By Ambassador Tesfaye Habisso
Tigrai Online Feb. 08, 2013
When I returned to Ethiopia in 2006 after completing my four-year tenure as the Ambassador of Ethiopia to the Republic of South Africa (2002-2004) and Uganda (2004-2006) consecutively, I wrote an article with the caption, "Some Good News from Home", and spread my gospel of happiness as well as appreciation via the usual suspect, the Internet. The focus of the article was, firstly, the heart-warming success stories of fellow Ethiopians who did not leave the country despite all the constraints, impediments, risks and bureaucratic bottlenecks during the past three decades of military tyranny (1974-1991) and the EPRDF rule (1991--); they stayed on and engaged in small and medium businesses and have been striving hard to succeed or have achieved some level of success despite everything. Secondly, I was very happy to observe massive improvements in the areas of infrastructure development (modern airports, modern highways, modern universities, etc.), health centres' expansion, hydro-power generation, condominiums for the urban poor, potable water and extension packages (select seeds, fertilizers, expert assistance, etc.) to the rural peasantry, a modicum of safety and security for the whole population and a gradually and incrementally developing multi-party political system in the country, though in fits and starts--all these pushed me to put pen to paper commending the stellar achievements of all Ethiopians who preferred to stay at home instead of fleeing abroad in search of greener pastures abroad and, of course, the incumbent government and party that has made it possible for such conducive conditions to exist in the country. I was one way or the other celebrating the successes of the ruling party and government torn between virtues and vices as well as those Ethiopians who have been making the difference in Ethiopia. Sadly and unfortunately, some e-mail responses to that article of mine were very negative. The writers of the e-mails who perhaps are used to reading all the negative stories about Ethiopia on the Internet and don’t want to see or read beyond such ugly stories accused me of 'belly politics' and of being on the government's payroll (they didn’t realize that I was in fact cheerfully assisted by the EPRDF party and government leaders to vacate my ambassadorial post and to submit my resignation paper, and subsequently join the pensioners’ camp, as I was not a member of the ruling party). They thought I was nothing more than a sychophantic and servile admirer of the EPRDF government and trying to whitewash the "ugly reality" in the country.
In my responses to some of the emails, I simply said that even though things may not be as great as we all want them to be in the country, and despite the hopes and fears surrounding our attempts to build a democratic developmental state, there were some really good stories that caught my attention and I felt good to talk about them in my writings with the genuine intention of encouraging those involved in those noble undertakings to do more and to urge our sons and daughters in the Diaspora to rise up to this national call of building our country together. What some of the negative emails I received tell me is that in the minds of these writers, nothing good can come out of Ethiopia these days under the 'WOYANE/EHADEG' (TPLF/EPRDF) regime. They don’t expect and do not want to read anything positive about their country and fellow countrymen and country women engaged in the arduous tasks of trying to make a difference in the lives of their people, and the development and image of their country unless the incumbent party and government are toppled and removed from power via any means possible, I suppose. Their minds seem to have been conditioned to only reading the political shenanigans of politicians and alleged financial scandals that are the staple of the Ethiopian-run media in the Diaspora and some local weeklies circulating at home, especially in Addis Ababa and a few other urban centres, as if to say these media channels are only there to talk about the bad and the ugly, and not to celebrate human successes and achievements of fellow Ethiopians in the country and the present ruling regime running the socio-economic and political affairs of the state, however much some of us may hate its existence as an authoritarian regime for so long.
Now back in Ethiopia for good, I have not hesitated to write numerous articles in appreciation of the positive things unfolding in the country, on the one hand, and in vehement criticism of the many follies and frailties of the incumbent party and government as well as the opposition parties, and the public and private sector, on the other. I do not hesitate to give credit wherever and whenever credit is due, and criticize and condemn any malpractices and injustices wherever and whenever these scourges of humanity raise their ugly heads. Above all, however, I want to write more of those success stories of patriotic Ethiopians who have not allowed themselves to be held back by the many impediments, hurdles and challenges prevalent in the country but are tirelessly toiling and climbing the ladder of success little by little, and gradually but incrementally. In a country whose economy still remains pitiably undeveloped and the majority of its population finding itself at the doldrums of human development for so long, I am sincerely inspired by every Ethiopian success story in business, in the public as well as in the private sectors.
We need that as antidote to all the sensational negative stories that scream at us from the pages of many national and international newspapers, news channels, websites and blogs every day. For Ethiopians living abroad who want to be informed about what is going on in the country, it is very important and necessary to also read about the success stories of their fellow Ethiopians who are making it and how they are making it in Ethiopia. One of such persons I came across recently is Adiamseged Eyasu Sirak who, in close collaboration with his energetic and dynamic father Mr. Eyasu Sirak, currently residing in Uganda and well-known for long running a very successful garment plant in Kampala at Jinja, in the Republic of Uganda, returned to his homeland after several years of comfortable life in the USA and invested his meagre resources on two modern floriculture farms in the Sebeta area, Oromia. He now employs more than 120 Ethiopians on these farms, most of them young girls from the area. That is, for me, a tremendous contribution to national economic progress because each one of those 120 plus persons has some immediate families to feed and many extended family members to support. Not only do these successful Ethiopians have to employ some Ethiopians, they also have to respond to countless desperate needs for assistance from their fellow Ethiopians. More than their foreign counterparts, Ethiopian successful business people have to share their successes with their less successful compatriots. Whatever they earn stays right here at home and as such we must support and celebrate such Ethiopian business leaders and their success stories. Mind you, today there are more than 2,000 Ethiopians from amongst the Diaspora who made their patriotic decision to return to their country of origin and who have now made huge investments in the areas of real estate, hospitals, clinics, universities, restaurants, hotels, construction, and so forth. This is quite promising and worth all the commendation that these patriotic Ethiopians rightly deserve.
Let me cite another success story from home. GTBE stands for Getahun and Teshome Business Enterprise, and the story behind it is about two brothers, Getahun and Teshome. It was some years ago when the two brothers were attending the Arba Minch Institute of Water Technology and the Engineering Faculty at Addis Abeba University, one majoring in hydrology and water well drilling and the other specializing in civil engineering, respectively. One day they sat down and talked about what they would like to do after graduation. After toying with many ideas, they agreed to start a business venture. That was the beginning of partnership between the two brothers. In 2001, they started with water well drilling and building rural schools across the Southern and South-eastern parts of the country. Today, their businesses have grown to be one of the most successful Ethiopian business ventures started by young university graduates. All along, Getahun has not only been contented with business, he has been in and out of government with the last position held from 1991 to 2000 as water project engineer of the Southern Regional State in Hawassa. Now he’s eying, together with his close business partners, to open one of the state-of-the-art hospitals in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia; he is already one of the shareholders of the now famous Debub Global Private Bank recently opened in Hawassa, SNNP Regional State. He is also planning to run for the representative seat of an electoral district in his native area in the South in 2015. When I asked why he’s not contented with his booming business and why politics at this time, he said, "You can’t divorce politics from business." Even though the campaign season is yet far off to start, Mr. Getahun has been moving around meeting and greeting people in the said district, making financial contributions to community projects here and there as well as providing scholarships for deserving students from Addis Abeba and elsewhere at various colleges and universities in Ethiopia. Recently, he won a water-harvesting project in the Western Azarnet-Berbere area in the Gurage Zone and successfully completed the project that now provides potable water to more than 15,000 peasants in that rural area. He also contributed substantial sum of money to the same project and built small bridges here and there in the Kambata-Tambaro Zone.
When I asked for the motivation behind his expected run for the representative seat of his native area electoral district, he said he would be in the race to empower Ethiopians economically. He believes that Ethiopians must be in the driving seat of Ethiopian political and economic affairs which according to him is the real poverty reduction strategy the government must set into motion. "We cannot continue to be mere beggars in our own country; we own it and we must be in the driving seat of its politics, its economic activities." So, in short, the core message of Getahun’s campaign is the economic empowerment of the Ethiopian people, beginning with people in his birthplace or woreda. He and his campaign strategists are working on his platform that will be unveiled at the appropriate time. Already there is Friends of Getahun which comprises of young and old people in the district. In talking to one of the founding members of Friends of Getahun, Temesgen Aname, "Getahun is contributing immensely to the capacity building of the community by digging water wells and providing scholarships to young people from the area and as such he’s demonstrated his commitment to the upliftment of the community. I am one of the beneficiaries of his generosity which has enabled me to continue my school at Angatcha High School."
On the question of why there are too many persons planning to run for the same seat when there will be only one winner, he said he has heard that stakeholders in the community will convene a special meeting to screen the various candidates, their platforms as well as electability and as such he will respect and abide by any decision that comes out of such a forum.
Some critics think that Getahun is too "arrogant" and can’t relate to people. When I brought this up during our discussion, he said, "We all get our admirers and detractors. Our detractors will say things about us that are not true." He emphasized that despite his success, he’s a down to earth person. "I have always been a people’s person and you can tell that by the places I go. I am on the streets most of the time where you won’t show me apart from the next person. I am of the people and for the people and I owe my success as a businessman to the people. The people’s interest and welfare are at the top of my agenda."
Don't we all Ethiopians feel delighted at such success stories from home and yearn to see more of such achievements in the future? How many of us are prepared to make a difference in our homeland irrespective of our dislike for the incumbent regime or any other scapegoat that we may manufacture for buck-passing? Let us not forget the undeniable fact that regimes are transient, they come and go but our people and our country, I do hope, will always be there. They will always need us and anxiously expect of us to make a difference in their lives. How many of us want to emulate Adiamseged and Getahun, or Teshome, for example? Let us respond to this national call in time and positively. That is how we can effectively and considerably impact the socio-economic and political landscape of our country. That is how we can win the hearts and minds of our people and hopefully organize ourselves in a political party and win the next elections-- through practical and tangible ways. Actions speak louder than words. Empty politicking from far off lands can neither make sense nor be beneficial to our collective betterment and our future together. There is no remote control politics, unlike operating a home TV program, that can produce tangible outcomes at home. "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride them", so goes the old adage. Let us stop empty sloganeering and instead rise up in unison to successfully confront the formidable challenge of building a better Ethiopia for ourselves, our children and the future generations. Regimes come and go; they are transient. Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people will always be there, I do hope. Let us stand together to change the utterly dire political, economic and social situation of our country and our nation. The time to do that is NOW. For "time and tide wait for no man" [or woman], as the saying goes. For God and our country! Amen