By Mulubrhan Tsehaye
Feb. 10, 2012
Well, it’s Lekatit (February) again, the time of the year where Ethiopians celebrate the foundation of Weyane movement, a political movement that was founded by few students in the lowlands of Tigray and later burst into a massive public rally that scored a monumental triumph over the well-armed army of the brutal military regime. As we prepare to celebrate this remarkable event, we can’t help but submerge into a long and deep thought filled with a range of emotional rollercoaster for it exemplifies the remarkable determination and unflinching resilience of the people of Tigray in the face of death and devastation, the incalculable human suffering and the immense sacrifices and of course, the glorious triumph over those who seemed invincible.
It can never be overstated to those who try to undermine the significance of this rather astounding history that the inception of the armed struggle in the lowlands of Tigray in 1975 was not an accidental episode of human history but rather the result of decades of indescribable travesty of justice endured and unimaginable atrocities committed on the people of Tigray. During those long and devastating years of struggle, Tigray has buried its finest sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers in the thick bushes, high mountains, deep valleys and the ragged terrains of its soil to get where it currently is. The absolute determination and remarkable bravery of those young men and women who never hesitated to pay the ultimate price was not derived from a zeal for war or from some kind of religious fanaticism, as we observe in some areas these days, but rather from a profound desire to liberate their people from the jaws of brutality and endless discrimination. The willingness to commit themselves to a very long and hard course of suffering without being able to foresee whether they will survive and see victory or pay the ultimate sacrifice along the way is rather a striking gallantry and an inconceivable courage. This certainly is a unique and unmatchable personal valor and exceptional audacity only and only the very few exceptional human beings possess. As the month of February comes along every year, for those of us who were old enough to witness the colossal bravery of those extremely devoted sons and daughters of Tigray perform the remarkable heroism to perfection, there is no day that goes by without wondering what might have become of them today had they lived: perhaps they would have headed back to their farms, or their old high schools, colleges, universities, and most importantly, to being sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers or mothers. As we travel through those memory lanes, we feel the profound grief of this immense loss but at the same time be extremely proud to call these extraordinary people our brothers and sisters. Yes, they are not with us anymore but their patriotic deeds and selfless gesture has become a symbol of national pride that has helped our society move forward, and profoundly changed the course of history. The flame of memory of those fine citizens thus will burn in the hearts of all of us eternally. Those compatriots who sacrificed their lives and left this world too young deserve nothing but a medal of honor, a humble tribute, our greatest respect and the most profound and enduring gratitude of generations to come. And we shall never, ever forget the debt that we owe to them for they represent the very best of us.
As a result of those tremendous sacrifices of those heroic young men and women who faced death with unflinching determination and unheard off bravery, those who seemed indestructible were destroyed with a lighting speed and since then, the country has been going through tremendous political and economic transformations. Upon coming to power, the current government of EPRDF quickly declared an all out war against the deeply rooted poverty and backwardness in the nation. It is thus an indisputable fact that over the past few years, the leadership of the current government has demonstrated a sturdy resolve to bring about a momentous economic transformation and the results so far have been very astounding at best and encouraging at the worst. Just to name a few: a number of primary/secondary schools, various universities, clinics, hospitals and new roads were built or became operational in many parts of the country. Overall, there are undeniable political and economic transformations in the country that gave hopes to many Ethiopians that the country was slowly heading towards a peaceful political transition and economic prosperity. It is obvious that in poverty stricken countries like ours where the concept of democratic governance has never been documented in the history of its existence, for any government to try to lay a foundation for good governance and noticeable economic development poses a particular challenge of an immense proportion. Nevertheless, today in Ethiopia, although there are still massive economic and social problems that entail to be undertaken, things are changing dramatically and fast. Against all odds, the country under the leadership of EPRDF has been registering unprecedented near double digit economic growth. It is thus safe to say rather with a substantial level of confidence that the current government under the leadership of Meles Zenawi has laid a good foundation that will gradually stir the nation towards democracy and sustainable development.
Now, as we all know, there are few individuals or groups who do not posses any alternative political insight, what so ever, beyond the temporary rather vindictive personal gratification they get from making outlandish defamations and street profanity towards specific individual leaders of the ruling party. These individuals are not willing or capable of offering any constructive alternative policies by objectively criticizing the shortcomings of the government but rather simply derived by self-serving vendetta, or deep personal grudges for losing privileges. Thus, when it comes to the visible political, social and economic achievements that are propelling Ethiopia along the current promising path into a better future of economic prosperity and social well being, their eyes are blind and their ears are deaf. Characteristically, they like to portray themselves as political redeemers of Ethiopia who know the ins-and-outs of TPLF/EPRDF and its leadership and then spew the usual fictitious headline news and worthless political analyses about how every political move of the ruling party is destined to destroy the whole country or even a specific region and thus, the EPRDF monsters should be destroyed before they destroy the nation etc. These are characters who have been trying for some time now, not only to refute the obvious political and economic progress registered in the nation but also to lead the public to believe that the fundamental principles of the fallen heroes and heroines and the history of the extraordinary bravery during the challenging years of struggle for justice and democracy were nothing but fraud, divisive and unpatriotic.
And then, there are those individuals/groups, simply blind followers of the ruling party who love to preach that the current administration is flawless and its leaders belong to a special human breed who are destined to lead the party eternally. These individuals/groups have a tendency to play a role of surrogate mother for the ruling party reverberating all the ruling party’s political practices as absolute and error-proof set of guidelines regardless of their merits. Thus, any attempt by anyone to criticize/challenge any incompetent policies of the organization or the deficiency of their implementations automatically qualifies him/her as a conspirator, anti TPLF/EPRDF principles, relative or friend of so and so etc. Of course, these individuals/groups are disillusioned that by acting defensive and simply supporting the current government indiscriminately, they are shielding it from those who are blindly blaming it for every political or economic move regardless of its merit. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, supporting the government indiscriminately and pretending not to see some of the obvious substandard policies on various aspects of the country’s political and economic life, qualifies someone no less than outright enemy of the same political party he/she claims to support. One of the long standing arguments of those blind followers is that some of the current leaders of the organization have been the closest ally of the people of Tigray that stood by them and paid a huge sacrifice during the dark days, thus their commitment should not be questioned by anyone, anytime. However, one has to realize that the current leaders are human beings like everybody else who are inevitably prone to be corrupted over time and make mistakes during their political life and most importantly, it’s a proven fact that merely good intentions of one political party by any means, should not and cannot be a guarantee for accountable and transparent governance. The bottom line is that when it comes to being destructive or irrelevant in the current process of political democratization and economic emancipation of our nation, there cannot and should not be any distinction between those who indiscriminately support every policy of the ruling party and those who blindly oppose them.
The point here is not why one criticizes any shortcomings or endorses policies of his/her choice. After all, an active participation of citizens of all walks of life in airing criticisms towards any defective policies of any ruling party is a very crucial element in the process of democratic governance. It is rather to point out that compatriots ought to dispassionately criticize or support any policy without practicing any political doctrine of any political party and with no ambition for political opportunity or personal economic gain of any type. Accordingly, credits ought be recognized where they are due and the current leaders of Ethiopia are doing a commendable job in many sectors including in the areas like improving the health services, broadening the educational system, improving infrastructure, modernizing cities like Addis Ababa, reducing the housing quandary in various cities and the overall poverty reduction endeavors. That said however, the ruling party has its own share of flaws in many sectors.
If one takes for instance the case of Tigray, the Tigrean community’s dissatisfactions about the government’s performance in the region have not been of short supply. The fact of the matter is, it is time the ruling party be told facts as they are if it wants to move forward as a vibrant organization. It is especially high time for those who have paid huge price in supporting the organization over the years of struggle like the people of Tigray, to exercise tough love and tell it exactly what it might not want to hear before it is too late. The people of Tigray have suffered so much, gave and continue to give every imaginable support during the armed struggle and the subsequent fight against poverty but unfortunately, they got very little in return. Considering the gravity of the social and economic problems of the region as a result of years of systematic negligence by previous rulers, the current government has not even scratched the surface. Many scholars and vocal groups especially those of Tigrean origin in and outside the country who should voice their criticism and tell the current leaders the obvious seem to have chosen silence and ignore the elephant in the room. While it is perhaps understandably harder for those inside Ethiopia to freely voice their views, the individuals/groups in Diaspora should be better positioned to air the grievances of the people of Tigray freely without fear for any repercussion. Thus, one might assume that the members of Diaspora Tigrean community would be more upfront and feel free of any form of censorship to dispassionately condemn/challenge or applaud any policies or practices of the government that might have an impact upon the lives of the people of Tigray, so far however, most people have not been as proactive or as blunt as they should have been.
About 20 years ago during the transitional period, Tigray had been identified by the leadership of EPRDF as the most drought-stricken, war-ravaged and systematically neglected part of the country by previous successive rulers and thus required immediate assistance. Of course, since then, some would argue that a significant progress has been made towards the poverty reduction endeavors in Tigray as in the rest of the nation. That might be true, however, considering the enormity of the level of poverty in the area as a result of years of war-devastation and systematic neglect and depravation of its political and economic shares by the previous rulers, neither the efforts of the current government nor the results produced are enough to make a noticeable dent on the day-to-day life of the ordinary people. Some members of the current government have long claimed that the wealth of the country is distributed evenly based on the population. We have also heard time and again the leaders argue that the people of Tigray didn’t fight to get a bigger share. These arguments are basically irrelevant and do not bear any merit for the people of Tigray never asked for a bigger or better share than they deserved.
In order to facilitate the flow of investment and improve the overall life of the ordinary people of a particular area in need, governments should do everything in their power to improve the infrastructure such as roads, communication services and other various sectors of public services of that area depending on its particular needs and circumstances. We are accustomed to hearing leaders on the media announce how good certain individual farmers or businessmen are doing in certain areas of the region. That only shows how hard working and determined the people of Tigray are and this is an established fact that has been proven beyond any doubt since history could have recorded. What the people of Tigray need is an improved infrastructure and better public services so foreign and domestic investors could notice it as a region with potential for profit. When one tries to compare the basic infrastructure and public services of Tigray with those of other regions in the country, it gets basically a failing grade. To mention just few: today, 20 years after the brutal regime of Derg is gone, the road from Mekelle, the capital of Tigray to Tembien Abiy Adi, a birth place of many heroes and heroines including the remarkable King of Kings, Atse Yohannes IV and the exceptional general Ras Alula and many others is still very prehistorically primitive gravel and trying to travel to Tembien is still as hard as it was 20 years ago, if not worse. Until as recent as last year, the residents of the historical town of Axum, a major tourist attraction didn’t even have access to clean drinking water; the 25 kms short road from Axum to the world famous and historical town of Aduwa is still only half way asphalted, not to mention how sad it is to see the renowned town of Aduwa that played rather a decisive role in the struggle for freedom not having made much progress over the past 20 years. And the overall condition of those asphalted roads across the entire region is very poor at best. Tigray with so many historical places and fascinating ancient history could easily be one of the most sought tourist attraction areas if the government took a determined attitude and played a proactive role. Yes, one might say that it’s due to the region’s difficult nature of the landscape that the roads are the way they are but the point here is that the government cannot and should not use this as an escape goat, but rather considering those difficult natural obstacles of the region, it should pay a particular attention to that region and allocate more resources if necessary and bring them up to the standard of the rest of the country. The bottom line is the government should realize that for a region like Tigray that has been forgotten for decades and purposely deprived of the basic needs by its previous rulers for over 100 years, it takes more than building few roads or opening a couple of schools to make a visible dent in the of path of economic prosperity that would bring the life of the ordinary people up to the standard of the other regions of the country.
During an interview with ETV, Tigrigna program, when asked as to why the flow of investors to the region of Tigray is insignificant when compared to other areas, the PM once among other things, sited the following reasons: a) Tigray happens to be in close proximity to war zone with Shaibya thus investors don’t feel safe to invest in Tigray b) Investors have the tendency to go places where they can make the highest profit. Well, first of all, the situation of the current “no war no peace” situation in the country is not the fault of the people of Tigray but rather of the government’s own making. Had the EPRDF government settled it decisively in time one way or the other, the people of Tigray wouldn’t have to endure this rather never-ending ridiculous predicament. Second of all, these are merely reasons for the problem, not solutions by themselves. What the government needs to do is find a solution i.e. if investors don’t feel safe to invest in Tigray, then it’s the government’s responsibility to assure them safety, try to offer them some incentives and most importantly, facilitate improved infrastructure and try to alleviate those mind-numbing bureaucratic obstacles they might encounter. And if all these don’t work, then find some other options like intensifying the exploration of some of the available deposits of natural recourses in the region such as gold, copper etc and proactively increasing the involvement of EFFORT, REST etc.
The main purpose here is not to write off or even belittle the tremendous efforts put in by the local or federal governments to bring about a significant advancement in the process of alleviating the deeply rooted poverty in the nation including in the region of Tigray but rather to point out that almost every part of the country has been sprinting forward with a remarkable progress along the path of economic recovery but the region of Tigray is visibly lagging behind and the federal authorities have to be told unequivocally that they ought to do a better job in speeding up the process of economic recovery and boost it up to the speed of growth of the rest of the country. Comparing the speed and tenacity of the current economic development of many parts of the country with the speed of economic recovery of the region of Tigray is like two marathon runners starting racing at unequal point, one at the beginning while the other at a half way point, and be expected to get at the finishing line at the same time.
During the long and testing years of the armed struggle, the strongest and most distinctive political asset of TPLF that transformed the organization into this miracle-making movement and enabled it to overcome those unimaginable obstacles is the fact that it always consulted with its grassroots and listened keenly to the public outcry before and after making any major political decisions. Nowadays though, the current leaders seem to have abandoned those crucial practices when making those recent rather puzzling political decisions behind closed doors. The recent political moves of the ruling party that left many people scratching their heads are decisions like releasing the notorious mass murderers who slaughtered entire villages including innocent women and children during the brutal military regime, the sudden announcement of the so-called retirement of those extremely experienced and highly decorated young military officers while the country is still at war and of course, the reluctance of the ruling party to come up with a lasting solution about the never-ending saga and the continuous anguish caused by the delusional tyrant of Eritrea etc but these may be issues for some other day.
For comments: firstname.lastname@example.org