Contributed by Mesay Barekew Liche, Mandela Washington Fellow 2016, Ethiopia
Getting an electricity line was a matter of necessity for the new residential area of 81 households in my community of Adama, Ethiopia. Unnecessary bureaucracy, withholding information and a lack of transparency are manifestations of corruption (i.e., forcing people to “pay for tea”) in getting electricity service. To say no and break the norm takes leadership and action. A group of individuals came together to represent our community and get the required service without paying anything. Taking a leadership role and sacrificing time for the sake of community is the first step toward nurturing corruption-free value in this case.
The first thing we did was present our request to officials and identify corrupt individuals. Instead of focusing only on our community, we started to follow the decisions officials make for other communities in the city and gather tangible evidence. For instance, we found that some communities and individuals were given the service before others who had registered for the service first. With this, the first-come, first-served policy of the Ethiopian electric utility was violated.
Meanwhile, we identified offices that could help us, such as the city’s grievance-handling office, the anti-corruption office and the mayor’s office. We started to expose corrupt individuals and ask serious questions to those offices where corrupt officials were present. We were very careful in addressing the problem and made sure we followed all legal requirements. As time went by, frustration started to emerge from our community. Statements like “Paying is the only way out,” “They are networked, and fighting them is futile,” and “How can we be different from others who do “pay for tea” (a name for corruption)?” became common. We came up with an idea to deal with this challenge. We started to communicate to community members in small groups and individually about our progress and what we had achieved. That encouraged members to stick with us and believe in the rationale of our fight.
Finding officials and offices determined to fight corruption and working closely with them helped us a lot. Yet, a few officials will still do everything they can in their power to get what they want.
Finally, when we got our electricity line after months of fighting, our community was praised for getting it the right way, and whenever other people and community representatives come and ask us about our experience we gladly share with them. Officials who helped us in the fight now call us and we go to them with the same passion we showed to get the service for our community. Saying no to corruption takes courage. There is no letting up — now we are working to get a road for our community.