Ethiopia Disrupts, by the Skin of Its Teeth

Oct 23 , 2021
By Kidist Yidnekachew

Human societies have come a long way. Just think about it. It was only in 1888 that electricity in our homes began to be introduced by way of using Nikola Tesla’s AC electrical transmission systems. Big deal. Well, in a little over a century, human civilisation has gone from using no electricity to having virtually every task in the household being handled by some type of electrical contraption. This has simplified our lives but it has also made us lazy to some extent.

Electrification of our homes is what is called a disruptive technology. It disrupts our usual way of life and brings about a new era. Another disruptive innovation was the steam engine, which inaugurated the Industrial Revolution and kicked off centuries of economic development and technological progress.

Without a doubt, the disruptive technology of our time has to be the internet and all that it brings with it. Virtual shops, information, entertainment and communications. People can work from home and students can go to school from the comfort of their houses. Cash is becoming a thing of the past, and with the adoption of cryptocurrencies by both companies and governments, even fiat may be gone in a short while.

When smartphones started becoming ubiquitous, I remember thinking this is cool but where are the Ethiopian applications?

It was quite some time before we saw any but then one day scrolling through the Google play store, there it was, an Amharic keyboard, the first in what was about to be a relative explosion of Ethiopian tech projects – a modest growth that is unfortunately still years behind the likes of Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda.

It was some time before the next Amharic or other Ethiopian-themed apps hit the market, and they were fairly unimpressive, to say the least. Gradually, there are now a large number of young entrepreneurs that have realised that one does not need an office or a physical place of business to make money. Most importantly, they have begun to identify gaps in the way we live and started to innovate monetizable business models that solve the problems of society. Just look at the taxi-hailing apps, delivery services and hotel booking sites. It could be a while before some of these companies start to generate a profit, but the goal post does not seem to be too far.

I often envy the west and their digitise the world campaign and feel somewhat sad that Ethiopia, with a long history, has not even begun to digitise all our ancient books, knowledge and other historical relics. It is overjoying to stumble upon local language Amharic ebooks and audiobook apps that focus on social content near and dear to people's lives. The likes of Fikir iske mekabir will never be lost to the world now.

Admittedly, there are not a lot of choices but this is the start of something big. I can feel it and I cannot wait for the world to see what we have to offer in a space that is ironically enough dividing and globalising the world at the same time. Some of the groundwork has been laid out. The liberalisation of the telecom sector was instrumental to creating a competitive environment and the directives passed by the central bank have made it possible for non-financial institutions to engage in the payment and money transfer space.

We need to make sure now that we build on some of these few positive results. We have for too long played catchup with the rest of the world, and ended up being left far behind. We have to make this count if we ever hope to defeat our national humiliation, poverty.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 23,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1121]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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