Gauging priorities has been one of the most contentious issues in life
faced since high school years. From inception to
realisation, individual priorities remain so
controversial that many would like to speak less
about them. They are considered individual secrets
that can only be traced with practical steps, and
society has little leverage over their existence.
Such is the case in Ethiopia. Little is said about the wisdom of
setting priorities at individual, firm, or
governmental levels. Debates rather focus on the
aggregate weight of prospective activity lists.
Neither do performance assessments provide enough
emphasis on priorities. So defined is the trend that
even policymakers shun specifying activity
priorities within a certain planning period.
It is surprising that it is all happening in a world where choice
defines life. As long as scarcity is the driving
force of decisions, choices will exist as direct
results of individual priorities. It happens either
directly or indirectly.
That might not be the case in other cultures as a recent conversation
with an Italian friend revealed. There is no secret
about priorities in Italian culture. The discourse
is full of idiomatic expressions about them and free
choice is openly promoted.
Passivity over priorities is typical of Ethiopians. It is common to
overlook the costs of our preferences in decisions
ranging from daily plans to marriages. Boldly
stating priorities is considered offensive, if not
superficial. As a result, they are expressed only
This has deprived the public discourse of essential perspectives. No
objective debate exists on public choices. The
silence is only deafening for outsiders.
While in high school, setting individual preferences is often conducted
with naivety. Little is known about the major
factors affecting life in later days. Only wish
lists exist. Every small heart is filled with a long
list of wishes with little accounting of the cost of
As one joins college, the real-time costs of the choices made in high
school become apparent. Yet, it is still too early
to notice the full burden of them. Only short-term
costs are felt, and the impacts might even be
indistinguishable. As far as the costs are
confronted with prejudices, which partly stem from
analytical ignorance, they usually are accepted as
As one gets into the job market, however, the full costs of choices
made during the early days become vivid. It all
boils down to the issue of individual relevance in a
world of judgment. Priorities that push relevance
upwards are considered thoughtful, whereas ones that
reduce it prove otherwise.
Communal judgments worsen the case. They provide moral ground for
individual priorities. Yet, they themselves are
defined by individual choices evolved over the years
to be taken as standard measuring rods. As often is
the case, though, closed societies force individual
choices towards monotony.
The costs of priorities, therefore, emerge from the challenges of
confronting established lines of choices. In open
societies such as Italy, the cost of doing so is
little, as the culture provides enough space for
marginal disparity. Closed societies such as
Ethiopia, nonetheless, give less space for peculiar
individual priorities. The cost of having them is
Concealing priorities is no less vivid in the Ethiopian private sector.
Only few enterprises have detailed expenditure
priorities. Their procurements are heavily dependent
on subjective management decisions rather than on
objective analyses. It so happens that the viability
of costs will only be analysed after the fact,
Similarly, the public sector is also marred with an undeveloped culture
of prioritisation. Big government plans consist of
little, if any, efforts of activity prioritisation.
Budgets often are bulged with repetitive tasks with
no accompanying studies of viability. Scheduling is
provided with little attention.
From individuals to governments, the culture of concealing priorities
brings with it many costs, which, in turn, thwart
perceptions so much so that real costs vary
considerably from perceived ones. It is like a
fission reaction wherein no end is foreseeable.
At an individual level, the long-term costs of priorities are only felt
after opportunities are lost. Many of the
opportunities vanish in resistance to change in line
with priorities. Usually, they are irreversible.
Unlike Italians, Ethiopians lack the cultural confidence to claim a
priority. It is not a tradition to list things in
order of priority. Exceptional cases are even driven
by the analogy of communal thinking where
particulars cannot easily be defined.
In absence of the culture to enlist priorities, life in Ethiopia
involves confusion over aggregation. It is
cumbersome, tedious, and gross. It takes much more
liveliness than it should. By and large, it is
Cultural infusion that superimposes priority over communal thinking
might help break the vicious circle. It is by far
better to stay awake by the thoughts of choices than
live under a deep sleep of indecision. As such,
there is a lot to learn from the Roman Empire.