Manners Maketh Nation

My cousin and I sat and talked about the horrible Meskel’s eve he had. He relayed to me with annoyance how a small incident with an easy fix had escalated to a night of unfortunate events.

Within a few minutes, others joined in with stories of aggravation faced within the realms of our city. From nuisances in public transportation to office spaces, the stories piled on with breathless continuity. Addis Abeba has become infested by people with negative attitudes in spaces meant to serve the public.

The motto for Ethiopians has long since been that we are hospitable people; accommodating to the needs of others. Today, we go from office to office and taxi to taxi as if in a boxing ring. Each experience leaving us more frustrated than the one before.

There seems to be an underlying us-versus-them mentality, in particular by those exercising mediocre authority. Our country is growing, but barely understands what it means to be a modern nation. And today in the capital, we see many incidences reminiscent of our dogmatic beliefs in professional and social contexts.

Does modernity have to mean having to surrender our hospitable attitude and good manners? What is it about a structured environment that Ethiopian mannerisms seem ill-equipped to handle?

The truth is that our country’s policies and procedures are not always the most convenient. Some strategies feel halfbaked. While this can be frustrating, it is the attitude of people that can help filter through policy and procedural changes.

This, of course, does not come without a sacrifice. Unfortunately, I am slowly coming to the understanding that we might be the generation for that sacrifice. But a sacrifice is only worth it when next generations can reap from what has been sowed.

A university professor once said in a classroom I was attending that “all students must feel what I felt in university” as he told horrific stories of rejection and denigration.

No one should be sacrificed if the end goal is simply that, a sacrifice. If society is to be improved through trial and error, it would only make sense if we learn from the past, so that the coming generation will be better off.

Many incidents come to mind when I think of the incompetence of public institutions and state-owned enterprises. Take Ethio telecom for instance, which has had many ups and downs throughout its run as the only telecom provider. I understand that catering to the internet and mobile network wants of millions of people could be tough, but a constant barrage of bad services is beyond what I am willing to take.

Just two weeks ago, Ethio telecom demanded that users register all SIM-card supporting devices in use in Ethiopia. Even with the short notice period the network provider awarded its customers, many managed to do so. Going from one office to the other, with questions on how to proceed have been met by Ethio telecom employees who have been not only unhelpful but also unkind.

While a country’s new policy or procedures can be lacking in different ways for various reasons, the executors of the service should see the shortcomings of the system and try to be accommodating as best as they can.

It is not okay to normalize bad service. Institutionalizing our work is an important part of moving forward as a nation but so is keeping the essence of our culture. We seem to be adapting the cold demeanour of other countries, yet without the necessary efficiency.

We need to play our strongest strength and build from there. Bad service beginning from the public to private sectors needs to be questioned while learning from the right.

If one was to visit a local raw meat and Tibs restaurant in a foreign country, the service and the efficiency of the waiters and the managers are like an effortless modern dance. The elegance in how orders are taken, the attention that is given, the homely environment that is created are all worth championing. Yet, this type of ambience eludes “modern” Ethiopian hotels. It is not an avenue of the service sector that is given much thought.

As I visit someone at the hospital I do not want to exchange unpleasantries with a security guard. As I shop, I do not want a value to be given to me only if it looks like I am about to buy the most expensive item. As I visit a public institution, I do not want to be shut off before I have even gotten to discuss the matter.

Let us take what we value as a nation, as a culture and try to find ways to incorporate it into our day to day social and professional life. One should not wish to be a relative to get better service, a job interview or a college admission. We are all relatives here.

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 organizers of Poetic Saturday at Fendika Cultural Center where she performs spoken word poetry every first Saturday of the month.

Published on Oct 02,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 910]



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