In most cases, particularly in Africa, when a minority ethnic group controls businesses or the market in a given country, it often means that the group is in power and is abusing it. HoweverIn the case of the Gurages who make up no more than 100,000 of 60 million Ethiopians, Political power cannot be attributed for their success: in Ethiopia's 2000 years of history there has never been a Gurage representative in power.
The base for Gurages success is exeptional work ethics and incredible saving culture. And this starts at a very early age: some children in the ethnic group migrate either to Addis or to other major cities of Ethiopia as early as 8 or 9 years old. Once they reach the cities, these youths forge an incredible union and support system: for example as many as 8-10 migrants rent a single room as abode. This significantly reduces their costs. Then all they need is a few pieces of wood and as little as 50 birr start up capital to get into the shoe shinning business.
A closer look of these gurage youths and children reveals a maturity and determination to attain their goal of being a successful business man. Unlike other youths, they are not distracted by different kinds of entertainment or addictions, nor will they incurr any unneccessary costs. They manage their income to spend on their basic needs and save every hard earned penny. Some might go to formal schools in the evenings but others exclusively stick to their money making ambition.
If you were to track a 10 year old shinning shoes in the streets of Addis and were follow his progress in a few years, you will most probably find him as kiosk shop owner in his mid teenage. In his twenties he will likely be in the biggest market places engaged in a specific business. Late on and you can bet that he has become a milionaire.
Selfishness and strict saving are mostly considered as interchangeable terms in Ethiopia. It is not so with the Gurages. Someone from the ethnic group who is well established will welcome any one from the gurage zone to stay in his home for an unlimited period. If he aspires to get into a business and needs seed capital, his fellow men will put equal share in a pool to get him on his feet. He will loyally repay his lenders as soon as his business takes of. The gurages do not get into a business venture without doing the proper but informal assessments. Unlike many traders and businessmen, it is not often that you hear of a gurage business man going bankrupt unless an unexpected accident befalls him. Moreover a gurage who has stepped up in the ladder gives his kiosk shop to his ethnic fellows to establish themselves as businessmen. This is done through a rotation system: one would use the shop for one and two years, hands it over to a new comer and moves on to another business with the profit he made.
Whether it is the young boy who shines shoes or the millionaire, there is one particular day of the year when everyone heads to their native zone of Gurage: the meskel holliday. In an ethnic group where half the population are muslims, it remains unclear why the gurages give high value to Meskel which is an Orthodox Christian holliday.Meskel is a reunion day with family and friends scattered throughout the country, and a 5-6 days of non stop feast entails. Even the shoe shinner boy saves a little amount apart throughout the year to cover his transportation costs and to buy gifts for family for this special day. While heading home, what a Gurage boy will take to his family could range from a sheep to an oxen, which will make the holliday abundant with food.
In recent years the more or less dominant market influence of the Gurages is being shared by new comers from other ethnic groups. The Gurages however still remain influential in the Ethiopian trade and are examplary in their culture of mutual support and determination to succeed.
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