By Mengesha R. Endalew
1. Introduction – Development for Whom?
Though the expression of the incumbent regime that “Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing countries in the world” is deemed to be parabolic, there is an alleged progress which is shown by some macro-economic developments. The focus on having much power from water, wind and geothermal energy shed light on the commitment of the TPLF led regime to create a new phenomenon by visioning a long last stay in power. In fact, we see some visible developmental indicators such as road constructions in every direction of the country, stretching railways in and outside the capital city, efforts of accessing water and light, the restless efforts of the regime to attract private investors (both foreign and domestic) in various arena including agriculture, agri-businesses and processing, mining and resource development, manufacturing and tourism.
For instance the tourism sector has got opportunities as hotels, motels, lodges and several skyscrapers both in Addis Ababa and the regional cities are constructed and private tour companies are increasing in great number. In addition, the prevalence of peace by blood and iron rule for over two decades in comparative terms is found to be another opportunity to grow the tourism industry.
However, it is plausible and obvious that there are harsh critics on these macro-economic developments pointing out issues related to the human and democratic rights as well as the total dependence on other countries like China which is found to conquer the activities of each and every sector in the country. With this in mind, one has to understand that nothing is inching on the way to the masses. All macro-economic projects are just to benefit the ruling junta and their artificially created investors. So, almost all projects including the grand ones are their own businesses that exploit and make the mass poorer while the ruling junta and its aligned interest group get richer. If the people are not benefiting, where is the real development of the country? If a country is developed in a full-fledged manner, there need to be life standard changes that the regime has failed to address.
Therefore, the aforementioned macro-economic developments are business projects for only a few bureaucratic clicks and networked government officials. Elites attached to the ruling junta are also sacking the country through corruption and misuse of public properties.
“With no comparison to any country in the world bad governance is rooted in Ethiopia today”. No matter how the complaints and the increments of the tears of the people are the malpractices and the acts of injustice remain all the same. I believe that professionals are more vulnerable than the rest. Whether or not someone learns and acquires degrees and experiences doesn’t bring any change so long as one has not the bureaucratic or the lip service providers’ network. The lip service providers are those officials who are pseudo patriots, and trading on the government system appearing to be concerned citizens. They act as if they were fighting corruption and rent seeking. However, in reality they are the number one scandalmongers in corruption and rent seeking. They misuse and act beyond the power granted to them.
Transgressions in the FDRE Ministry of Culture and Tourism
The concern of this article is emphasizing on the wretched of all government ministries, the FDRE Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The commentaries are based on the contemporary Ministry; it doesn’t include its past nature. In the past, Ministry of Culture and Tourism might be a good one, and the leaders in the respected Ministry could have track records. However, at present one might not find words to express about its hastiness. The criteria of my critical assessment of the current FDRE Ministry of Culture and Tourism are: i) Administrative Setbacks, ii) Research Politics and Corruption, iii) Incapacity and Corruption in the Tourism Sector, and IV) The Predictable Failure of the National Tourism Board V) Project Failures
I). Administrative Setbacks: to begin with, people hired in this Ministry are poorly paid; poorly treated and poorly managed. The majority of ministers, authority directors and department managers are the most wrecked ones even in comparison to other sectors in the country. All of these lead to have the weakest of all ministries of the country where it depends on other sectors like an endoparasite which lives inside the body of the host.
The fundamental problem begins from the heads of the Ministry. The Ethiopian government appointed H.E Mr. Amin Abdulkadir who doesn’t understand even the very meaning of Culture and Tourism. It is more than just a shame to hear him reading a prepared English speech in international academic conferences where he stumbles to identify one letter from the other being unable to understand its context. He stammers like a grade nine lazy student asked by his teacher to read a paragraph from his English text book. The problem is not merely with the language but also his miniature ideas and bad networking system with directors and managers who are highly damaging the institution.
The two best examples with regard to his bad networking in the ministry would be that he appointed his corrupted friend whom he regards like a brother, Mr. Yonas Desta, as the director general of the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH). Though there is no proof at all, Mr. Yonas is said to be a graduate of Industrial Engineering. Imagine the role of an Industrial Engineer in the research and development of heritage! The most hurting act against ARCCH is not just his unmatching profession but also his never ending and tiring words without deeds. Professionals are now so tired that they preferred to leave the institution and find another means to survive though their professions and experiences are directly related and more relevant to ARCCH. The main activities of ARCCH are inventory, research, nomination file and management plan preparation, conserving and preserving tangible and intangible cultural heritage resources as well as laboratory work. But the notorious Yonas has weakened each activity one by one over time.
I have been working in an Inventory, Inspection and Standardization directorate and planned to carry out inventory on prioritized heritage resources of the country. A team was organized by the respected directorate so as to accomplish the planned tasks. Subsequently, a team of four people that I led conducted its first inventory work on Addis Ababa monuments. The task was accomplished in a successful manner filing not less than 50 pages of study with the main content of inventory. However, when the team summoned to conduct meetings with the concerned stakeholders, the selfish Yonas banned the team not to go beyond the paper work. We were upset and wondered why he said so. But we later discovered that it was an envy and fear of losing his position since we were about to communicate with the public. Dear readers! Please look around the city of Addis Ababa and visit the statues. Everywhere you open your eyes at each statue, you see sheets, pees but you find no interpretation panel telling you when and how the statue was erected and what it deals about. Besides, no heritage development activities are carried out for economic benefit through tourism. One might raise a question why this task is not the responsibility of the Addis Ababa Tourism and Culture Bureau. The answer is simply ARCCH claims to carry out inventory on country representative statues where these should be under the responsibility of ARCCH. Indeed, it has the total mandate on all the heritage aspects of the country. In any case, our plan of conducting inventory from Addis Ababa monuments to the whole heritage resources of the country became paralyzed by the selfish Yonas.
II). Research Politics and Corruption: – As far as research is concerned, the incompetent Yonas has made all his efforts to weaken, especially, domestic researchers. He succeeded making the domestic research on heritage shows zero result, and tried to align him to one of the international research groups – the Hadar research project team which is known for discovering the famous Lucy. Indeed, Lucy was said to be discovered and studied by the famous physical anthropologist of this planet, Professor Tim White, who was a young researcher in the Hadar Research project team in the middle of the 1970s. Nevertheless, White did not live long with the Hadar. Because he founded the Middle Awash Research Project with his Ethiopian colleagues and referenced scientists, namely Dr. Berhane Asfaw and Dr. Gedey Woldegebriel in 1981. Today, the two projects are found to be rivals of one another. Exploiting the differences between the two projects, the rudimentary Amin and the talkative Yonas are getting bribes from the Hadar Research Project led by professor Johanson in different forms. For example, when Lucy went to USA for a five year visit, it was said to earn 6 million dollars. But the two corrupt people told us, without justification, that Lucy brought only 1500 dollars. Formal auditing has not yet been conducted even with the little money that the two brazens disclosed on media.
The other major scandal of the two corrupts is the embezzlement of the 10% fee from each research project. There are more than 30 research projects which are being carried out in Ethiopia. Each project is required to show a verification of an average of 50, 000 dollars and more to carry out their researches, and need to pay 10% of the total amount as a permit fee. This 10% fee has been accumulated for several years. Imagine how much it can be from more than 30 research projects for decades! This money is not properly audited for the simple reason that it is out of the government audit and the money is supposed to be used for short and long term training of professionals who work in ARCCH including the National Museum. It is also supposed to be used for the encouragement of domestic researchers. But there is no even a single professional who has been benefiting from the 10% fee. Now, the scandalous Amin and Yonas are dividing it between themselves through different means. Sometimes, they take this money as a per diem when they travel abroad. For example, Yonas has travelled abroad for more than 15 times just in a single year, and his costs were covered by the host organizations. However, most of the time he takes the 10% permit fee money as a double per diem every time he goes abroad.
Mr. Amin, totally incompetent and unprofessional, yet the Minister, has so many embarrassing activities. Let me add one more account to let the audience understand better how the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is becoming a place where you find bad boys appearing to be bosses. A person of low intelligence and known by the name Desalegn Abebaw announced himself that he used to teach at a junior school in the Afar region for several years calculating a sort of benefit from the poor mind Amin (by the way Amin’s thesis from a University in England was written by someone else, but so shame that Amin didn’t understand what his MA thesis was talking about. Luckily, he found a helping brain – almost the same way he had in his undergrad that did all parts of the thesis and eventually make him show a “degree”, like so many other TPLF/EPRDF appointees). Desalegn met his objective that Amin promoted and appointed him as a Director of Research Directorate in ARCCH, ousting Dr. Yonas Beyene. Dr. Beyene is both a French and American educated scholar in the field of Archaeology and Heritage with long years of research and teaching experiences. However, Amin shamelessly replaced this resourceful person with no reason and excuse, other than nepotism and personal biases, by Desalegn who is a little better than a domesticated ruminant.
Desalegn presided himself as a sole actor in the ARCCH followed by the loquacious Yonas Desta referring the name Amin who was his friend, and thus no one touched him in the Ministry. He intimidated all people from janitor to senior professionals and even his counterpart directors. Desalegn is a holder of diploma in history and BA degree in political science from night shift class at Kotebe Teachers Training Institute and Addis Ababa University respectively. With the support of Amin, he commenced to study an MA degree at Addis Ababa University, but failed to understand the lessons in class. He then hired three professionals unlawfully namely, Chernet, Abebe Mengistu and Habtamu whom they became his clicks voluntarily. However, they turned against him when they understood he was a real idiot in many ways. These three professionals were doing all the term papers and the final thesis of his MA study. As a reciprocal, he has been appointing them as focal persons/antiquity officers for the foreign research projects I mentioned above almost in all research seasons of the year. Two advantages were acquired being an antiquity officer. Firstly, the foreign researchers who work in Ethiopia are famous scientists, and thus the professionals learn a lot from them. Secondly, the per diem during the long season stay in the field was economically supportive because an officer had to get a net of 25 dollar per day exclusive of any other expenses such as food and bed.
Desalegn was also appointing other poor professionals as antiquity officers and got commission after they came back from fieldwork. One of the professionals who approached me confirmed that he once made an agreement with Desalegn and paid him 10% of the total amount of his per diem during a thirty days research field season. It means that 10% of $25×30 days which amounts to $75. This is just from one person, but the total will be an average of $75×30 antiquity officers which again equates to $2,250 per year. This is the real evidence of rent seeking where everybody in ARCCH chats and rumors. Actually, it was not only confined under rumor but some brave professionals were exposing his corrupt acts. Sadly, the regime’s anti-corruption commission preferred silence. The severe damage is not the corruption act but the way that Desalegn excludes trained and experienced professionals and uses the weak ones who have no care for their conscience. That is why today you see several conservation problems in the huge and unique obelisks of Aksum, Tiya, and Gondar as well as the astonishing rock hewn churches of Lalibela and many other heritage sites in the country.
III) Incapacity and Corruption in the Tourism Sector: Though Ethiopia has immense tourism potential resources that could make it to be one of the best niche markets in Africa, it is found to be feeble to capture a large share of the tourism market in the region, and unable to transform its cultural and natural resources into economically productive assets. The major reason of my assessment of the sector is the least focus of the Ethiopian government towards the sector.
The officials who are appointed in the sector and the Ministry in general are not based on their knowledge, capacity and experience. In the Ministry one can find a higher official who could have to fit a janitor position only, and a director who equals to an ordinary thief and charlatan. It is rather a showcase of representations of the nation and nationalities principle. It is plausible from the fact of the status quo that the Ethiopian government deliberately appoints miniature officials like the frivolous Amin Abdulkadir to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism under the guise of ethnic representation. There has been so many other Afar scholars with better competence and can lead the institution much better than the incapacitated Amin if the government wants to stick with its principle of representation, neglecting the right administration based on capacity. The root of the problem with Amin’s feeble administration is his foolish networking leadership where contemptible managers are created in every department of the institution though this is not out of public sarcasm. It is really lamenting and even embarrassing for the brutal regime who allows these miniatures to do whatever they want to in this historically very old and vast country.
H.E. Mrs. Tadelech Dalecho, as a female leader, had some track records. She had an effort of gathering professionals from different angles but with suspicion of losing her position, and fearing to take any risk contrary to leadership principle. Since I am exposing why the tourism sector is paralyzed, all I am mentioning here is her weakest contributions towards the tourism sector. Not to slack her position and get support from other ministers, she appointed Theodros Derbew only with zero year experience. He began his job as a director of Standardization and Accreditation directorate being this very young guy was a brother of Tefera Derbew, Minister of Agricultural Ministry. Standardization and Accreditation directorate was expected to run affairs related to hotels, motels, lodges, tour operations and other tourism investment activities. This was beyond the capacity of the young Thewodros. No standardization and accreditation have been given at least to the hotels in and outside Addis Ababa for several years. As a result the hoteliers were so tired of the Ministry and they were forced to give different standards nominating levels of stars to their hotels by themselves with no approval from any legal entity. Hoteliers, lodge owners, tour company owners and other people who involve in the Ethiopian tourism business consider the tourism sector just as an obstacle, not as a facilitator for which it had expected to do.
On the other wing of the tourism sector, Tadelech appointed a corrupt guy whom she considered another right hand man from her origin SNNP, Girma Timer as a director of Tourism Development and Marketing directorate, replacing a well deserved and experienced professional Ayele Gelaneh. The rent seeker, but so perceived by Tadelech as a right hand man, was looking for any means to go abroad under the pretext of tourism promotion, and embezzled some amount of money by making fraud. He vends Ethiopian maps and other promotional materials which are legally declared to be disseminated for free, and use the money for his own consumption. He did this even during my presence in Milan, Italy. The shameless corrupt, Girma Timer, doesn’t give any care for a regular activity so long as he gets a clue for bribe from tourism business people. Sometimes he did call all professionals including me in the department and let us be idle from dawn to dusk while every one of us had some kind of business at office. We have been wasting two to three days in a week summoned by him for a meeting but without sitting in chairs. We were told by him to walk corridor after corridor till he finished his rent seeking chats with tourism business people. Many practical projects have been failed due to his hindrance where he awaited the projects not to be implemented for a while till he got some bargain from each project. As a reciprocal I have been challenging him and informed to officials that he was misusing his authority. But no official, Tadelech included, had ears to hear this malpractices. The only thing they say is ‘let’s fight rent seekers and through time there will be improvement’ while the real rent seekers are still at the managerial position and continuing their embezzlement. I later understood that this is the nature of the incumbent regime which is sacking the country’s resources.
IV) The Predictable Failure of the National Tourism Board
When critics become serious from various directions (the public, the tourism business people and professionals), a National Tourism Board was planned to be established. However, after a long time discussion and huge expense especially due to extravagant tours abroad under the guise of sharing international experiences, there came to a conclusion that the National Tourism Board needs to be dwindled to an Organizational level. This organization is blessed to a retired EPRDF agent abroad, Mr. Solomon Tadesse. Being an honorary general in Seattle, Mr. Solomon served to calm the reaction of Ethiopian Diasporas by establishing the regime’s brutal groups to support its stay on power. He also led the 5th International Conference on Federalism. Mr. Solomon is blessed with the director general position for the new Tourism Organization as a reciprocal to his long and loyal service to the tyrant regime. Mind you, profession and experience related to the sector is not given into consideration. Imagine what consequence his leadership and the sector will have!
V) Project Failures
The other weakness of the tourism sector is the incapacity to run various projects established for tourism development. For instance, there is an Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Development Project (ESTDP) which was said to be created by the late Prime Minister, Melese Zenawi. The project has been donated 35 million dollars by the World Bank with an agreement of 5 million dollars to be added by the Ethiopian government. Hence, the total amount of ESTDP’s budget was 40 million dollars.
The major focuses of ESTDP’s assignments are: destination development (rehabilitate the heritage sites & enhance infrastructure and visitor center enhancement), product development, marketing development (marketing strategy design, demand driven linkage and matching grant scheme and community involvement) and organizational development and capacity building. Its priority destinations were mainly Aksum, Lalibela and Addis Ababa with an eventual inclusion of the developments of the southern and eastern routs. Unfortunately, almost all activities are ending with failure stories due to incapacity, corruption and selfishness. Sometimes, the staff members of ESTDP were worried on how to finish the money as they were not able to use it appropriately within the time span of the project. The project has failed to do something which equals to a five million dollars project of Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance (ESTA) aided by USAID in the central and southern rift valley. Mind you, the 35 million dollars are brought under the name of the Ethiopian people and it is a debt for Ethiopians. The question here is since the project has not met its objective, how and when are we going to pay this?
Still, there are three other branches of the ministry – the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA), Ethiopian Cultural Center, Ethiopian National Archives and Library Agency (ENALA) and the National Theatre which are weakened by the regime and in turn contribute least for the record of the Ministry.
This article is just to give the grain facts selecting the little I can expose to people as all misdeeds are not effable to be addressed. Moreover, my situation right now doesn’t give me much time to write each and every erroneous activity.
By Mengesha R. Endalew