Saturday, June 9, 2007

Our telecom a no option option

The mobile phone service we are getting from our telecom company (ETC) is totally unacceptable. We are buying it because it is the only option. I had an opportunity to visit some countries in the North and the South. Let me share with you my observations in telecom related issue, particularly in the mobile phone aspect. I will begin from my observation in the west. As my intended stay was relatively long in one of the developed nation in Europe, I had to get a mobile phone to stay in touch. The options are too many; there are a number of subscribers and the service features these subscribers provide are many but comparable. As a result, my main criterion for choice was which subscriber most of my colleagues are using because calls within same network are cheaper than calls across different network (for instance, vodaphon to vodaphon call is cheaper than vodaphon to O2). Sim-cards are apparently for free, transaction and activation is a few minutes task and handsets can be purchased on contract basis or on immediate payment. One can find handset as cheap as 25 euro (about 275 Birr) with no obligation associated with it. Nothing may surprise you given the level of development the west has reached. I would end by saying the service is perfect, call waiting, call divert, browsing the net and etc you name it, all are possible from your handset.

Let me tell you the story of our immediate neighbors, I am referring to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. By the way these three nations are on negotiations to form an east African federation where the nations are heading towards erasing their respective national boarders. Mobile phone coverage is more then ten times wider compared to Ethiopia in these nations. There are a number of private subscribers; more than five in Kenya and four in Tanzania to mention figures. I bought a sim-card for 200 Tanzanian Shillings from a kiosk. Do not imagine that this amount is about 200 Ethiopian birr, not even close. It is less than one birr and fifty cents!! (It is about 300 times cheaper to get a sim-card in Tanzania than Ethiopia). Handsets are also relatively cheaper due to lower custom tax on the same. To keep the tax lower is rational if there is a commitment to widen the telecom service coverage and the politicians should be applauded for the undertaking. What strike me most is the recharge amount, the minimum recharge amount in Tanzania is 500Tshs (which is about three birr and fifty cents; compare this with our 25 birr minimum recharge amount and how many people can afford to have 25 birr at once). In addition, the recharge cards are locally printed resulting in a huge cost saving. As a result of this, from mini-bus assistants (Woyalas) to street cleaners even the rural pastorialist Masais has mobiles. There is immense competition among subscribers to attract new customers and retain the already existing one. As part of this effort, every now and then there are new features introduced by the subscribers and call and text message rates are going down.

“This year alone, Safaricom has launched five new services for its consumers. For Celtel, the count is seven - the latest being what the firm calls its “One Network”. The aim, Celtel marketing director Anne Othoro says, is to provide Africa’s first borderless mobile network in a region where, traditionally, trading and family relationships have crossed national borders. “One network is about one region,” she says.” BBC news.

As a result Celtel subscribed customers can use their mobile phone in any of the three nations paying a local rate for cross country calls. Note the difference here for Ethiopia; even with a single service provider (ETC) rates are different based on regions with in nation, a logic which I can’t understand. Another service on the rise in these nations is the wireless internet. Many of the mobile companies have commenced providing the service. A new arena for mobile service seems money transfer. In Kenya one mobile subscriber has introduced a money transfer service via text messaging. Improved mobile service is revitalizing other areas of the economy, even shaping their future. The revolution in telecommunication service is being spearheaded by the private sector. The current low prices and myriad service features would not have been possible without the involvement of the private sector. But Ethiopia is dropping behind in the race.

Let me get back to our own problems. Few years back our genius PM argument for not privatizing the telecom company and failing us not to enjoy what our immediate neighbors are enjoying today was allegation of the private sector tendency to focus on urban areas where maximum profit can be harvested, neglecting the rural areas. After so many years of effort to cover the rural areas with the service the argument has evolved. Letting ETC to the private sector is like allowing them to print money, according to the same genius. I guess there is another option, let ETC remain in the business being the government cash caw but allow private sectors to come with own networks, if there is good will to improve the service. Given the advantage in huge monetary and network asset ETC own, can’t it be competitive if private sectors allowed entering into the business short of privatizing ETC? After all ETC has absolute advantage over any emerging firm in the sector. What is at stake here? The government revenue or the role high quality telecom services play in development of the nation. For that matter, improved telecommunication service is not an end in development by itself, it is a means to an end, it facilitates development period.

As a matter of fact, we should not take the arguments of the PM not to privatize ETC or allow others to join the business at face value, as they are illogical and unconvincing even to a layman. The concern of the government (the ruling elite) is not improvement of the telecom service but effective control and censorship of information flow. I have been ridiculed by my colleagues from Africa (not to mention those from Europe) when I told them text messaging is not possible in Ethiopia. One of them said maybe it is because it is not yet 2000 in Ethiopia. Frankly speaking this has made me feel ashamed of our unique calendar, which once was a source of pride to me.

The nation could have attracted a lot of FDI in the telecom sector at the immediate and a lot more as a result of improved telecom service in other sectors eventually had private sector allowed to operate in the business. This FDI is channeling to our neighbors putting us into a further competitive disadvantage. It is embarrassing for a city which is claimed to be the capital of Africa to lack a telecom service that cities like Kampala, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi has. The bizarre thing is the government tells us day in day out that it is committed to develop the nation and is doing everything towards the achievement of this. But the reality speaks a different story; the government is the bottleneck for the development of the nation, so to speak a grave digger for our mother land’s down fall.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Can't illegalities be tolerated for the good of citizens?

As part of its effort to beautify Addis and curb illegalities in housing and business related construction, the Addis Ababa city administration is busy with demolishing houses which it says are built illegally. This engagement of the caretaker administration compelled me to ask the question; can’t illegalities be tolerated for the good of citizens? And can we demarket the boarder between legality and illegality?

Shelter is a basic need and a right to all citizens, no one would argue about that. So everyone is entitled to have a place to live in. To this end I would further argue that same has to be enshrined on our constitution be it the one we already have or a better one which we long for.

These days the housing problem in Addis has gone beyond limits, let alone the poor the middle income groups are failing to afford a decent house be it rented or owned. Plots in the informal market cost fortune, and getting one from the formal channel has become a lifetime process. Where do the poor and middle income people of Addis supposed to live? Or the city in particular and the state in general do not care about it?

The city administration effort of building condominium houses can be seen as a good start but the basic fallacy is who can afford those houses? How many houses have been delivered up to now? And how many houses have been demolished in the process of delivering these few condos? Ultimately, is the housing stock increasing or decreasing as a result?

The squatting and informality problem is not unique to Ethiopia. Many developing countries and even the developed one are facing similar problems. But the measure being taken to avert the situation by the squad of the caretaker mayor of Addis is an outdated one. In the 70s such measures as “slum clearance” were popular in many countries but soon after abandoned, the lessons learned were that kind of engagement adds to the problem nothing more than reducing the available housing stock. The current direction in this regard is acceptance to the informal/squatter settlements and finding ways to integrate them in the formal system. Millions in Africa depended on these settlements because that is where a roof over their head is affordable.

If the city administration is committed to fight illegality, where is the border line of illegality? It can be said that a person who acquired plot legally from the city administration but build without complying with the planning standard is illegal. This includes, not allowing adequate offset from property line to building, going higher in building heights than stipulated, wrong building orientation or not allowing adequate green spaces within plot or even putting a window at the wrong place amount to illegality. Are all these illegal constructions subject to demolishing or are they outside the realm of illegality?

I wish the city administration and the state get the wisdom so that they can know these illegalities are that make millions of Ethiopians to have shelter, while many live on streets and in sewer lines as we learned it recently from BBC.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Our skill of English language

In Ethiopia in particular and Africa in general there is a serious problem related to quality of language education. Particularly, the foreign languages that are being used as a medium of instruction in high schools and colleges. I think we should engage in a constructive debate about how to use our own language as medium of instruction at higher education level. What are the cons and pros of it?
The following excerpt is an application of a high school leaver for security guard position in certain company. I got it from someone, who was bitterly complaining about quality of education in Africa.


Iam aply to my job of security guard to you boss in you company ofClearing and Forward. Iam complete to high school examination certificat in2002. My school certificat is very good. I can come to see it for you.

iam 27 ears to be Born of age and no mallied and no children. My father isdead long time and my mother maried in Swaziland country 10 years, since Iam in primary school not see she so nobody known to help me.

My certificat is siting home for itself, but passes inMathematics,Geography,Science and all subjects but fail English because ofteacher teaching me is jelos of myself. Iam wearing good cloth than tothem. But can speak English free I here you company want security gardsand I tell you i want job.

Am one of that job experience for 2 years I shoot thief dead this temporayjob. I want to employ in you company because I can shot gun AK47 I leanedfrom Mgambo.Please consider me application careful and telephone me anytime because Ihave celphone. Iam red inteview for you. Iam very kind. And rememba thatEnglish is not our mother land!!!

Thank you very much

I doubt it how many of our students, who graduate every year from high school or 10+1 and 10+2 vocational training can compose a Job application conveying their message properly. I bet the above referred guy will out smart our boys and girls.

It is obvious that lack of language skill is defeating quality of education in our nation. How can one learn and grasp new concepts in science, mathematics or geography while the medium of instruction is a language that he can not understand? What has to be done? Shan't we revisit our justifications for using English as a medium of instruction and use another simpler language that students can understand easily? Or can we change the way we teach and learn English to the better?

I remember few years back the issue was being debated among politicians and academicians, the problem is still there but forgotten before finding any remedy for it.

Folks, what should be done? Should we let it go because "English is not our mother land" as the guy put it?

Our firts post

The idea of creating this blog site came from one of the members. We already have a yahoo group email account whereby we use to share something interesting amongst us. But that is not enough for sure and the need for reaching others is vital. The enlightened friend of ours who proposed the creation of a blog site asked me to take the responsibility of creating the site. It was a trilling experience, exploring something which I do not know well. But, thanks to Google it was really simple. This is our first post on this site and I hope millions will follow.

My friends, now you can say whatever you want and the world will hear you loud and clear. Let us keep this site alive. Let us share our opinion with fellow Ethiopians and others who have constructive interest in Ethiopia. This way we can contribute something to the betterment of "Emama Ethiopia".

The members of this blog as a group are not affiliated to any political party; however, individually the members has the liberty of supporting or lining up themselves with whomever they think has constructive contribution to the nation and resemble them in the political arena.

The floor is open for your ideas