Value Addition

A few years back, when the streets of Addis Abeba started to be covered with cobblestones, it was all anyone would rave about. Politicians patted themselves on the back at the brilliance of a project that created job opportunities for young people, while the populace celebrated the end of muddy roads. An overflow of encouragement followed.

I recall a friend telling me about an “inspirational speech” he received upon graduation from a law school; that these young lawyers, as they make their mark in the world, should not forget the opportunities cobblestones created.

Nonetheless, despite the most urbane neighbourhoods in Addis having been covered with cobblestones not that long ago, they look nothing like how they were initially laid down. On my way to work, I see many roads that are half-baked, their quality having been compromised.

The state of our cobblestone streets is just an example of Ethiopia’s lacklustre work culture. I may not mean everyone, but the majority is guilty. We appear to be failing to add value to what is already ours.

Ethiopia is a major exporter of coffee. While coffee extracts are also a big business, Ethiopia is paying too much attention to the raw materials. And it is the same with sesame. Ethiopia is also one of the leading exporters of sesame seeds. Many exporters have become millionaires, and yet not one has invested at adding value to what is already ours. Ethiopian investors can increase worth by opening up sesame processing factories for oil, food and anything else sesame can contort to.

The possibilities of what Ethiopia can offer are endless. The benefits from all of this are enormous, and yet our nation is unable to or, more likely, unwilling to go that extra mile. Adding value does not only mean increasing profit margin but also providing employment opportunities to the many that are desperate today. It means more products for export; it also means more locally produced goods the rest of the country can consume.

This issue affects all the sectors of development with service being no different. Even with the significant amount of revenue the tourism industry fetches, there is still so much left to be done. In Southern France, there is a famous cave that tourists frequent merely because of the remains of a prehistoric man. But, this small town’s fortune is nothing compared to the natural, human-made and intangible riches of  Ethiopia. But the French are a great deal better at advertising what little they have to the outside world than we are.

One could argue that as France is more prosperous than Ethiopia, they have the capability to do as such. But the truth is that few here are interested enough in innovation and value addition. Most want to reap the benefits without working to elevate the sector. Even India, long ago when its economy was comparable to ours, did an excellent job of catering to tourists to grow the sector. Both big and small private businesses in the country have benefited the tourism industry by adding value to the goods and services they produce.

Ethiopians are the type of people that like to enjoy life when they can. We drink three rounds of coffee and chitchat for long hours with friends and family. To many outsiders, this may seem like the mark of an unproductive society. Some may say our leisurely lifestyle is the reason we will not prosper as a nation. For me, these are components of our culture that we must not give up.

But if one is thinking about coffee at a time when they should be thinking of cobblestones, there is a problem. We need to create a working culture that can give value to adequate rest for adequate work, something the Japanese call “the rest of the warrior”.

We need to promote a culture in schools that teaches us not to just pass the exams but to make sure students are learning and growing. Our educational culture reinforces those who copy and paste, but not those who think and work differently. This is how our nation became filled with employees and supervisors that take orders yet do not elevate the standard of their work.

Ethiopia has an educated workforce that is growing by the tens of thousands. Yet, most cannot properly apply for jobs or lack the appropriate skills required to function in the real world.

Even though the responsibility is mostly appropriated to the educational system, we should also bear part of the blame. A nation that is clawing itself out of poverty needs everyone. And if one can read and write, we have opportunities for growth. An opportunity that must not be taken lightly.

It is when we respect the work we do – or even the one we may not be comfortable with at the moment – can the country show growth. It is when our professionalism and work ethic is at its best that we can look onto bigger and better things.

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 Oct 21,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 912]



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