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    The ‘Hula Girls’ way of rescue

    Ethiopia is enduring a trying time. The country has never been short of happenings, which has kept it preoccupied, never having the opportunity to pass through some peace and quiet to grow and cease turbulences.

    The recent natural disasters, intercommunal and regional clashes, and bloodshed have put overall efforts to affect change on the backburner. Hard-earned developmental gains backslide into poverty that has a bottomless pit, across the country.

    The growing trends of joblessness, crime, malnourishment and all the evils that come with economic hardship is hitting communities at a much faster rate. The pandemic also added to this, with the economy slowing globally. War between Russia and Ukraine is also affecting commodity prices and import dependent countries have either exponentially increased their import bill to offset demand or could not import sufficiently to satisfy demand. This has added stress on economies across the world.

    Households are struggling to cope with soaring prices and shrinking availability of affordable commodities. Prices rise almost on a daily basis and employment opportunities are nowhere near enough to satisfy people that join the labor market.

    As we have heard Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) speaking to Members of Parliament last week, his administration has not been able to withstand the chief perplexing macroeconomic imbalances. Inflation remains to be an issue every year, and the administration openly admits it has become difficult to arrest a snowballing inflation.

    Something needs to be done. And such is a time for new breeds of idealists to emerge. Ethiopia seems to be passing through a significant time in history, waiting for those ingenious saviors to come to the rescue.

    The calamities appear to be endless. Coupled with deadly conflicts, Ethiopians are forced to bear the brunt of excruciating difficulties in their political, economic and social lives. This is where we must labor to look for a way-out.

    Effective Post crisis Recovery: Lessons from Japan, has exceptional history of not only recovering fast from disasters, but also rebuilding better. Natural disasters like repetitive earthquakes, and manmade crisis including first atomic bomb, and wars; all served as point of departure for Japan to explore new venue for development and civilization.

    To the contrary, Ethiopia could not turn the repetitive disasters into opportunity. Rather, Ethiopia adopted itself with disasters. This must change. Ethiopia has much more resources and manpower to capitalize on.

    However, one thing the Japanese people never compromised is there unity. Whatever opportunity lies in Ethiopia’s hand, we cannot capitalize on it; without internal coherence, shared nationalism, political commitment and hard work.

    A history of an extraordinary ordeal of a Japanese company that went the extra mile to survive and let its employees remain on the job, could tell us a bit here. It could relate to Ethiopia’s present situation.

    In 1965, the northern coal mining town of Iwaki, situated in the Japanese Fukushima Prefecture, was facing closure and unemployment due to oil becoming the predominant energy resource of the day.

    The ‘Hula Girls’ way of rescue

    The Joban Mine, Japan’s largest mine, continued to flourish throughout the 1950s but as Japan’s economy shifted from being powered by coal to oil in the 1960s, the owners realized that the mine’s valuable lifetime was numbered.

    Yutaka Nakamura, vice president of the company, was determined to extend the mine’s life somehow, and came upon the idea of using the area’s hot springs, an inconvenience to the mines, to open a resort. For that, he chose a Hawaiian dance.

    Once the Resort began to operate, it featured a well-known dance troupe. Instead of hiring an outside group to perform, the company decided to create its own, and initially trained 18 employees’ daughters as Hula dancers. Entire families would work at the Resort.

    Nakamura intentionally kept the hotel small at the beginning, so the local ryokan would benefit from the increased business, and purchased as much as possible from local suppliers. Its popularity reached its peak in 1970–71, as the number of audience grew by 1.55 million per year.

    In 1989, Joban Hawaiian Centre received the Deming Application Prize, becoming the first leisure-industry company to win this quality control award. In 2004, it was the tenth most popular melody park in Japan, with 1.5 million visitors.

    However, the resort was damaged by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and was forced to close. While it was closed, its hula girl’s troupe toured Japan performing at earthquake refugee shelters and other venues.

    The resort reopened on February 8, 2012 with increased structural support and a bigger stage for its hula girl’s show. The coal miner’s daughters who had grasped the Hawaiian dances skills contributed to save the falling company that sustained their livelihoods.

    A Japanese film was made out of the true story of this coalmining adventure. “Hula Girls” was the name of the movie that received a warm and acclaimed popularity across Japan. Had not the mining company came up with a bizarre idea to launch a spa business by blending a Hawaiian music culture from out of nowhere, in the middle of very cold and chili weathered area, the story of that town would have been different.

    Their unique valor and effort paid off, with the company and its employees surviving to this day. With their innovative mindset, the Japanese averted the calamity of coal, finding another fortune from their backyard.

    That’s where we need to draw a lesson and inspiration from. That’s the struggle of the people we need to lean on for courage and hard work.

    Ethiopia is at a crossroads, facing disconcerting odds. It seems like its well-nurtured societal, cultural norms and customs are gradually getting eroded as a result of fast changing political and economic conditions.

    Sitting on a plethora of untapped resource, Ethiopia’s youth are smart, with high potential to flood the IT, tech and aviation industries with a quality training, and improved business environment. This is a highly commendable and a low hanging fruit, given the low capital required.

    Ethiopian Policymakers have been trying to grow using the old ways, stuck in agriculture for over half a century now, since the first five year development program was launched in 1957. Ethiopia can become the India of Africa, if it capitalizes on the potential of the youth in the tech sector. Ethiopia must stop doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome.

    Contributed by Birhanu Fikade

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