HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsAre African citizens equipped to embrace emerging economies?

Are African citizens equipped to embrace emerging economies?

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The past few years have been dominated by positive stories about how Rwanda and Ethiopia are turning the development leaf.

These two countries have surprised many by emerging from their dark past.

Ethiopia emerged from being the humanitarian aid poster country after experiencing famine in the early 1980s, with Rwanda dominating the headlines after the genocide in the early 1990s.

Credit to their visionary leadership, these countries have overtaken even those that used to be big economies in Africa.

But as the economies of these countries continue to grow, to what extent are citizens ready and equipped with the right attitude to play an active part?

In general terms, large-scale development presumes that the citizens are either driving the growth or adopting to this new reality, but it is not always the case.

For example, there has been widespread outcry among many African countries that Chinese companies were bringing their own workers.

This is often seen as depriving Africans of employment opportunities.

There is another side of this situation: some foreign companies do not think that our people have the right attitude, skills and work ethic to effectively accomplish the projects in time.

For that reason, they prefer their own people.

But Africa is a continent of paradoxes. Where people are hungry for development, their leadership is clueless.
And in countries where leadership has good visions, the people are not ready.

Otherwise, an economy that grows without preparing its people will eventually marginalise them, creating a scenario where foreign labour is called upon to play a dominant role.

South Africa, in a way, is in that situation and efforts to address that anomaly will take time to catch up.

Development is not just economic growth, but an outcome of a massive and gradual social re-engineering which ensures that the economic growth and the people’s ability to be part of it are in tandem.

What triggered this discussion? I am writing this piece from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I arrived on Saturday for a layover before proceeding to my final destination.

Our flight from one of the Middle Eastern countries took two and half hours to arrive in Addis Ababa.

The Ethiopian authorities are doing a great job expanding and refurbishing the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa.

They have done a great job growing the Ethiopian Airlines into a major carrier in Africa and abroad.

In-flight service is great, but all these are not in tandem with the ground service at the Bole International Airport, which is very slow and frustrating.

Despite most service desks looking over-staffed, simple processes take more time that required.

There is no sense of urgency or client service orientation among some of the staff.

In 2014, I lost my luggage and I never recovered it and neither did I get compensated.

Complaints are, most of the time, not looked at for their merit, but are seen as a bother or insult.

And on this Saturday, there are two Zimbabweans at the service desk. They are yelling loudly. And it creates drama for onlookers.

They have been stuck at the airport for 48 hours, they complained.

There has not been any response to their problem. They came from London and they want to proceed to Harare.
Every time they approach the service desk for help, they are told to wait as their problem is being addressed. This has continued for two days, so they say.

We proceeded to the luggage section. An hour after our plane landed, our luggage was still not on the conveyor belts.

This is happening despite the fact that the airport is not busy at all due to COVID-19.

So, we followed up with the airline and we were told luggage was brought to the belts an hour ago.

For that hour, no-one had bothered to offload our luggage onto the conveyor belts.

If we had not asked, we would wait for God-knows how many more hours.

After pushing and nudging, our luggage came and we moved to the next service desk to arrange for our shuttle to the quarantine hotel.

A smiling young man approaches and collects our passports.

COVID-19 measures mean that visitors are escorted to the hotel and to minimise contact with locals. Understandable.
The slow service continued at the hotel. It is what it is but not the ideal for a fast-growing economy.

But it took us nearly four hours to process immigration and getting a shuttle to what has been allocated as the quarantine hotel — that is only a five-minute walk away.

As the service lags behind, the authorities are busy expanding and converting the airport into a state-of-the-art and may soon be the biggest airport in Africa.

Demand for better and efficient services will mean that most of the young Ethiopians working at the airport may lose their jobs to foreigners to put the airport at par with other global
airports.

Maybe this has already started, as I can hear Kenyan accents at the hotel. The service surely cannot remain this way. Something has to change.

“There is no problem” or “everything will be fine” are common responses at Bole International Airport and if you get a response thereafter, you will be one in a million.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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