The search for solutions

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What kind of solutions are we thinking about and what is the problem for which we are interested in finding solution for? This is a question that lacks clarity in the first place and the only way it can be answered is by giving it more meaning by citing specific instances.

The initial purpose of this article is to find simple solutions to complex problems. I do not think it can go farther than that. Defining simple and complex problems is not an easy task. A simple problem is a problem that can be easily solved. A complex problem is a problem that does not lend itself to easy solutions.

Some readers may think that my aim is to find solutions to problems that had taxed their energy for years. Far from it, my intention is to consider certain problems of technical, social, and economic interest for which simple solutions had been found.

But the temptation to deal with a complex problem is always present. Beginning with a book whose title is: “Politics and Diplomacy of Peace-Making” by Arno J. Mayer, people often assume that the three ideas mentioned in the title could easily be understood. The book is nearly 900 pages long and deals with the period between 1918-1919. There is practically nothing in the book about either Ethiopia or Africa or about developments during the year under consideration.

The book, thus, deals with the relations of the United States of America with European countries especially Germany and Russia. The significance of such a book to Ethiopian history is nil. However, the three important topics, namely politics, diplomacy and peace-making are highlighted in the book. It is possible to undertake detailed study both on the political and diplomatic situation of Ethiopia in the year under review.

Such a study may not be relevant to anyone. Still, Ethiopia became a member of the League of Nations in 1923. The significance of this event lies in the fact that a simple act of being a member of the League of Nations brought into the limelight the principle that an attack on one member is an attack on all. When Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935,the question that each and
every member of the League of Nations, regardless of the aggressor, was compelled to tackle is whether or not to adhere to the basic principle of the organization. The outcome is well-known.

The seriousness of political and diplomatic questions does not make their solutions simple. When we consider peace-making,

The opposite may be the case. Our next-door neighbour may be our enemy. But, it does not give us peace of mind not to talk to him/her especially during holidays. Every step he or she takes is interpreted as being ill-fully designed to harm us. So, what is the solution to resolve the problem? A very simple one: i.e. to open an atmosphere for reconciliation. Some people regard this as a defeatist or cowardly approach; but the truth of the matter is that peace-making can solve many problems of common interest to both parties which can over-ride feelings of hatred or fear.

At one time, there was a taxi-cab in Addis Ababa that used to accommodate six persons on one side and another six on the other. It is partly a home-made vehicle which is a product of conventional modification of an original car. It began to disappear with time. However, its nickname which meant chit-chat or “discussion” implies that exchanging opinions or letting everyone has a say paves the way to resolving problems including those that are often regarded as complex.

On an individual level, some objects are more attuned to users than others. Take the rubber-band. It helps to bind paper-money more efficiently than any other item. It is elastic. As a result, when you go to a shop to buy the product, people think that you have plenty of cash which you are going to deposit in a bank. The teller can use it to sort out different denominations and bind them together for safe-keeping. As a matter of fact, girls buy rubber-bands to tie their hair. The same object can be employed to bind parcels of paper which can, otherwise, fall apart.

Of course, it is not durable beyond measure and, if kept indefinitely, it is glued over the paper and can cause damage to it. Concerning its price, at one time it was very cheap and you could buy five of them for only five cents. But now, you can only have four utmost for one Birr. The big question here is who devised or invented the rubber-band? There could be many other small things to which we give least attention but have signifant quality in terms of utility. This is a clear indication that there are simple solutions around us that could solve too many complex problems. Is this an exaggeration?

More examples can also be cited. Years ago, the clay on which the local bread is made had to be heated with fire-wood to reach the right temperature or produce the appropriate quality of foodstuff. The clay was embedded with springs that conduct electricity making it more efficient and healthy.

The application of electricity is said to have helped in the reduction of consumed wood for fuel purposes and thereby contributed to the preservation of forests. On the other hand, the parallel growth in electricity consumption may have contributed to the existing shortage of energy and to the increase of generators which apparently are taxing foreign exchange reserves of the country. Nevertheless, assumptions of this kind have to be proved by a steady flow of statistical data.

One last example I would like to cite is the process of pitching a tent during mournings in preparation for funeral ceremonies in our society. The members concerned pool together their energies to put up the tent and place the chairs in order. Any member who does not participate regularly incurs punishment in the form of fines.

Members who do not subscribe to the rules and regulations of the association wholeheartedly could, in extreme cases, be dismissed and face the consequences. In what way are such co-operative associations of value to communities other than the fact that they provide a simple solution to a complex and multi-faceted problem? Behind the scene, there may be forces at work which call for politica, diplomatic and peace-making tactics.

Copyright © September 21. 2019 Berhanu Tibebu Zewolde.

The Ethiopian Herald  SUNDAY EDITION October 13, 2019

BY BERHANU TIBEBU ZEWOLDE