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Hagos: Your guide on how to be treated as a first class citizen in Ethiopia

February 15, 2014

Caution: Hagos is any Tigrigna speaking Ethiopian who may or may not be a Weyane supporter but who simply takes advantage of the system that was created for him.

By Ersasu Mere

Photo Credit globalcement.com
I made a refreshing but somehow painful visit to Ethiopia some weeks ago. I am one of the luckiest diaspora to have regular trips to the mother land. This last trip was made after 4 years. The main purpose of my trip was to have a quality time with my family and childhood friends who are rarely around these days. I do not want to talk about the political and economical deterioration or the so called construction boom of the country. I think we have enough of that. The day I arrived in Addis, I headed straight to home where I was born and grew up. This time, our house, the neighborhood fences and the narrow and muddy pedestrian alleyways show some signs of renovation. On my phone call home, my mother used to tell me how the Kebele and Wereda administration have dragged the approval of permitting her to do some revamps to the fences and the sewage tubes outside our home. She was even openly asked to bribe if she wanted her application approved. When I saw the change, I asked her how that happened then she answered it is because of Hagos, the new neighbor who moved few years ago. According to her, Hagos is a very charismatic, respectful and generous person who reigns over the bureaucratic Kebele and Wereda administration. Once he came to their association to lay down cobblestones on the roads; once he was elected to the Edir and peace committee; he is getting things done. Nobody comes in his way; not even the city administration. Thieves and gangs around have been thrown to jail. Hagos can personally take them to Jail. For all these deeds, my mother and her likes give him love and respect. I knew if I ask people how Hagos got the authority to do all these; I may not get an answer.

So in the midst of these thoughts, Hagos himself came to welcome me with an expensive gift on his hand. As it may be expected, he soon talked about the development of the country and the ‘Diaspora’ politics. I personally stopped discussing such matters long time ago. But I understand that Hagos is a good guy and he has a long hand to reach. So he offered me to go out and have fun in the nights of Addis. So one Saturday night, I together with my and Hagos’s friends drive to some recreational corners. The driver, who happens to be the youngest of all of us, did something terrible against another driver who had a government official and his police guards as passengers. The guards swiftly jumped out to kind of beat on our driver. We were terrified. But as they came closer to us, I can see their angers evaporating and refrain from attacking him. Hagos’s Tigrigna accented talk did the job; the guards were much less aggressive and the official inside the car did not utter a word.

I realized we were getting good treatment in every club and bar we went. One reason is that our group is a big spender. In our discussion, I asked one of Hagos’s friends what he does for a living. He said he is working in one of NGO’s in the city with a hefty pay salary. He told me that he got the job thanks to Hagos. He affirmed that Hagos can get you any government or non-government job. He can help you get a profitable contract with any agency. If he does not like you, he can even get you fired. Let me get over talking about this Hagos after telling one story. During one night, there was a brawl in a hotel and the owner was part of it. The security guards and the police cannot stop it. Hagos made some calls and before we know it, the Federal Police were on the spot, Hagos pointed at some folks who he thought were trouble makers. In a snap they were taken away with beatings and harassments. Hagos, told the owner to straighten up if he wants to stay in business. While we exited the hotel, we were told that the bills were taken care of by the hotel.

During my stay in Addis, I once joined a wealthy group who do business almost remotely from ‘khat Houses’. One of these businessmen got some problem with Customs Authority that was threatening to confiscate some of his perishable imports if the correct amount of tax was not paid. They were either implementing the tax code correctly or they wanted some kick backs. The business man did not want to bribe any more. He got someone who could help, remotely that was. He told another Hagos the station and the bosses who refused to clear the customs for his import. Hagos called directly to the station manager and ordered him to clear the custom immediately or face the danger of losing his job. The treat was so vivid that the guy who received the call did not even dare to challenge Hagos on legal and regulatory grounds. Later that day the custom workers called and told the businessman that everything is completely cleared. A simple call with Tigrigna or Tigrigna accent had done the job again. It was as simple as that. In another occasion, when we were driving down to Adama, an Oromia traffic officer wanted to mess with us. He clearly wanted some money. There was no violation at all. He took away the license plate till we pay the penalty. The friends I were with got so mad and did not pay the penalty or bribe the police. They knew it was easier to call the other Hagos in Adama. As expected, Hagos called to that police officer’s boss who later allowed us to collect our plate held in hostage. It is amazing that when we reached there the police and his boss were so friendly. They said if they had known that we were somehow related to Hagos, all of that squabble would never have happened.

On a closer or distant observation, I had seen a number of Hagos likes in the Immigration Offices who would cut on the lines without even bothering how many citizens queued up already. They were trying to get services for they buddies, officials or diplomats. Most government agencies are corrupt and drag their feet in executing their service tasks if you are an ordinary citizen. If you are Hagos or you are with Hagos one would see the gang of employees from top to down panicking to render service. In front of Hagos, files did not disappear and you would not get 5 days appointment for a simple signature from the manager. For Hagos every government office is open and is working efficiently for him. Foreign embassy or foreign investor is easily accessible to Hagos. Getting to know him means getting all the benefits other Ethiopians would not get. Readers should note that I did not give any judgment on how bad or good Hagos’s activities are. Of course, there are good and bad parts of Hagos that give a free ride for some and create hell for others. Nepotism, cronyism and favoritism in any form or another persist in any society. But the kinds I saw in Hagos are something different and troublesome. As I tried to demonstrate, Hagos is a police. He can arrest you, take you the court and get you prosecuted. He can deny you a job or get you a job. Hagos is a business man who makes profit and helps you do business easily. Remember that Hagos can be a government official and a political operative who will do things like following up the opposition, the free press on his own terms and on behalf of his government policies. He can give you justice or deny you basic human right and fair treatment. In general, I myself may have gotten some good handling and assistance from Hagos. Now it is up to you to decide whether to use this guide to get a better and first class citizenship service in Ethiopia. If you decision is to use Hagos as a guide, I have a word of advice that you may have to live with the guilt knowing that there are millions who do not get such treatment.

By Ersasu Mere

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