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My office is not far away from my residence so I often walk to work. That way I don’t have to worry about parking my car and it feels good to have some physical exercise. The exercise often continues when I arrive at the building where the office is located, walking up the stairs as the elevator doesn’t work with the frequent power cuts we experience. On the way, I pass some shops and the shopkeepers have begun to greet me as they have seen me pass for a while now and I sometimes stop to buy something. I have to be on my guard though as I need to make my way around open manholes and construction sites. Getting closer to the office I have to cross a junction, controlled by seemingly modern traffic lights, when there is electricity that is. At the pedestrian crossing a recorded female voice tells the pedestrians in English and Amharic not too cross when the light is red. Nobody listens. As I watch the traffic lights turn red and green I can’t help but notice that almost always two or three cars jump the red light, while from the other direction cars have already begun to move anticipating their turn to cross. Very dangerous scenes indeed. Now, I may be wrong and I hope I am but it seems to me that rules are hardly followed and I observe a worsening trend here. The most obvious opportunity to observe this is traffic of course and I find it mindboggling to observe what drivers and pedestrians do to navigate their way through traffic. Some time ago I had a visitor and while driving around town he all of a sudden asked me: “Are there no traffic rules here?”
“Yes, there are.” I answered, which prompted my visitor to ask: “So what are the rules?” He obviously could not recognise much of what is common behaviour in traffic in other countries. Where else will you see the old and the young of both genders jump the dividers on a highway? Where else do you still see the majority of drivers use their mobile telephone instead of the exception? Where else do you see only the driver using the compulsory seatbelt, while small children lean against the dashboard next to them on the way to school? Where else do you see pedestrians cross a busy junction diagonally, ignoring all zebra crossings and the traffic police, trying to control the rest of the traffic? Where else do drivers honk impatiently at the same traffic police officer, when they think they have waited long enough? Where else do drivers pass another car, which just stopped for a zebra crossing, allowing pedestrians to cross the road? And where else do drivers honk at other road users in a way which means “Get out of my way!” instead of using it only in case a dangerous situation evolves? Admittedly, there will be places where similar or worse behaviour may be observed but do we want to be associated with it? I would not think so. And yet we want to think of ourselves as a people, a nation and a culture which compares with the best of international standards. I see more and more businesses associating themselves and their services with international standards as can be seen from their names and advertising. We have international hotels, banks, schools, supermarkets, firms etc. So while we want to achieve international standards, there should be a lot to learn from the experiences of those that went before us in development and we should do so gladly in order to avoid making the same mistakes and unnecessary damage on the way. Or are we immune for the dangers and risks that others have learnt to reduce over the years? Why, for example would seatbelts not save lives in this country and can passengers do without them? Why, for example would using the mobile telephone while driving not dangerously distract us? Why, for example don’t we need to apply and follow certain safety measures in factories? And why for example don’t we need to follow certain standards and rules in production and construction if we want to achieve high standards? Why, for example are lanes not divided and traffic diversions not marked, when oncoming and going traffic need to share half of the road, while construction is going on at the other half? Not doing so causes dangerous situations as one way lanes all of a sudden become two way lanes, without any warning whatsoever.
I could go on but I won’t. The reader will have his or her own similar observations to share. The point is that nobody seems to care. Where there are rules and regulations to follow, they would help but it seems very difficult for many of us here to follow rules at all. After all, in Ethiopia, we live in a so called particularistic society in which most people are of the opinion that it is good that there are rules but they don’t apply to them as their particular situation is different than that of others. They can therefore ignore or bend the rules to fit their interest.
From the point of view of the development of the private sector, this may have serious consequences. Issues that come to mind here include waste management, pollution, mixed industrial and residential areas, handling of dangerous goods etc. If we continue to go about our business without considering its side effects, we may end up becoming a threat rather than a contributor to the economy and welfare of the country.
Back to our ambition to achieve results that can compare with international standards, we have no option but to follow certain principles, standards and rules that have proved to work elsewhere. In earlier articles I mentioned that the results we get from what we do depend on the combination of three factors: Knowledge, Skills and Motivation. Said differently: I know, I can and I want. So do we really want to achieve high standards? Do we really want to compare with international standards? Do we really want to move forward? Knowledge and skills can be learnt but motivation is rooted deep in our inner personalities. The answer is ours.