Identifying the causes of backwardness in a society is often difficult. Popular feelings dominate life so much so that self-reflection is given less than its due. Life constitutes only the fundamental acts of working, eating, and sleeping. Even these are done without any sense of purpose.
Occasionally, though, customary life is exposed to unprecedented external shocks that shatter presumptions. One such occasion for me was the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa held in our fair city, last week. Bringing the highs of global commerce and the best of its minds, it was, indeed, a positive shock that introduced new perspectives on life, work, doing business, and leadership for the rather closed Abyssinian.
One thing typical of the Forum is that it is a rare event that brings thinkers together. Thinking businesswomen and men, heads of state, academicians, and civil society leaders gather together to improvise on the good and evil of the world. Amazingly, every one of them thinks beyond themselves.
For a youngster who has grown in a culture wherein thinking about self is considered superior, it certainly is confusing to see leaders bothering about making the world better for millions. It takes more than guts to explore the hiding place of self-interest for members of the gathering.
Neat, well dressed, restless and young leaders dominated the Forum. Almost all were seen attached to their gadgets such as blackberries, iphones, and ipads. Connected they wanted to be, at any time of the day.
One should not be mistaken that they were doing senseless browsing. They were actually working, watching the markets, ordering procurements, and making decisions.
It seems that it has been centuries since they abolished the culture of limiting work within the bounds of physical offices. Jobs can be done anywhere and at anytime, they seem to believe.
Talking to them is like sitting in a library full of books with different titles. Their diverse views give one the comfort to switch conversations, easily. They know much about most things happening in the world.
Thinking of crazy ideas is a vocation for them. They seem to live their days dreaming big and starting small.
A comparison of their life with that of a typical Ethiopian takes one by surprise. Poverty is deeply cultural, one may even be forced to believe. A huge cultural and ethical gulf is visible between their lives and that of a typical Ethiopian.
Showcasing the gap were the rank and file of the Ethiopian government. They were some of the idlest people of the Forum. They preferred chatting amongst themselves rather than networking with global business leaders.
None were seen having the technological aids that the world uses to facilitate everyday business. All of their acts evidenced that they were barons of the paper age.
Since they were less connected, all of the work that needed to be done during the three days had to be postponed. Clients going to their offices might have been ordered to come back after three days. They were seen to be little remorseful to take away 72 hours of service from the public.
True, Ethiopians are one of the world’s beautiful people. But, they are also one of the world’s badly dressed people. A glance at the participants of last week’s WEF showed that Ethiopians could not care less about the quality of their attire. Most of the ministers were seen wearing oversized, badly tailored, and unsightly suits. If, at all, there was one thing that the Forum highlighted, it was that dressing style is a good indicator of personality.
Like our attire, Ethiopians were amongst the poor performers at the Forum, less Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Surely, the Prime Minister has evolved much in both dressing style and making sound arguments.
By bringing all of these contrasts, the WEF on Africa has shattered my comfort zone. It has introduced me to a new way of thinking, working, communicating, and, of course, dressing. It has opened my eyes, which were long closed by a consoling culture. It has enlightened me with the path to achievement and leadership.
Beyond all, though, it has glaringly shown me the entrapments that hold Ethiopians back from advancement. It has created a paradigm shift in me, the key to be a better person. It has shown me the disciplines needed to be a man of integrity.
The key to all, as I have learned, is tinkering. Changing the way we think is the only way to change our reality, the WEF on Africa has revealed to me. Indeed, in thinking lies the currency of betterment.
By Getachew T. Alemu
Addis Fortune: www.addisfortune.ne
Getachew T. Alemu is the Op-ed Editor for Fortune. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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