Friday, November 19, 2010

New Leadership for Ethiopia

By: Samuel M. Gebru

After returning from my third trip to Ethiopia in 2004, I was encouraged by the growth and development in Ethiopia but equally saddened by the severity of poverty throughout the country. It felt like for every one step made forward, two were made backwards. It was not until December 2004 when watching the Oprah Winfrey Show’s special program on the work of Dr. Catherine Hamlin of the Fistula Hospitals of Ethiopia that I decided to get involved in making a difference in my native land.

Its now nearly six years since learning about Dr. Catherine Hamlin and the wonderful work at the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals of Ethiopia. This network of six hospitals, with its flagship in Addis Ababa, serves as the world’s exclusive center of fistula repair surgeries.

With six years of experience in community organizing, I have come to quickly learn that Ethiopia has an abundance of untapped leadership within the country and its diaspora, waiting to be unleashed. For a country like Ethiopia, a country that is foolishly labeled as being part of the “third world” as if there are multiple worlds we live in, developing a strong generation of leaders is tantamount to nation building. After the Ethiopian civil war, Ethiopia had to rebuild itself. Largely, the country remains in its rebuilding phase and has a long way to go.

While strides in access to education and health have been made, there is a lack of a strong emphasis of leadership skills and critical thinking in Ethiopia. African countries, rightfully so, tend to focus much on developing the technical side of academics and unfortunately that means that core entrepreneurial qualities are being left out. A nation twice the size of the U.S. State of Texas and Africa’s second most populous country, Ethiopia has just as many problems as opportunities.

Through working at the Ethiopian Global Initiative and other Ethiopia-related endeavors, I have learned much from my peers: young Ethiopians who are poised to become the next generation of leaders. Much negativity has been said about Ethiopian youth; from not knowing enough to meddling in affairs that don’t regard them, Ethiopian youth are discouraged from getting involved in the political, social and economic discourse of their native country.

Young Ethiopians around the world are expressing their interest in getting involved in charting a new course for Ethiopia. This is a revolution; I’m convinced of it. On my recent trip in 2008 to Ethiopia I jokingly mentioned to some government officials that although the previous Ethiopian revolutions were fought with firearms, my generation’s revolution would be that of ideas and solutions, a revolution fought with pens and papers.

There needs to be much more of an emphasis on Ethiopian youth leadership, and the proper development and retention of that leadership from generation to generation. In a matter of one or two decades, Ethiopia’s current political, social and economic leaders will all be left for the history books and if the young Ethiopians of today are not prepared enough to chart the new course for Ethiopia, we will spend years, if not decades, trying to sort out a mess that could have been easily prevented.

From the public to the private sector, older Ethiopians should be promoting genuine leadership from the youth. Government in Ethiopia on all levels should be working with youth, particularly on policy pertaining education, employment, health and youth affairs. On the university and college campuses, Ethiopian students should be encouraged to be thoughtful and critical of the status quo and challenge one another to map a course for new solutions. In the economy, youth should be encouraged by all to create jobs and markets instead of waiting for the government to assign them positions. With a very high unemployment rate, both the public and private sectors should implement creative ideas for job creation.

Coursing a new leadership for Ethiopia will take time. Ethiopia is a work in progress, and with the right amount of initiative and support, youth should continue to ensure that the progress of the past becomes the successes of the future. The young Ethiopians that are being outsourced daily to foreign countries should be kept in Ethiopia and given positions of leadership to creatively chart a new future for Ethiopia.

Combining the social and intellectual capital of the country’s young generation will prove very useful particularly with economic prosperity. All it takes is the commitment to action and not words.

The author is the President of the Ethiopian Global Initiative, an innovative international organization that aims to be the hub of solutions to transform Ethiopia by combining the social and intellectual capital of students and young professionals. To get involved with the work of EGI please email and follow @ethgi on twitter.

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