Urgent need to re-galvanise Woyane Tigrai
By Berhane Kahsay
Ethiopian News, Tigrai Online, January 5, 2015
TPLF’s track record as a rebel movement and in the establishment of a federal state has been outstanding and there is no question that it would secure a special place in the history of Ethiopia.
Without a doubt, March 2001 has to be recorded as a tragic event in the history of the revered and powerful TPLF. On this fateful year, a split within the top leadership of the front took place leading to the departure of sizeable polite-bureau and central committee members from the organisation that they were part of from the inception to the creation of a government.
The detachment that transpired within the TPLF was also apparent among Tigrians at home and in the diaspora resulting in the formation of two bitter camps loyal to the opposing factions. The situation was so bad, it even threatened the survival of TDA as it lost substantial income from subscription fees. But the resounding winners of this regrettable episode were the hastily organised chauvinist opponents of the TPLF who took advantage of the schism to venture out of their shells and seriously begun to challenge the constitutional order which was not the case before to the partition. Four years later, they won large numbers of municipal and parliamentary seats but refused to take them up as they were hell-bent on a complete take-over of power by a combination of legal and foul means. As a consequence of the violence they incited,193 innocent lives were lost but these were hugely less than the 15,000 deaths Hailu Shawl demanded to wrestle control of Menelik’s Place from the EPRDF.
Prior to 2001, the TPLF had never been in such a critical and precarious situation that almost threatened its very existence. But under very challenging and testing circumstances, the impressive late Premier not only succeeded in holding it together until his death in August 2012 but also ensured that the undisputed and decisive political leadership that the TPLF wielded within the EPRDF before the split remained intact. It was also under the departed Premier’s stewardship that the country has been transformed from a famine stricken nation to a destination for a plethora of foreign investors involved in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, energy and service sectors. African Business magazine has stated by quoting the IMF that several new investors from all over the world have expressed an interest in being involved in Ethiopia as a result of the low level of corruption compared to other African nations, cheap labour costs, attractive monetary inducements and absence of security risks. The future is bright for Ethiopia and Premier Meles’ vision for his country would certainly materialise in the not too distant future.
But at this juncture, the TPLF does not seem to have leaders of his calibre and intellect, and its impact and authority within the EPRDF seems to be less pivotal than it was previously. And disloyal opponents have made use of the loss of TPLF’s powerful stature to orchestrate destructions in Oromia in 2014 and in December last year allegedly against the Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zones Integrated Master Plane resulting in regrettable fatalities. Although Meles managed to retain TPLF’s unassailable standing within the EPRDF, the damage done to the liberation front in its birth place due to the schism was incalculable. Significant numbers of Tigrians abandoned the TPLF but Ethiopia’s great economic achievements under the guidance of Prime Minister Meles partially succeeded in recovering some of the backing it lost. More could have been realised if those administering Tigray at the present time were able to listen to the public’s grievances and address them without any equivocations. A heavy price has been paid by the Tigrian people to make the TPLF a winner and all possible efforts must be expended to ensure its longevity for many generations to come. It is simply wrong for the current leaders of the organisation to fold their hands and expect indefinite support from none-TPLF Tigrians who are enraged by the extremist’s relentless Tigrai-phobia politics spear-headed by Shabiya. So, what needs to be done to revitalise the TPLF and prevent resolute chauvinists from destroying the organisation?
TPLF triumphed over the Derg because it had a strong backing from a cross section of the Tigrian people. Without this unflinching support, it would not have been feasible to defeat a powerful enemy and form a national government with its associates. The situation now, however, is no longer the same and the organisation has to act swiftly to once again make itself relevant, revered and potent by regaining the strong and almost universal support it had in its own constituency pre-2001. In order to have the people behind it, it has to commence immediate recruitment campaign to entice qualified and able ‘civilians’ to the TPLF that can vigorously defend the interests of the Tigrian people federally as well as come up with original policies and programmes that would elevate the economic achievements so far to the next level. Sweeping changes were expected during the 12th congress of the TPLF which was held last year but the same old and tired faces were re-elected to the central committee and polite-bureau to the bitter chagrin of many Tgrians.
Also imperative is the long overdue need to ferociously attack corruption, bad governance and nepotism within regional government institutions and the top echelon of organisation as a matter of utmost urgency. Equally important in the recovery of the TPLF’s standing in its heartland is to have competent and qualified regional and federal parliamentarians that possess the knack not only to grasp complex matters related to the economy, health, agriculture, manufacturing and other aspects, but to also challenge the other two branches of the government when appropriate. The criteria for selecting members to stand for parliament should only be based on the ability to diligently serve the electorates and the TPLF, and not on the level of loyalty to very few key figures within the organisation.
After the 2005 general election, the EPRDF had enough of its slumber and embarked upon a long consultation process with the residents of Addis Ababa and started to act on issues raised by the participants. And since then the political, economic and social transformation of the capital as well as the country has been phenomenal. The presence of strong political opponents made the EPRDF aware of the necessity to have the voters on its side for its political survival. But the situation in Tigray is quite the opposite and this is due to the fact that the TPLF has simply been taking the electorates for granted and the absence of a competitive election in the region has made the movement unresponsive; unaware of the public’s needs; detached from reality and tolerant to maladministration and blatant corruption. Its partner ANDM on the other hand has undergone a major transformation making it possible for accomplished civilian leaders to come to the forefront and the conducive political and economic climate created in the region has made it an attractive destination for investors.
ANDM has come up with many money spinning projects and among them being the magnificent 60,000 capacity stadium in Bahir Dar which has been generating huge revenues for the region by hosting international football matches; and the match between Ethiopia and Lesotho alone made one million birr for the federation from gate receipts. FIFA and CAF have approved Bahir Dar to hold international football competitions and in November 2015 the stadium has been selected along with Hawassa and Addis Ababa to host the CECAFA Cup. It was in 2008 that the constructions of the stadiums in Mekelle and Bahir Dar started and the latter is now completed and making huge amount of money for the Amhara region whereas the former’s current state is not entirely known.
Adama is planning to build 80,000 seat stadium with an outlay of 1.7 billion birr, Gambella (30,000) with 375 million birr and Woldiya (25,000) with 331 million birr. When the construction of Mekelle stadium, at a cost 220 million birr, was announced in 2008, this was what was posted on one of the extremists’ websites’’ …….. It is a tragedy that the ruling TPLF party are irresponsibly planning to spend this huge amount on a sport complex……’’ When the construction of Bahir-Dar Stadium with a much higher expenditure than Mekelle’s was made public in the same year, the Tigrai-phobia extremists never uttered a word of objection.
It is sad and humiliating but the TPLF which engineered the demise of the Derg and envisaged a new political system from its dens in the ragged mountains of Tigray has to copy the path of the organisation that it helped to create if it wants to exist as a viable entity. Not only should the TPLF bring-in ‘civilians’ to the organisation in large numbers, but it must also have a competent civilian leader who would be sensitive to the concerns of the public and be brave enough to respect the constitutional rights of political opponents to freely function in any part of the region. This would satisfy the citizens as it affords them a choice and also help the TPLF to be dynamic, transparent and eager to toil for every possible vote it can garner form the electorates. A confidence boosting meeting with ARENA-Tigray which is functioning under difficult circumstances according to its leaders would be a positive and constructive step that would immensely help tolerance as well as pluralism to be the norms in Tigray. It is just silly of the TPLF to play hide and seek with the likes of Abraha Desta, a member of Arena who until a few months ago was a non-entity, has now become a global figure generating innumerable publicity for himself and his diminutive party.
Under the circumstances described above and in the presence of strong legislative measures, powerful media and investigative press---- corruption and bad governance would be prevented from careering out of control. Scrupulously adhering to these courses would bring qualitative changes that would greatly gratify the populace and make the TPLF appealing to the electorates better than Arena-Tigray which has no experience in running the region. Another prompt action that would immensely resonate with the Tigrian people is the urgent need to thoroughly shake up the Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) which was established in 1995 to rejuvenate the war-torn region by utilizing profits generated from all the companies it administers. There is no doubt that EFFORT has played a significant role in creating thousands of jobs in Tigray but much more could have been achieved if the conglomerate was managed as an independent business establishment by people with proven track record in the sector. So far, the gigantic endowment organisation has been run by polite-bureau members with no experience in business and the current CEO Azeb Mesfin has claimed in one of the interviews she gave that EFFORT is on the recovery from losses and bank debts that it amassed over the years.
All the companies which come under the command of EFFORT were established using the funds solicited from abroad during the armed struggle in the name of the Tigrian people, but these firms have never been accountable to the rightful owners. Unless immediate action is taken to install a management team from outside the confines of the TPLF, the current state of affairs would continue, and in such a situation, the best thing to do would be to set up a panel of experts with a remit to come up with recommendations that would be implemented forthwith. Many people would welcome if the experts were to endorse the setting-up of Agricultural Research Institute to work on the regions persistent and long standing vulnerability to drought as a result of the low and highly variable rainfalls. Israel has become a major exporter of fresh agricultural produce despite the fact that its land is desert and lacks water resources and this is what we have to emulate in order to extricate our people from years of misery and destitution.
ANDM also has a similar enterprise named TIRET which was established at the same time as EFFORT with an initial capital of birr 26,113,813. In 2013/2014 fiscal year, it made a net profit of 480 million birr and had a total revenue of 3 billion birr, according to its CEO Tadesse Kassa. The corporation has a five year strategic plan and in line with this, it recently inaugurated a new 2 billion birr Dashen Brewery plant in Debre Birhan. Dashen has become Arsenal Football Club’s official Beer Partner and Vasari which is a UK based asset management firm has also invested $150,000,000 in the brewery.
EFFORT has been overtaken by TIRET which was set up with the financial and technical assistance of the TPLF and many people link this to the failure of past and present CEOs and managers of the various companies who were entrusted to oversee the business activities of the conglomerate since its formation. This unacceptable trend has to be reversed and the time has also come for external auditors to scrutinise the corporation’s books and see if the figures add up and that no financial irregularities have been committed by those delegated to run EFFORT.
TPLF’s track record as a rebel movement and in the establishment of a federal state has been outstanding and there is no question that it would secure a special place in the history of Ethiopia. About 25.5 million people from SNNP, Gambella, Bensangul, Somalia and Afar who were treated as second class citizens prior to the coming of the TPLF are now in a position to administer their own regions and protect & develop their culture, identity and language that they nearly lost. In 1991, the TPLF and its associates inherited a broken country as a consequence of years of brutal conflicts, but with sheer hard-work and determination, it has now been become the regions military power that has decimated Shabiya’s army, and the fourth biggest economy in Sub-Sahara Africa in only two decades. It was also for the first time in the history of the country that the 1959 Nile Waters Treaty was brazenly challenged by the late Premier’s decision to construct a mega dam that will generate 6000 MWs for export as well as internal consumptions. Other first of their kind achievements include the new urban light-rail system built with an outlay of $475 million in the AU capital and the construction of thousands of kilometres of freight and passenger railway lines linking the major regions of the country to the port of Djibouti which is expected to come into service sometime this year.
A lot remains to be done and the TPLF can still play a decisive role in shaping the future of Ethiopia but it has to undergo a major overhaul to make itself relevant so that it can still continue to lead the pack and face new and complex challenges ahead. Individuals can come and go but Woyane Tigrai has to persevere for many generations to come and it was only for this reason that the likes of Qeshi Gebru and Amora gave their lives.