Corruption: An implication of a failed state recap

On a balmy June evening, guests and AWiBers gathered at the Hilton Hotel to discuss the grave matter “Corruption: An Implication of a Failed State”. This is a subject matter that resonates with all, striking at the very heart of the populace. Corruption, a scourge of our own making, poses a dire threat – one that, if left unchecked through collective resolve, will erode the foundations of our economy and imperil the welfare of every member of society.

As the clock struck 5:30 pm, guests and attendees began to mingle and network with a buzz of anticipation to discover the evening’s captivating topic. The program officially began at 6:45 pm, as the host warmly welcomed the audience. She introduced the sponsors: Yetem Trading PLC – Lead Sponsor, Chapa Financial Technologies – Emerge Sponsor, and Yeab Tibeb – Connect Sponsor. Next, the host invited AWiB’s Programs Manager to present members ‘Enlightenment journey’, encompassing the Connect, Emerge, and Lead steps, where AWiBers can go through and step by step uncover their true potential. 

Roman Gomeju Tafessework, the moderator for the evening was introduced and the discussion officially commenced. She dived into the topic straight away by emphasizing the profound impact corruption has on our nation. She introduced the two resilient speakers. Kidist Gebreamlak, Founder & CEO of Eleos Groups LLC, and CEO of Zero One Zero One Tech & Entrepreneurship Africa and Tihitina Legesse, a formidable second-generation businesswoman who has successfully taken over and expanded her family’s business, Waryt Mulutila International PLC.

Roman invited Tihitina to share her perspective on who is responsible for corruption. Tihitina replied, “Me. It all starts with me and us.” She explained that corruption is becoming a societal norm because it often begins with small acts, like giving money for tea, coffee, or transportation. She stressed that each and every one of us is responsible for it. She emphasized that the person offering the money is responsible for perpetuating the problem, referring to the metaphor “If you give water and sugar to a pigeon, the pigeon will keep coming back”. 

Tihitina shared a story about a woman who had been struggling to find resolution for her land case for years. This woman was committed to having her case reviewed and she spent entire days for two weeks straight just sitting at the institution’s office to the point people started confusing for an employee. Eventually the manager took notice and offered to expedite her case. Tihitina used this as an example of standing firm by your principles and still going against the norm, creating your own path and inspiring change. She warned that if corruption is not addressed and discussed, the situation will only worsen. 

Tihitina continued sharing another true story from her very own Waryt. There was a time when one of their signature products “water dispenser” became scarce and some employees capitalized on the situation, poisoning the culture and making corruption a norm. She found out through a hired mystery shopper who investigated and reported to her. The employees who were involved in these acts were terminated but they didn’t leave without a fight – they took Waryt to court. Waryt prevailed because they were conscious of their actions and had followed the proper procedures before terminating the staff members.

Just like sugar and water keeps the pigeon coming back – corruption can be addictive to someone who does not have a strong moral standing.  Roman shared a story that illustrated this. One of her acquaintances had paid a bribe to someone handling her case but then the second time she was asked an amount that was ten times higher and she was surprised. But Roman wasn’t. 

Roman then invited Kidist to present her perspective on corruption. Kidist began by defining corruption as “favor for favor”. She listed out the main types of corruption: nepotism, racism, bribery, fraud, extortion, petty facilitation, embezzlement, and favoritism. She continued after stressing “No one of us are completely clean from corruption”. 

She touched on the controversial statement that poverty and corruption are “co-related” to some extent. She suggested solutions such as upholding the rule of law, promoting good governance, encouraging investment and development, and raising awareness to make corruption unacceptable. She also stated that the use of technology can minimize it as it closes opportunities for manipulation. Kidist concluded by emphasizing that a nation is a reflection of its citizens, and if citizens fail, then the nation fails as well. 

After Kidist’s presentation, Roman thanked her for the “mind-blowing” information and shared an anecdote about a woman who is working in Roman’s current company. This woman had come to Roman to explain that she had the opportunity to have food at her workplace, but her own children were suffering. Roman emphasized how sadly, people in situations like this can become easily driven to corruption, as they eventually give up on hope. Roman then asked Kidist and Tihtina a series of questions: “Is lack of resources to make ends meet a reasonable justification for corruption?”, “Is there a correlation between corruption and education?”, and “What makes a citizen turn a blind eye to the injustice caused by corruption?”. 

Kidist firmly responded that there is no justification for corruption. She suggested that lack of awareness may play a significant role, and that fear often causes citizens to turn a blind eye. Tihitina addressed the question related to education as “the more educated an individual is, the more sophisticated their approach to corruption is”. 

While poverty may drive corruption, the human nature of always wanting more than one has often given rise to corrupt behavior. Tihitina explained that when people see their subordinates drastically improving their lifestyle and acquiring property, they are tempted to do the same. She continued “the most knowledgeable” are often the ones who engage in forms of corruption that disregards its impact on many lives. She insisted that creating greater public awareness through media as we used to in the old days is crucial. 

The floor was finally open for questions and reflections from the audience. Some of the questions were ”Do you think proverbs like “ሲሾም ያልበላ ሲሻር ይቆጨዋል” are contributing to widespread corruption?”, “Can one fight corruption alone while others are doing it in a wider range? “, “What brought us to this level?”, and “What should parents teach their kids and also educational institutions?”. 

Tihitina and Kidist responded by underlining the importance of changing the mindset of people, especially youth. This means we all have a responsibility to be mindful of our actions and that seemingly insignificant bribes contribute to the problem. In a society so accustomed to taking shortcuts, they stressed that the change must begin from each of us “If not me, then who?” stressed Tihitina. 

“If not me, then who?” AWiB’s president-elect, Egziharya Meshesha repeated as she concluded the eye-opening program by emphasizing on this the powerful phrase. As it is customary, she presented gifts to the speakers and moderator. Though the evening’s discussion ended, it planted seeds in the audience’s minds – that the battle against corruption is one that must be fought by everyone.

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