Ethiopia's Quasi-professionalism Needs to Step Up

Feb 20 , 2021
By Ristu Fekadu

In mathematics, exponential decay describes the process of reducing an amount by a consistent percentage rate over a period of time. This is an excellent analogy for the state of professionalism in Ethiopia. The only difference is that this decay is not coming from a high summit. It is merely chipping away to a point where it is nearly impossible to improve from. Under such circumstances, it is not clear how we continue to expect things to improve anytime soon.

As the famous quote goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”

There is no time to hold and relax in these conditions by maintaining the status quo and expecting improvement. At some point, we need to get out of our routine to achieve different and better results.

Professionalism has for long been sidelined. This is not a surprise to anyone given our poor work culture. But it is also true that today, many have come up with a “high-copy” of professionalism as a stand-in. People try to do the minimum and yet reap the greatest rewards. They try to work "smart," and not hard.

Much has been said about professionalism and the professional class, both of which barely exist in Ethiopia. It is the set of specialised tasks that have to be carried out for any modern economy to function. It is to accumulate these skillsets that the country invests billions of Birr in education each year.

But without the culture and the proper incentives to uphold professionalism, several sectors have suffered. Trained individuals are either not adequately motivated or incentivised to apply themselves. They instead take detours to the obstacles they face than present ways of addressing rather challenges in the long-term.

Employers seem to be resigned to this problem. Employee turnover is high – especially for recent graduates – to the point that companies are not as motivated as they should be to train. Usually, they accidentally come across some people willing to stick around and successfully carry out some of the minimum tasks that keep the company afloat and cease aspiring toward more professionalism or better specialisation.

Worse still, professionalism has come to be confused with egotism. Having a certain level of self-obsession and hardheadedness has become the popular expression of the traits of a professional. It is not authenticity, discipline, output, flexibility or the capacity to work as a team for many people. It is misconceived as being arrogant and not humble and continuous learner.

Individuals that have a deep interest in their tasks and are continuous learners are critical. It is often the case that a degree or certificate are poor substitutes for this, mostly only showing that a student has successfully answered certain standardised questions correctly.

“The world is divided into people who do things and people who get the credit. Try, if you can, to belong to the first class. There’s far less competition,” American businessman Dwight Morrow  once said.

Executing in a manner of problem-solving and simultaneously recognising the problem's intensity and nature is vital. Unless it is understood clearly, professionalism will become just a word. Enhancing productivity, recognising creative ideas, taking calculated risks, and the ability to work in teams emanates from the aspiration to be professional. Otherwise, if we keep going along our current path and with the prevailing pace, our chances of catching up with the rest of the world are dim.

To address this cultural failure, there is also a need to have a behavioural reset. First, we need to recognise that we are underperforming in our capacity, then we have to commit ourselves to address this shortcoming. Not much should be expected of going ahead with the same old.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 20,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1086]

Ristu Fikadu is a former export manager and currently works as a senior customer relationship manager at a financial institution. He can be reached at

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