic raw materials, weak government institutions and dysfunctional internet services are in the way of this idealistic transformation, according to the UNDP study.
The GTP II was a conjurer’s dream, the unrealistic projections of bureaucrats made with insufficient analysis and information, poor planning decisions or decisions made for political reasons.
The lawyer lingers in his office while his presence is eminently required somewhere else, in a court chamber not too far from his office, where his client is waiting. Much like the government, the private sector and the professional class, he operates like a novice juggler – some of his balls stay in the air while an equal number tumble to the ground. Sadly, instead of balls, they are playing with people’s lives in a deadly gambling game.
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