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Revitalizing Ethiopia’s Manufacturing Enterprises through the Japanese Production Management Strategy, Kaizen, Tate Publishing 2015  

Authored by Asayehgn Desta, PhD    Reviewed by Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD

July 18, 2015


Asayehgn Desta, our colleague in the academia and scholarly research, has produced an excellent book on contemporary Ethiopia’s political economy in general and macroeconomic analysis in particular. The book presents a comprehensive survey, analysis, and critical remarks on Ethiopia’s industrial enterprises in the context of Kaizen, a Japanese management system that “a number of Ethiopian enterprises” have adopted in order “to redesign their manufacturing enterprises and eventually improve their competitiveness in the global market” as stated in the Introduction of the book.

The book is rich in conceptual frameworks, literature review, database, and figures that conveniently presents to the reader, and, in turn, enables the latter to analyze and critique the plethora of themes relevant to Kaizen that are embodied in the text of the book. Above all, for clarity in methodology, the author compares and contrasts benchmarking, business process reengineering (BPR), and Kaizen. Moreover, in order to be crystal clear on some concepts, the author tells us that BPR is also known by other names such as ‘core process redesign’, ‘new industrial engineering’, and ‘working smarter’.

Pioneered by American giants like Xerox, Ford, and Motorola, “benchmarking is a continuous process of managing the products, the services, and practices against the best competitor or leader in the industry and makes continuous efforts in reviewing the process practice and methods.” (p. 24) “By rejecting the existing business process,” says Desta, “BPR aims to devise new ways or organizing business tasks, employees, and redesigning information technological systems so that the business processes eliminate waste and redundancy, thereby improving efficiency and implementing process changes to acquire competitiveness. To succeed at reengineering, BPR argues that the managers have to be visionaries, motivators, and ‘leg breakers’.” (pp. 28-29)

Once the definition, purpose, and objective of BPR were clearly stated, the author compares it to kaizen: “Unlike BPR, kaizen recognizes small improvements that have been made to the status quo as a result of ongoing efforts. According to Newitt (1996), kaizen liberates the thinking of both management and employees at all levels and provides a climate in which creativity, setting standardization, and value addition can flourish. In addition, in the kaizen approach, the employees of a firm are taught essential elements of lean thinking in order to maintain their ability to meet higher standards on an ongoing basis.” (p. 33) For an in depth understanding of benchmarking, BPR, and kaizen, the reader must consult Table 1 that begins on p. 35 and goes through page 38 in the book.         

Desta and his colleagues, who also made contributions to some chapters of the book, have conducted fieldwork projects in the form of survey questionnaires, interviews, and direct observations in regards to kaizen implementation by three factories in Northern Ethiopia, and chapter 3 of the book thoroughly examines the fieldwork reports.

Chapter 1 of the book discusses the history of kaizen in Ethiopia and underscores that “kaizen involves bottom-up decision making and practices an employee driven management style that heavily emphasizes teamwork.” (p. 49). In this chapter, one important caveat that is stated is, “before indulging into kaizen adventure, each firm in Ethiopia needs to determine [whether there is] a synergic relation between the Japanese kaizen quality initiatives, and whether the transferred kaizen quality management system been modified, and also whether in the employees of firms are disciplined and motivated workers to share kaizen philosophy (see pages 65-66).

Chapter 2 is about the transferability of the Japanese kaizen management technique to Ethiopian manufacturing industries, and it evolves a conceptual framework that undergirds “the degree of compatibility between the Japanese company’s kaizen culture and the host country’s national culture.” (p. 79) 

Chapter 3, as already indicated above, analyzes kaizen implementation in Northern Ethiopia’s manufacturing industries. In this chapter, Dr. Desta is accompanied by other scholars like Hadush Berhe Asgedom, Alula Gebresas [Gebresus], and Mengistu Asheber, all lecturers at the Industrial Engineering Program of Mekelle University. The three pilot companies that have been studied were the Mesfin Industrial Engineeering, Alemda Textile Factory, and the Sheba Leather and Tanning Industry, “which have implemented the kaizen management system to revitalize their management systems.” (p. 88) However, the authors question “how efficient and effective the kaizen strategic management are” in those three companies.

Chapter 4 deals with the kaizen success and sustainability at the Wonji Sugar Manufacturing Company in Ethiopia. This chapter begins with the history of the Wonji Sugar Factory and discusses in detail the ‘quality and productivity of improvement’ of the company on Table 4 (pp. 132-134)

Chapter 5 explores the lessons of the kaizen approach. This chapter shows how benchmarking and BPR are “challenged by some companies looking for a strategic remedy that will contribute to the sustainable improvement of their performance and quality, and add value to their customers while minimizing cost and eliminating waste.” (p. 141)

Chapter 6 is about economic analysis of lean wastes of the textile and garment industries of Ethiopia, and it is authored by Tsegay Tesfay Mesgebe, Hadush Berhe Asgedom of Mekelle University and Asayehgn Desta of the Dominican University of California.  In this chapter, ‘lean’ is defined as “eliminating waste” – Toyota Production System philosophy.” Moreover, “lean production is a Japanese manufacturing philosophy that focuses on abolishing or reducing wastes and on maximizing or fully utilizing activities that add value from the customers’ perspective.” (p. 157)

Chapter 7 presents an empirical investigation on innovative practices of electromechanical manufacturing in relation to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Mekelle City, Ethiopia. This study, conducted by Mengistu Asheber and Gebremeskel Kahsay of Mekelle University and Asayehgn Desta of the Dominican University, defines ‘innovation’ as “the mechanism by which organizations develop value through new products, processes, and organizational systems that are needed to respond to changing markets, technologies, and modes of competition.” (p. 203)  

Innovation and employee skills are inextricably linked together and because of this relatively organic concatenation, “firms require an adequate pool of skilled manpower to develop innovations, whether incremental or radical. This pool of knowledge can be enhanced through investments in staff training.” (pp. 205-210).

Chapter 8 discusses kaizen-based technical and vocational education and training (TVET) for sustainable development. The discussion is based on UNESCO’s Second International Congress that was held in Seoul, South Korea in 1999. Apparently, according to UNESCO, TVET programs were “to play a pivotal role in developing a new generation of individuals who will face the challenges of achieving sustainable socioeconomic development throughout the globe.” (p. 233)

UNESCO’s claim of “development throughout the globe”, however, is parenthetical and it should have been critically examined in light of globalization and the impact of tans-national corporations (TNCs) and subsequent unequal development at global level.

Revitalizing Ethiopia’s Manufacturing Enterprises is a great book, not only for the casual reader, college students, and people engaged in scholarly research, but it could also serves as a handy and well-written book for policymakers and entrepreneurs as well.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright © Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA), 2015. For educational and constructive feedback, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia can be contacted via dr.garaia@africanidea.org