By Yilma Bekele
I am always harking back to the pleasant years of our past. Believe me it not being nostalgic rather it is the lack of good news that makes me reach deep to salvage a little bit of dignity how ever fleeting that might be. One can also make an argument for the fact that my generation has lost the battle to continue on the tradition of leaving intact what was passed on to us. Actually what was expected was a little bit of enhancement but we seem to have managed to degrade and discount. Let us not talk about that today.
What made me despondent is reading about Huajian Shoe factory in Dukem. The story as told by China Post claims ‘Huajian, one of China’s biggest shoe manufacturers, plans to invest US$2 billion in Ethiopia to make shoes for export to Europe and North America.’ On the face of it the story looks perfectly normal and one could even find positive spin in its added value to our country and people. But that will be considered scheming the surface wouldn’t it? We have to put the story in its context to fully appreciate the ramifications as it relates to our future as a country.
Huajian is what got me started to ask why are the Chinese manufacturing shoes in Ethiopia. Have we always been a challenged people that we can’t even make our own shoes? Not so! Said my memory. There was a time we were one cleaver people that knew how to make stuff. For crying out loud, there is no need to be a student of history when it was only yesterday that we excelled in all sorts of enterprises right here in good old Ethiopia. Yes my dear Diaspora cousin we had a whole bunch of entrepreneurs that achieved as never before and galvanized a whole nation. Sad to say the military dictatorship under Mengistu was the beginning of the cause of the total eclipse of individual achievement and national pride.
Before Huajian there was Darmar shoe factory. Darmar shoes were prominently displayed on every shelf. Asko was a brand name from Asmara to Moyale. The cow was Abyssinian, the shoemaker was Abesha and the citizens of Ethiopia wore the product with pride. Azzo, Asko and Darmar were locally manufactured shoe wear. Nothing left our motherland. Capital was raised, invested and recycled right there. That is how you build an economy. That is how you grow capital.
That was shoes, now was there any other enterprise that are the hallmark Ethiopian ingenuity. How can we forget the Hotel business? I am not talking Sheraton here. I am into Ato Bekele Molla, the shining star of the hospitality business. His innovative Hotels from Addis to Arba Minch were the pride of travelers in the beautiful South. So clean, fresh and staffed by well-trained professionals defined the new concept of customer service. He was truly an innovative and inspiring giant of man. He was the definition of by Ethiopia for Ethiopians.
Ato Yenberber Mamo (Mamo Kacha) defined transportation. A self-made entrepreneur, his innovative style of free enterprise pushed all other to excel to catch up with him. His buses were clean, on time and affordable. The music blaring from the speakers on front were loud enough to wake up the dead and you know the bus was here miles before it reaches the little village. His enthusiastic business style gave birth to others such as Awraris, Mekonen Negash and a host of others that followed his footsteps.
Have you heard of Ato Molla Maru? That is another rags to riches Ethiopian saga. Ato Molla Maru was a proud owner of an Ethiopian Liquor factory. To see a made in Ethiopia Cognac, Ouzo etc. in a clean bottle adorned in Amharic labels was something to behold. He was an entrepreneur par excellence that rose from a humble beginning to running a modern factory.
Then there is my friends dad Ato Teka Egeno a business man of special caliber, self made visionary that will put any college educated MBA to shame. He was into coffee since he was a product of Keffa province and put our country on the map and was able to keep stride with big import export houses. Humble and smart is what comes to mind when I think of him.
All of the above giants I recited were imbued with that special God given smarts, common sense and talent that can not be learned but fostered by a sense of vision, love and driven to excel. Their accomplishment rubbed off on all those around them. Growing up I remember dreaming to emulate their accomplishments. Their success was like a beacon calling us to follow the path they were trail blazing. I believe my generation was filled with a sense of hope and can do attitude because they were showing us what is possible with hard work and perseverance.
They in turn gave birth to the new educated modern day giants that built up on their elders’ accomplishments. My role model were my two dear friends the Solomon’s that graduated from Alem Maya Agricultural College and made their marks in the Awash valley turning dust into cash. They were the pioneers that put theory into practice. They pushed the envelope to the limit and in so doing surprised them selves and their nation. A time will come when their story will be told and what an epic it would be.
My friends were visionaries born in a place and time that appreciated their drive to excel. They managed to secure land, were given credit to buy machinery their fuel supply was subsidized and their progress was celebrated. Success breeds success and at one point the sky was the limit to their hopes and dreams. Ato Solomon died a year ago. He died in exile away from his beloved Ethiopia. His funeral was another moment of revelation of how much our country had lost. Those assembled to pay their respect were people who should under favorable circumstances would have been the building blocks of the future Ethiopia. Today our achievers are building another land. Ethiopia’s lose has become Americas gain.
And darkness came. Our country entered a period of untold misery. The Derg’s style of change was not that of building on what works but it was based on finding the common lowest denominator. Why bring everything up when you can reduce all down. All that I mentioned above was smashed to pieces. The innovators and builders were all of a sudden declared enemy of the people and their success was seen as the cause of what is wrong with society. Spring was replaced by the darkness of winter.
Our fathers were emasculated and wilted. Our entrepreneurs and builders of the new society met a different fate. Some resigned to a life of no consequence. A few were killed. While others bid their time and got out to start anew. Ethiopia was a net loser however you look at it.
Huajian and the philosophy behind it is what brought all this lamentation. The TPLF mafia in power is the conduit of this degradation of self-reliance and celebration of individual achievement. According to tyrant Meles hard work is old fashioned while short cut and quick rich schemes are the wave of the future. There is a new culture being encouraged thru out the land and it achievement by corruption. It is not what you know but whom you know. In the land of Meles Zenawi can you think of an Ethiopian that has achieved by hard work and perseverance? I am sure you can name plenty that have emerged as multi-millionaires due to proximity to those in power or belonging to certain ethnic group. Those are the people our children look up to. A street hustler today a millionaire tomorrow is the new reality. It is void of value.
Dear reader let me ask you something. What makes the Ethiopian Nation different from the rest? They say there are over one hundred ninety six countries in the world, what is unique about us? One thing stands out and that is we have never been colonized! No one has occupied our country. We have never submitted. We might be poor, we might be backward in technological terms but we are not a push over. It is even said that when the British left after their excursion to Magdella they were asked to wash their boots least they take our soil with them! That is how much our forefathers disdained foreign intrusion. By fate or design that is what is woven in our DNA.
The Tewodroses, the Yohaneses, the Minilks, the Balchas aba Nefsos, the Abebe Argawis, the Sebaht Aregawi and Sebhat Shumes, the Taitu Bituls were examples of that proud achievement. The Bekele Mollas, the Mamo kachas, the Molla Marus, the Teka Egenos were a continuation of that self-reliant spirit. Born and raised in Ethiopia.
What we got today? Selling land, selling children and selling our soul. Thus instead of making our own shoes we invite shoe makers instead of building our own hotels we contract to multi nationals instead of brewing our own drinks we sell our homegrown to foreign entities instead of building our own houses out of sustainable bamboo and reeds we import cement and recycled metal to construct wasteful ugly boxes instead of growing our own food we lease our virgin and fertile land to grow that we can’t consume instead of educating our children to raise our knowledge we exile our youth to care for some one else’s child. Today the same foreigners that could not conquer our land by force are buying it using dollar and euros. Woyane takes that money and invests in the West and the rest of us cheer from the sidelines.
It was a revealing moment to see Sheik Al Amoudi boasting from the podium how all four star hotels in the Middle East serve fruits grown in Ethiopia and Meles Zenawi with his cadres assembled cheer with pride. That is how brain dead we have become. Today Meles Zenawi a person that has never worked for wages in his life, that has never balanced a bank account, that has never paid rent, that has never ever run a simple kiosk or taken order from a boss is put in charge of a national economy and the joke is on us. Theory is never a substitute for real life situation. Then again the same individual that got all that he knows from the books he reads is actually in the process of defining such concepts as ‘economic growth and democracy’! Of course his ferenji enablers are looking at all this with amusement. Unfortunate for us the individual actually is in the process of trying to prove this utterly simplistic thought in practice and our country is his laboratory.
What is proven by those that have surged ahead and are enjoying the fruits of success is you make your own shoes, you construct your own hotels with locally produced products you encourage individuals that show drive and you invest on your young ones so tomorrow they will build on what you have started. But all this does not come easy. You work for it. You nurture it. There is no short cut. That goes the same for attaining freedom, here again there is no short cut, there is no knight in shining armor nor can it be outsourced. They say if the shoe fits wear it. Would you rather wear Huajian or Darmar, it is your choice my friend.