Opportunities

Last weekend I paid a visit to some coffee farmers in Sidama and Guji. Fact of the matter is, there is never enough time to visit such areas and meet with the farming communities, considering the distances and conditions of the road that take you there. Such journey begins in Addis Abeba and it takes the good part of an hour to just get out of the city these days. Interesting enough, there is a dual carriage road with three lanes on each side, before getting closer to the entrance of the Express Way. On this particular stretch there are speed limits of 50 and 40 km per hour. This seems a ridiculous speed limit, given the size of the road and number of lanes. It is a milking cow for the traffic police though who measure passing vehicles speeds and stop all cars “over speeding” to give them a ticket. Eventually you will enter the Express Way which now continues until Ziway, while construction continues to take it up all the way to Hawassa. From there the road continues to Moyale. So far so good. From Yirga Chefe to Guji, it is a different story though. While construction is going on, much of the road is a real challenge and things will be much worse during the rains. Going back later that afternoon and evening we had to negotiate the road from Yirga Chefe to Hawassa in the dark, which was a real challenge. During the early evening hours the road is crowded with pedestrians, donkey carts, bajage, cattle, trucks, name it.
One thing that keeps surprising me is the speed at which drivers push their cars, trucks and buses, with no fear or consideration for the danger they pose to themselves and others. In fact, on one occasion, an oncoming Isuzu truck lost control and started to swerve towards us, missing is by a few inches only. That could have ended differently, like it does for so many. During our trip of three days, we saw six serious accidents along the way, all caused by over speeding I am sure, cutting in and overtaking at the wrong places. Why are they all so much in a hurry while the risks area so obvious? Mind you, there are speed humps here and there on the road, meant to slow down drivers, as they approach a residential area or a curve in the road for example. Some of these speed humps are so big, that they form a danger by themselves. Hitting them, even at a moderate speed, will cause the driver to lose control.
In any case, I conclude that most drivers overspeed and seem to be in a great hurry to get to their destination. They just can’t seem to accept that somebody else will be there before them.
I wish people behaved the same when they see opportunities to do business. Oh yes, people will rush to take an opportunity if there is quick money to be made. Not so when it comes to setting up something new, something more durable and sustainable. We even discourage each other to try something else or something new. We are very convincing in our advice that something will not work in Ethiopia instead of encouraging someone to try. Remember, trying and fail is better than failing to try!
But, when somebody has an original idea, wants to try something new, something out of the ordinary, is about to take a risk, there is more often negative feed back than encouragement. And as people here rely much on the advice and council of close ones, the risk is rarely taken. Thus, many opportunities are lost. It seems saver to do what others are doing also, copy what seems to work for others. But without having the original idea, without having a vision for success, this road will only take us to mediocrity or failure. Beware that the ones that are really successful are the ones who dared to take a risk ………
…….. and work hard, very hard, to make it happen. Which brings me to another interesting observation. Many people believe that once you are in business, money will be made just like that. You start a business, and you drive a new car, build a house, travel the world. Not without hard work, you don’t. When a new business begins to pick up, returns will need to be reinvested immediately to be able to manage the growth. More workers need to be hired, more equipment is required, more production is needed to meet the growing demand. No time yet to buy a new car or pay more salary to yourself. It normally takes a few years before you can really pick the fruits of the work.
Those who recognise an opportunity and are willing to take the risk, work hard and reinvest in their business may succeed, while learning on the way, no guarantees though.
Learning is what needs to happen, in an environment that is relatively safe. Like a child that learns to walk, with the watchful and encouraging words of the parents. It is here, where the authorities and development partners have a big responsibility. It is not sufficient for experts to come in and judge that a product is not good enough or too expensive. They need to support the producers in further designing and developing their products. It is not sufficient to make funds available to develop policy; policy needs to support those who are willing to take a risk. It is not sufficient to encourage export; the whole supply chain needs to be considered. There are opportunities indeed, but they can only be taken step by step and with integrated support.
Nobody knew how to run before learning how to walk first. And no parent wants to expose a child to danger, while exploring the world and growing up. Instead, they encourage, support and guide.
Ton Haverkort

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