Ethiopia: Rotten Ends
By Getachew T. Alemu
Time is a rod of measurement for societal dynamics. It helps to portray, evaluate and record the evolution within which a community passes through.
Viewed through the prism of time, the dynamics of society could be dissected into spectrums of harmony and rivalry, integration and division, and prosperity and deprivation. Rarely, the two sides occur distinctively in time, while mostly they co-exist together. As much as history is a keen witness to past trends, culture continues to offer credible living evidence.
Whatever a society aspires to achieve will be tested against the principal values of its culture. If the culture is permissive to new thoughts, technology, working systems and human organisation, the society could further its competitiveness. On the other hand, the general condition of a society will be downward sliding whenever its culture is impermeable to the diffusion of new values.
The Ethiopian society, as any other, has passed through its own ups and downs. The results of which can be traced in the prevailing cultural values. But sadly, most of the elements of the prevailing culture are not compatible to the new world order. Hence, cultural reform is an urgent need if we are to survive as a society.
As an element of culture, for example, the belief system of a our society is not tolerant to secular ideas. The two largest religions in the country are still being led as dictatorial empires, with their leaders not actively engaged in the economic and political discourse of the nation.
Even worse, their followers are totally submitted to what their leaders say, since they back it up with verses from the holy books. This has left little room to rationally deliberate on the principles of the religions and reform them to adapt to the changing world.
Another strand in the culture is the relationship between men and women. This relationship is biased towards men, where they are dominant over women in many aspects.
This has made the nation lag well behind the world, as half of the population is incapacitated through systemic repression. Despite the ongoing advocacy, although restricted to urban areas, little has changed in empowering women to feel just as equal as men.
Surprisingly, advocacy has replaced the old, visible and mainly physical subordination with a new, latent and psychological repression. As women of the nation, at least the majority, have taken their inferior status for granted, it is still difficult to reform the socially constructed gender relationship.
Equally influenced by cultural and religious elements, the work ethic of our society is also backward. Though the official working hours represent eight hours a day, it is hardly possible to find an employee working all of these.
Service providers – like banks, schools, hospitals, hotels and airports – do not seem to care for customer time. Wherever one goes, you have to wait to get a service. Sometimes this waiting time might stretch to as long as hours, days or even weeks.
Comparing this with the one trillion dollars valued transaction made through the New York Exchange every minute, it poses the question: are we even living in the same era?
The answer is yes, but we are the losers. Disappointingly, we, as a society, seem to care less about losing, making it way too challenging to reform the working system.
Another important cultural snag is the establishment and management of family. In this case also, we are tied up with many backward values.
Parents still have a greater say on the preferences of their children as to whom to marry. Pre-arranged marriages are still prevalent throughout the nation.
Extended family structure is a way of life. Children are assumed to be retirement securities. Sexual incompatibility is no reason for divorce. It is a taboo for women to speak of their sexual desire.
With all of this in place, it will take us many years to live in nuclear, democratic, equitable and harmonious families.
The worst case of our cultural lag can be witnessed in our political culture. In this aspect, there seems to be one meaningful player – the governing party.
The whole political culture of the nation entails individuals either supporting or opposing a political argument. There is no socially recognised space for neutrals.
Both players are filled with old guys having almost exactly the same experiences. Both players do not practically believe in the leadership capability of the young generation, although they always say otherwise.
Both are skeptics when it comes to technology. Both use old strategies to recruit and manage members. Not least, both are accustomed to the not-in-my-graveyard syndrome.
Whether we like it or not, the world is shrinking into one village. In this changing world, only the fittest will survive. Fitness being the capability to adapt to changing conditions. It demands reforming backward cultural values.
No matter how painful it is, we shall also reform our backward values. Otherwise, our survival as a society is under treat.
Getachew T. Alemu Is the Op-Ed Editor for Fortune. He Can Be Contacted At Getachew@addisfortune.com.