Story by Addis Tigabu
Edit by Edward Stevens
‘It’s expensive to do business in Ethiopia’.
One may assume so.
We beg to differ.
Green Scene Energy’s journey to provide affordable solar home systems has, we’ll be honest, encountered challenge after patience-testing challenge. At times, one step forward has felt like two steps back. However, since registering in 2016, we have not let flag our persistence or our optimism. During this time we have honed in on some useful philosophies for doing business in this country.
More bureaucratic than expensive
When setting up in Ethiopia, your business will be more challenged by the bureaucracy of processes than their expense. Every step requires a signature, a stamp from a certain office, the proper licence, demonstration of start-up capital… what appears to be a painstaking, snail-paced process, often going from government office to government office, is also a rapid and uncompromising education in Ethiopian business, as well as the wider social aspects of Ethiopian culture. A way of doing things. A way of governing. A way of administrating. A way of approving. A way of interacting.
The bureaucracy, which isn’t set to ease noticeably any time soon, reflects a human-heavy system prizing attention to detail over rapid approval. This can leave you, at times, nonplussed as to the logic (or apparent lack of it); at other times it brings relief, release, certification and, strangely, a sense of being all the better for the experience.
Constant fluctuations in foreign exchange are a global hurdle, and they are felt strongly within Ethiopia’s business circles. For example, if you intend to import a product today, it’s impossible to rely solely on the morning’s exchange rate and prepare an invoice based on that. You must be more flexible, irrespective of times and geographical differences.
The open ocean
Even though the country itself is landlocked, the potential of Ethiopia’s energy sector mirrors the expanses of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans combined. Lucrative business ventures await, alongside few other players and with much to share, contribute and benefit, but you must conform to the rules of sign-up and etiquette, balancing action with careful observation and building up trust and strong human relations.
Get rich quick? Rapid start-up? Unlikely. Graft. Rush nothing. Build up slowly and patiently. Empower your staff, your clients and your stakeholders. ‘Give light’ to those who around you who might not have seen it. In Green Scene Energy’s case, of course, this applies both literally as well as metaphorically.
Availing light to off-grid communities not only brings value to a particular geospatial context: it also triggers a multiplier effect. One household’s ability to benefit from a solar home system cancels their reliance on fossil fuels for lighting. They no longer need to inhale the acrid smoke of their kerosene lamp. They no longer need to meticulously save their mobile phone battery, walking for hours and then having to pay to recharge it. Their children can study for longer, under better lighting, gaining greater knowledge and enjoying more comfort.
Other rewards of working in this sector include creating jobs urban and rural, growing trusted networks of retailers, distributors, agents and customers, spreading confidence in the efficiency of pay-as-you-go technology and, thereby, being part of an active modern movement which is prompting both the telecommunications industry and the authorities to accelerate the expansion and improvement of its infrastructure.