If there is one thing I have learned living in Ethiopia, it is that everything, apparently, is a “process”!
From trying to obtain a driving permit, to Vickie Huddleston’s patronizing assessment of democracy, it seems there are as many “Ministries” and “appropriate channels” in Addis as there are taxis!
Last week I went to inquire on behalf of some generous private donors interested in starting up a small, non-profit school in an undeveloped kebele. (Who knew it is also an entirely separate “process”, just to begin the “process” itself! The civil service sector really has outdone themselves on this one, in my opinion…)
My first mistake, in retrospect, must have been to start out at the most logical place of all --the Ministry of Education. After waiting about 20 minutes in 3 separate lines, I was finally directed “around the back and up maybe 3 or 4 floors” to an office, where I was informed that they had absolutely no idea where I should direct my inquiries. I was then sent to 2 more offices, where I again repeated my questions to no avail, and was eventually directed to an entirely different regional bureau in another part of town.
Finding the place (no small feat in itself!) gave me a renewed sense of purpose, and I marched into the first office, confident they would provide the information requested by my Western friends.
The secretary looked me up and down and immediately went back to her typing—treatment admittedly unusual for a ferenji in Addis--“especially one who is acting as an ambassador of goodwill,” or so I impatiently told myself. Finally, after 15 minutes or so, she directed me across the courtyard—to the first of the 4 offices that would consume the rest of my day.
I literally went back and forth between these offices for hours, unable to obtain even the official protocol required for starting up such a project. One suggested, I “might, maybe want to go to the Ministry of Justice?….(Which is somewhere by the Cathedral…?”). Another suggested I “could possibly try the Director of Curriculum…?”. The third determined I should probably visit the “head educational statician” or “perhaps try the social and NGO Affairs Bureau?” (does such a place even exist in Addis?!).
Before I knew it, I found myself right back where I started, as the fourth person insisted I must “most certainly start with the Ministry of Education”!
I could go on about how I spent an additional 3 hours in that building in vain, or gripe about the futility of trying to construct a detailed budget from the vague and inconsistent data I received…Or, for that matter, the lamentable inadequacy of the civil service sector in the hands of the EPRDF and the not-so-subtle suggestion that I “hire” someone (for a generous bribe--excuse me, fee--of $450 USD!) to help “expedite the process”…
But, today I am at home, happy instead to grab a beer, put on some music and laugh about it.
…After all, the “process” will surely begin again in the morning