NIGERIA NEEDS ETHIOPIAN DISCIPLINE TO SUCCEED - FRED ENO
Fred Eno, former spokesperson and confidante to the late Chief Moshood Abiola for the last eight years of his life, is now a media consultant in Ethiopia. He spoke to Daily Sun on the discipline that has made Ethiopia thick and how Nigeria could learn from it.
How do you see Ethiopia, having lived here for some time?
It is intriguing for a country that has come with experiences that we can barely imagine to be where it is today. It is amazing because if you ask anyone who has been to Ethiopia in the last 10 years and seen the transformation that has taken place within this period, they are full of awe.
I was talking to few people sometimes back that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was here just about a month ago and I brought to his attention the fact that Ethiopia has commissioned two new hydro-power dams, producing 4,000 kilowatts of electricity within the last 12 months. And I asked how did they do it? And Obasanjo's answer to me was continuity and I said to myself, if it is continuity, we had continuity for eight years in Nigeria and our power generation did not move an inch. So I see Ethiopia as a country that has a lot of potential but without being critical, I think if the people had the drive and the ambition of Nigerians, then the country will grow even faster than it is doing now. But it is an interesting African country to watch.
Secondly, as you are aware, Ethiopia has had and their own experiences, nobody seems to recognize that this is a country with the second largest population in Africa after Nigeria. And so there are a lot of things that the two countries are going to have in common – providing the services that their population need, trying to meet the challenges of education, health care and all of that and so we basically have to find different ways of cooperating.
And so when you ask me about this country, you see Ethiopian airlines is one of the few national state-run airlines functioning in the world today and they are doing extremely well. How do you compare that with the fact that Nigeria has so many private airlines and no one Nigerian airline is flying to this country that does 17 flights a week to Nigeria? There must be something wrong with the way we do our business. If you ask me how I see Ethiopia, I'll tell you is a country that manages its resources well, is a country that seems to plan ahead, is a country that is coming from nowhere without resources at least the kind that we have back home in Nigeria. I know there are a lot of challenges this country is going to face but in terms of managing their resources, I think they are doing very well.
How come there are so many poor Ethiopians if we are to follow your analysis?
Because it is a very poor country. What do they have? Flower and coffee and these unlike oil which you know is going to be on the ground for more than 50 years, rely on rainfall and if the rain fails to fall now, that means next year they will have nothing. Almost 65 per cent of this country's budget is from donor's support which tells you that coffee and flower cannot sustain an economy in a country of 85 million people.
So I am not saying that the people are poor because they have resources and they are squandering it, I am saying this comparatively. You see, the government and the previous governments have struggle with how to generate enough to maintain and sustain their population. If you remember 25 years back when they had the great famine here, since then Ethiopia is still struggling with that image of a poor, famine ravaged country. They have not struggled to change that image but rather they prefer to say, 'let everybody continue to see us in the image that we were 25 years back while we are going to use the little resources we have to build what we can build'.
There are challenges, you see there are two things about the way we are going. You can say that a country is growing like the say the Ethiopian economy is the 10th fastest growing economy in the world now at 9.5, 10 per cent per annum. But growth has to be equated with development and that is where I think there are challenges, how do you transfer the economic growth you are having now to developing your people - I think that is the challenge Ethiopia has.
I know sometimes it might sound like a paradox, how come this economy is growing this fast and the people seem to be so poor. Well, the people have never been rich. If I may quote their own Prime Minister barely few months ago when we had the conference of Federalism here, 'we are one of the oldest nations on earth but because we failed to manage our diversity our people have become one of the most backward people on earth'. He was right and these are challenges Nigeria has been struggling with for a long time - managing our diversity. We are still struggling and quarrelling about zoning, about Christians, about Muslims but we have been blessed to the extent that even though we failed to manage those things that we have, all that has sustained us is our diversity.
In Ethiopia, they failed to manage it and it has caused them backwardness that goes back 2000 years. In Nigeria we have existed only for few years compared to Ethiopia's history, it is our diversity that has sustained us. I don't know of any northerner or southerner today since the days of the civil war that will rather go their separate ways, everybody now takes the identity of Nigeria for granted because we are what we are.
So, if is a mix bag for Ethiopia they have challenges and those challenges are great believe it or not. The average Ethiopian does not know what freedom is which a Nigerian takes for granted. The first time they knew anything close to freedom is the current government that they have that has been in power for 20 years. There was an imperial rule for 2000 years and then a communist regime came that was more communist than the Russians or the Chinese and then this current regime came in.
And this regime in the first 10 years I mean, the guys come into power in rubber slippers and short knickers, so they literally spent 10 years learning how to run a country in a civilized manner. So all that you have seen in this country, is development that has taken place in the last 10 years that is one regime meaning things can be done even with limited resources.
So what lessons can Nigeria learn from the Ethiopians?
Discipline! Physical, personal discipline. You see this country? You are here and I can guarantee you one thing, go pick an average Ethiopian newspaper today if you open three pages and don't see four five stories of one business man, one banker, one government official who has been sent to jail for missing taxes of a N100 equivalent. Nigerians have to be disciplined. I tell my Ethiopian friends that I meet here, I say let's exchange, give me 10 per cent of the Ethiopian discipline and your adherence to law and order and I give you 10 per cent of the ambition and drive of Nigerians and you will see two African giants emerging because if we have a dose of their discipline we will make a huge difference in Nigeria.
I understand there is unfriendly climate here when it comes to foreigners and business; is that the way to go for people who want development?
Is not the way to go but I will answer it this way, the Ethiopians are very careful even with their own people. For one, an Ethiopian living abroad cannot invest in a local bank, there are no foreign banks here. The government said listen, we have come this long, we don't have the sophistication and they don't refuse that tag, to manage complex economy. They still have what they call government driven system which is very complex.
What I will grant is that it may not work for them for too long but the reasons they give sometimes you have to see with them. They say, we don't have the capacity to deal with the complex markets of the world and so we have to keep our economy in control, at least to the extent that government is involved. So the banking sector, the investment policies are very tightly controlled to remain in the hands of Ethiopians. The question is, at what point will there begin to be confidence in their own people to interact with the rest of the world? So for now business is still very tight.
I will give an example, few weeks ago that was shortly before Christmas, food prices escalated so badly that the government invited all the businessmen and told them we cannot let this happen. They told them, all of you businessmen are existing in Ethiopia today because of this regime, the communist regime that was here before we came in centralized everything, we came in and say businessmen could do it but that is still limited to Ethiopian businessmen alone.
As a Nigerian for instance, I cannot import garri from Nigeria on commercial basis into Ethiopia, it must all be done by an Ethiopian, with an Ethiopian registered company, licenced by the Ethiopian government. And that is so restricted that you have only Ethiopian men who do select importation of food items. In this case what happened, businessmen could not meet the demand whether deliberately or not, the price skyrocketed.
Whether this is good or not is only the Ethiopian government that can speak on that but they are very particular about the structure of business, who comes into their country to do business and how that person comes into their country to do business. So you find out that a lot of the investments in this country are coming from corporations that are dealing with the government, not small time businessmen who came to set up shops here and there. This has challenges that they will have to face in the future at a certain time.
Just recently before the commencement of the AU Summit, a friend of mine, an Ethiopian I have known the US for a long time, invited me to a meeting because Ethiopians in Diaspora are a key factor in the economy here. At that meeting, it was to review a five year agreement the government had with Ethiopians in Diaspora to invest in the country. All those beautiful restaurants and bars that you see around are owned by the Ethiopians in Diaspora because they were given five-year tax-waver after they had proven that they were legitimately settled abroad, earn legitimate income with proof of income, then you are invited to invest in any area of your choice but all your business has to be domiciled locally.
So in this meeting, the government realized that it found itself in a box, they have given Ethiopians in Diaspora this waver to invest and they have done creditably well. All the beautiful houses you see here belong to Ethiopians living abroad but in this country, you cannot have C of O, all land belong to government, you indicate interest in an area you want and what sort of building you want to build, then you pay the government and you are given time to build and you must build within the specified period and approved structure else its taken back and you loose your money. In fact they say it here, the beginning of intelligence in Ethiopia is to respect a tax man, so for the government to have bent backwards to give waver for five years, duty free, investment free, access to land, its quiet an attractive measure for them and thousands of young Ethiopians abroad took advantage came home, invested and are doing well.
But that five-year just elapsed and at the meeting, most of the guys who came were talking less about the wavers and more about individual freedom, running a judicial system that is equal to all, talking about a system that guarantees their people freedom to free speech. It just brought to the fore that the government would have to face these facts sooner than later. And just to go back to what we said earlier, you know these are things we take for granted in Nigeria. There are lot of lessons we can learn from them but more of what they can learn from us. You can build all the big and fanciful houses, own all the businesses if you don't have people who are comfortable in themselves as an individual whether in poverty or in wealth to utilize those things, you have really done nothing.
The comparison after all said and done is our ability to manage our diversity properly. When you asked earlier that the Ethiopians are hostile to foreigners, to an average Ethiopian, there is nowhere else except Ethiopia. To an average Ethiopian, if one of them succeed in a family to travel out, they believe that is the ticket to the end of their suffering.
The comparison is the amazing discovery of what mismanaged diversity can do, where they are so cut off from the world, you had 1,900 years of emperors, aside Haile Selassie whom they considered humane, they rest ruled with master and slave mentality. You have population of 60 million Ethiopians who are between the ages of 10 and 40, you have to watch out for them when they will be exposed to new information, new people and all of that. So there are challenges but I think they will make it. There lies the big lesson for Nigerian government.