Gavin Hinks, journalist

Friendship Avenue, Addis Ababa, is the headquarters of HST, one of Ethiopia’s most respected professional services firms. And in its audit department are two senior auditors who couldn’t be closer: 27-year-old twins Amir and Oumer Harun, who are both ACCAs.

Not only did they do the same degree, the pair also dominated the ACCA exams in the years they were studying. From 2019 to 2021, they won first place awards nationally (trading places) in eight out of nine subjects. The only exam in which neither finished top was taxation, a subject that appears to make them both recoil in horror. Even so, they passed everything first time.

‘If you have questioning, curious minds like us, auditing is fun’

They have been auditors since January 2021, when they joined the 150+ employees at HST as audit associates. According to Amir, their role has helped them acquire excellent soft skills. Those skills are readily apparent in our interview: the pair are composed, articulate and thoughtful, ready to laugh and even more ready to tease one another.

The joy of audit

Both have a huge enthusiasm for audit. ‘It’s like detective work,’ Oumer says. ‘You go into a company, and you look at their accounts and you try to see if there is anything wrong and if everything is in order. If you have questioning, curious minds like us, auditing is fun.’

For ethical reasons the brothers do not work on the same projects, the risk of an identity-swap moment being too great for valued clients. That means that between them they are exposed to a large number of sectors including manufacturing, oil and gas, and banking.

Understandably, at the moment neither of them is looking beyond their current jobs with HST. Both insist they still have much to learn from the firm’s ‘excellent leaders’.

But they also have a quiet ambition for leadership in due course of time. They accept that working for different clients may mean they end up developing diverging interests. Amir quips: ‘I’ve been living and working with him for 27 years; I think that’s enough.’

‘Our experience is a lesson for anyone with a desire to enrol for ACCA certification’

Big switch

Yet they did not start off in accountancy. They first gained degrees in civil engineering from Addis Ababa University, although they’d always had an interest in business and finance – their father, Harun Oumer, is a businessman and ‘huge influence’ on his sons.

Amir says they talk over and decide on all their big life decisions together. ‘Both times – the first time when we decided to start civil engineering and again when we changed professions to come over to accounting – we discussed it a lot together. Most of our interests, most of our passions, are very similar. There is a lot of overlap.’

Oumer praises ACCA for being open to people from any educational background. ‘There were people warning us about the difficulties for students coming from a different field to complete ACCA. But our experience provides a lesson for anyone with a desire to enrol for certification. Most of all, we were drawn by the professionalism of the accountancy industry, both at home and internationally. So when we graduated we decided to enrol with ACCA.’

Oumer emphasises that the decision to go for ACCA was their own and not made at the behest of their father or their older brother Yonas, an FCCA and partner at HST. Amir chimes in: ‘What I like about his approach is that he never intervenes in our decisions. He just acts as a counsellor, an adviser.’

Like much else in their lives, the ACCA exams were a matter of friendly competition. Oumer, the older by an estimated two hours (no one was timing, according to family lore), says: ‘I have to admit that Amir finally beat me on the majority of papers. It was a hard pill to swallow.’

‘Ethiopia is opening up for investment. There is going to be a lot of growth’

Opportunities ahead

Now very much at home in the profession, both are optimistic that Ethiopia is on the brink of significant economic change. In May this year the government announced it would be granting up to five licences for foreign banks to operate. The government is also working on the launch of an Ethiopian Stock Exchange, the first in the country. Both moves should stimulate growth in professional services.

‘The government is opening up the country for investment,’ Amir says, ‘and is in the process of establishing a local capital market for the first time. These things will require even more professionals in the future. I personally believe there is going to be a lot of growth.’

Doubtless the brothers will vie to grab these new opportunities, their friendly rivalry at work as unabated as their competitiveness in sport.

Having rivalled each other as strikers in their school football team, they reluctantly put active involvement in the beautiful game aside to concentrate on their studies. But they remain ardent football fans – Amir supports Arsenal and Oumer Chelsea.

‘Not to be arrogant,’ says Oumer, ‘but we were actually very good footballers.’

‘But I’m better,’ Amir chips in.

‘The jury is still out on that one,’ his brother adds.

Supporting each other while maintaining their own ‘scorecard for banter’, as Amir puts it, the Harun brothers look set to make their mark.