Studies suggested that Ethiopian market is short of innovation (even on regional peers' basis) compared to the huge size of the population and the younger demographic which should have been savvy to technology and new developments. A closer look at of the tiktok videos showcases the biggest divide of creativity between Ethiopia and others. Yes, I agree that there are few outstanding talents who stand out in the platform but most struggle with commonsense. The reason: Lack of commercial incentives for talented people to look in to tiktok as is the case in other digital platforms.
Another straightforward example is agriculture where we all know that Ethiopians largely depend on it for millenniums. However, farming in Ethiopia stayed labor intensive with predictive productivity rather than leveraging new approaches and technologies that simplify operations and add cumulative value as a society. The reason: poor market orientation and somehow misaligned education system.
In my latest knowledge, I have come to learn that the most refined people in leadership positions of countries or big development institutions are people who happens to have a prior experience in agriculture in one form or another. In Ethiopia, I find it rare.
Talking of education, it is obvious that most of the young workforce comes from an agricultural background but very few of us consider our study or thesis around agriculture let alone thinking of it as an option of a life time career. The reason: again poor market orientation supported by misaligned perception.
The energy sector reform and the ongoing telecom liberalization entails hope for change so long as we prepare ourselves ahead of time. Rural energy access has a big potential for jobs creation and with additional innovation, it could be a cause for good of productive and social sectors including agriculture. GOGLA, an independent global Off-grid solar energy association, study suggested that ''Off-Grid Solar is a Growth Engine for Jobs, the sector rapidly expanding, creating new, well paid, employment opportunities across economies, especially in rural areas''. In Ethiopia not as much as we want and needed.
How can Ethiopia design realistic and integrated (academia-social-and productive sectors) energy sector policies, and in consequence generate more jobs in the sector? In current practice, the policy circle lacks dynamism and constrained innovation. Expecting fruits from a constrained environment is just a mere dream. Realistic action is needed.
Related Read: Energy Distribution Snag
It is apparent that the Government of Ethiopia gives a great emphasis to jobs creation in the country. The newly launched federal Jobs creation Commission wishes to bridge the 20 million jobs gap until 2030 which is a huge undertaking although I have doubts on the authenticity of the number given the data availability issue in the country. The commission wants to focus on enabling the training and education sector and ensure the adoption and implementation of Pro-employment policies across sectors among others areas.
A decade ago before the government pushed every major power infrastructure project to foreign counterparts on a Turnkey basis, there used to be many local private sector companies employing many Ethiopians in the power sector. The government's action resulted in crowding out of the local private sector and all high value jobs out of the market. Now, it is hard to find a single power company that the country can depend on for some critical intervention let alone to create quality jobs for citizens at a scale. The same mistake should not be done in the off-grid sector.
Experience suggested that off-grid electrification is better served and sustained when Small and Medium Size Enterprises, SMEs, (national, regional and local alike) are enabled to work with international actors as they have better local knowledge to navigate geographies and influence consumers easily and local presense to take care of aftersales operations for long. As we enable SMEs in the sector, we encourage additional innovation to adress the prevailing access problem and foster creation of the required jobs at all levels in the energy value chain. Alighning educational ventures and incentivising the youth in the market place is a sure way that leads where we all wan to go.
In my opinion, the commission need to focus on pro-market policies in key economic sectors as well as jobs cannot be created in vacuum. The question we ask should be, which policies can the commision influence for more market orientation in the energy and power sectors so that more jobs can be created, for example?
Forget the global. Regional competition is likely going tougher following the AfCFTA enforcement across countries in Africa where Ethiopia is willingly part of. Trade protection is likely be limited exposing local businesses and the already struggling entrepreneurs. Ethiopia is a big market for piloting and scaling up new ideas giving an extra advantage to counteract competitions across boundaries and in return expand to other regional markets: but only if we change the market dynamics at home.
East Africa region is known for proliferation of off-grid businesses through enabled regulatory environments and innovative approaches such as mobile money and consumer financing. Although I know it is close to home to learn from, Ethiopia has a lot of home work to do not just to electrify the 60 million people in need of basic lights but also stay competitive in the regional market and create jobs to the burgeoing youth.
As soon as we sort this shit politics out we all need to focus on the real economy that will shape our future for generations to come and the inevitable pressure of creating jobs and enterpreneural ventures for the going young work force.
Energy, as much as it is an enabler to all economic sectors, it too has potential for jobs creation. It only needs informed, realistic, dynamic and monitored policy interventions and innovative actions.