Built for Africa


There is an interesting advert by a big brand of electronic items. The advert is broadcasted on television and displayed on huge billboards, also in this city. It features a prominent African football player and his family. The daughter is seen preparing a jelly dessert as a surprise for her father. Just as the mixture is to be put in the fridge to set, the power goes off. The mother however confidently places the dessert in the fridge, while the daughter looks clearly worried, that the whole thing will flop.
As daddy comes home, now is the moment to get the dessert out of the fridge. Next, the lid is taken off the container and guess what? The jelly has set perfectly well and the whole family is happy. During the last shot of the advert, husband and wife complement each other in saying: “No power? No problem!” The final statement by the advertiser is: “Built for Africa.”
A clever advert for a clever solution to what seems to be an African problem: power outage. The fridge is designed with a small built in back up battery, which will keep it going for a few hours until the power comes back.  At first I smiled at the clever advert. Come to think about it though, that product developers bank on what seems to be accepted as the common African failure to consistently supply power. Power outage is not uncommon here as well, although we anticipate better times to come with all the hydropower projects in the process of development. Why power is so frequently interrupted is anybody’s guess. We just don’t know. The quality of the service leaves much to be desired though as it is not only inconvenient but causing quite some damages and losses for those producers, who rely on electricity for their production process.
Somewhat related to this are the telecommunication services. While the management of the provider has been outsourced, I am still often puzzled by the services I get. While connecting to the internet for example and trying to check my email at telecom.net, a message appears on my screen which advises me that if I am using a slow connection I should click on the following link ….  As if we have a choice between fast and slow connections. In the past few weeks, access to the internet has really been difficult, slow and was frequently interrupted and again, we don’t know why.
On another note, I sometimes take a walk through the streets of the city, which is being made more pleasant with the construction of wider roads, some with pavements on either side. It strikes me though that I am met with a foul smell as soon as I hit the road. In fact it stinks most of the way. The reason is that the sewage system built underneath the pavement are blocked. The holes in the kerb of the pavements, designed to allow rainwater to be drained from the road are not protected by grills, which otherwise should keep dirt out. With these grills absent, all dirt finds its way into the sewage pipes and to make matters worse, many people use this as their primary solid waste disposal system. Soon we will find workers breaking open the  newly constructed road and pavement to unblock the failing sewage system, I suspect.       
I could go on and the reader will be able to add numerous other examples of disappointing design and quality. But why is this so? Why do we, in this part of the world, always have to settle for less and why do products not reach the quality, common in other parts of the world?
When I ask why this is so, I often get an answer like: “Well, this is Ethiopia.” or “We are in Africa.” And my response is: “Yes, I know that, but why are we satisfied with only half the job done?” “Why do we accept such low standards?” Don’t we deserve more than this? Don’t you demand better services? Why should mediocrity be good enough?  I think we have to make a choice here. Either we accept that mediocrity or less than that is good enough for us. Or we don’t accept this and strive for the best possible results. People who choose the latter option will get great results, both from their own work as well as from the standards they set and the way they inspire other people. People who opt for mediocrity live out the cultural software of ego, indulgence, scarcity, comparison, competitiveness and play victim. This is the quick-fix, short-cut approach to life. Ethiopian people are known to be proud of their identity, their culture, their history. But can we be proud of what we do today? Will our children be proud of what we have done? Will we continue to follow the road to mediocrity or will we change direction and go for a better destination? The choice is ours.