June 25, Tuesday – The German Philosopher

By Tiffany Abera

Every day is an interesting day here in Ethiopia.  Today while waiting outside my hotel for my ride to the interview I had the privilege of speaking with a German business man working here in Nazret.  He has several farms here and works with the farmers to export their crop.  He seemed to be having a rather rough day and I was the lucky one to hear his experiences and frustrations with the local government (all of which were valid).  He told me of how they have to sometimes pay for meetings with government officials.  It can range from 150 Birr per person with a full lunch to sometimes almost 1,000 Birr per person.  If someone needs something approved by a high ranking official, the person with the stamp can charge even more and usually in foreign currency.  For example, a friend of his had to pay 25,000 Euro just for one stamp.  However, without paying the large sum of money the process may have taken months or even a year to complete.

In class we had several discussions on the use of bribery or gifts in the form of cash while working in other countries.  As communication professionals we must hold ourselves responsible and accountable for our actions while not only working inside the country but also abroad.  Our ethics and values should not leave us while we are working in a different environment.  Although our ethics should guide our actions, the question still remained, “When in Rome should we do as the Romans?”  Arguments supporting the idea that one should behave as the locals would stated that if you wanted to accomplish a goal, then you had to integrate into the society’s norms and expectations.  The opposing side opposed any use of bribery whether it be an accepted or even expected local custom or not.

This topic poses not only an ethical decision, but also may hinder important business decisions.  Before deciding whether you or your company chooses to engage in international business, it would be wise to evaluate and research the local laws and more importantly local customs and procedures of business regulations.  I have seen and I’m sure that many others have witnessed the contradictions between the stated law and what happens in reality behind the law.

In Ethiopia it is illegal and highly frowned upon to bribe any official or for the official to take any money from a person for any reason.  In contrast, it is accepted if you ask an official to attend a meeting or some other type of social gathering that you compensate them for their travel expenses and to provide a meal.  The amount which either a non-profit/NGO or for-profit organization pays to the requested official differs and each may have their own guidelines for the maximum amount offered.  However, just because something is illegal does not mean that there are not people abusing their power in the system for financial gains.

For the lessons learned summary that I am writing for KVI I am scheduled to interview a government official in the regional office of the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs.  With the knowledge that I acquired about payments for meetings I asked if this would happen for my meeting.  I was informed that if the official came to the orphanage to meet with me then they would have to “reimburse” him for his time.  However, if I met with him in his office then no payment would be necessary.  I feel uneasy with the idea that a simple request for a meeting would require monetary compensation.

I am learning through my “Ethiopian Experience” that nothing is as it first appears.  We must learn as professionals to rid ourselves of expectations, to begin with an open mind and to evaluate situations and relationships with a clear understanding of their individual motivations and culture.


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