Informative meeting with Ayte Tedros Hagos in Denver

By Weldu M (PhD) & Abraha W
August 31 2009

On Sunday August 23, 2009 Ayte Tedros Hagos had a meeting with dozens of Tigreans residing in the Denver metro area. Before the meeting, Ayte Tedros had participated in a picnic hosted by the Axum Sister City at Axum Park. Members of the sister city and Ayte Tedros Hagos had a chance to get acquainted with each other. After a brief participation at Axum Park, Ayte Tedros headed to the meeting hall at Radisson Hotel. There were many Tigreans waiting in the hall for the meeting to start. The scheduled meeting was delayed more than expected and we hope that this issue will be given due attention in the future.

After a short introduction by Ayte Semere (a.k.a. Wedi Orion), Ayte Tedros took the podium and gave a good briefing about the political, economic, and social developments in Ethiopia in general and Tigray in particular. Even though he attempted to be as brief as he could, he managed to touch many aspects of the developments taking place in the homeland. His message mainly focused on development endeavors in rural areas, but he also addressed pertinent issues in urban areas of Tigray. He had articulated all the works being undertaken by the government and his party to tackle poverty and backwardness in the regional state.

Ayte Tedros had impressed many in the audience with his eloquence and knowledge of information even outside his country. It is very impressive to learn that whatever they do in Ethiopia to change the life of our people, people in leadership positions are doing an extensive study on countries that were in similar situations like ours. They are learning from and sharing experiences with countries that are advanced but had been in similar circumstances decades earlier. When Ayte Tedros finished his briefing, the attendees were given a chance to ask questions. Many political and economic, social as well as cultural questions were brought up. But most of the questions were asked politely and they were discussed in civility and respectful manner. Even though many Tigreans in the metropolis have sound understanding regarding what is going on in Ethiopia, it is a good practice to exchange ideas with the players in government positions directly. This is the second time that a high ranking official has come to Denver and discuss the situation in our country with the residents. Meetings like this are necessary, because they avoid hearsays, straighten cyber lies, and offer a true statement from the actors themselves. Whatever is said and done, whatever differences exist among politicians, it is the interest of all Tigreans to see a strong economic development and an industrialized Tigray. We know how the gang organizations and most cyber warriors of the diaspora envisage Tigray. According to them Tigray is developing at the expense of other regional states. For them a weaker economy in Tigray, a hunger stricken people of Tigray, and a drought stricken and and barren land of Tigray is a blessing. Thus, it is in the interest of all Tigreans to see such attitudes changed by creating a strong and developed Tigray by the hardwork and dedication of its citizens.

His briefing focused on some of the remarkable changes taking place in rural areas meant to bring about tangible economic development. He started by pointing out the degradation of the land, lack of technological advances and how these can be addressed to get rid of poverty. The efforts currently being undertaken envision enabling the rural poor earn a dollar a day. To realize this, 600,000 families have been covered by a family package which typically involved animal husbandry and horticulture. The overall plan is to involve over 100,000 more families in the coming year. 60% families have already graduated and billions of birr have been earmarked as loans mainly through the Dedebit Micro-finance loans. Technology input interventions have also been introduced. To assist the farmers with these, at least three diploma graduates are assigned for each station (‘tabia’). In addition to the technology input intervention, scaling up strategy has been devised aimed at reversing the degradation of the land and blocking the expansion of desertification which has shown very encouraging results. This has been applauded by experts and scientists from various universities and research institutions from different parts of the globe. Taking about agricultural production, Ayte Tedros pointed out that previously, the highest agricultural produce was between 7-16,000,000 quintals. In the current fiscal year, the plan is to produce 30,000,000 quintals, nearly twice the highest ever produced. To combat desertification, about 890,000,000 seedlings have been planted and proper follow-up is underway. This is close to the national endeavor during the new Ethiopian Millennium. Every household is expected to contribute over a month free service for environmental protection. Ayte Tedros reiterated that the overall goal is to ensure food security with the help of the public. Animal husbandry constitutes about 10% of the Ethiopian cattle population, about 1,000,000 of them are in Tigray. Despite the number, the quality is not up to the standard and much work remains to be done in this regard. The subsistence farming also needs to be upgraded to a commercialized one. An aspect of this is to promote irrigation so that farmers can produce two or three times a year. Otherwise, ensuring food securing through mere subsistence farming devoid of irrigation is a practical impossibility. A fourth of the arable land is scheduled to be irrigated and this is excluding big projects such as those linked to the dam at the Tekeze Hydroelectric Project. 170,000 hectares of land will be irrigated. The ultimate plan is to change the attitude of the farmers from subsistence farming to small community production which is market-oriented.

Another issue which Ayte Tedros discussed was urban unemployment. Admitting that this is a serious concern to the development of the regional state as well as to the country at large, he pointed out that some measures are being taken to address this challenge. One of the measures has to do with empowering and setting up micro and small scale enterprises. Thus far, 100,000 micro and small scale enterprises have been licensed in Tigray. 95,000-100,000 more are planned to be set up in the next few years. To empower these, micro-finances institutions need to be created. Detailing the kinds of projects going operational, he pointed out that the construction industry is booming followed by small manufacturing. Government jobs are already saturated in Tigray (there are about 65,000 government workers and more than half of these are teachers). For this reason, the future focus should be on private investment. To upgrade the skill of the population, more attention has been given to technical and vocational training (TVT) centers. TVT centers offer training ranging from 3-6 months to 5 years. Germany has been the role model which assisted extensively with the curriculum of the TVTs nation-wide. In 2002, training will be given to 100,000 people who are either new entrants or come for upgrading their skills.

Ayte Tedros also underscored that investment in Tigray is scaling up. In 2000, 3.4 billion birr investment was requested. In 2001, this grew up to 3.7 billion birr, while in 2002. Four years ago, practical investment was not more than 15% of the request made, whereas it is 41% nowadays. Ayte Tedros also pointed out that people are critical of the enterprises under EFFORT. It is important to learn that more than 60,000 people are employed under EFFORT. Of all the sectors, agricultural investment in Tigray is very limited as expected.

Infrastructure has always been a challenge in Tigray. With regard to electricity, Ayte Tedros indicated that Ethiopia has the potential to produce 30,000 Mega Watt through hydro-power. The country plans to generation 15,000 Mega Watt in the next seven years. Tigray has the potential to produce 1000 mega watt. The first phase has already been completed and Tekeze will start producing 310 mega watt and some work will be done in the future to produce more power. Parallel to the Tekeze Hydro-power Project, Tigray has the potential of generating power through wind. The plan is to produce 120-130 mega watt through wind farm. It is planned that all ‘tabia’ centers will be electrified in Tigray in the next year. Ayte Tedros proudly mentioned that the power shortage in Ethiopia will be solved by the power dam of Tekeze and many others that are under construction simultaneously.

Telecommunication continues to expand in Tigray as in the rest regional states of the country. Broadband services is given primary attention. There are 75,000 mobile lines in Tigray and this number is being raised to 750,000 currently. With regard to roads, all ‘tabia’ centers (except a few in tough topography) are connected with ‘woreda’ centers, which in turn are connected to bigger feeder roads. Tigray enjoys 8115 km road network and this is 58.8/1000 square kilometers. The national average is only 38.6/1000 square kilometers.

Democracy and good governance was another issues brought up in the briefing and follow up discussion. If not properly handled and managed, bureaucracy can be anti-democracy and anti-development. Civil servants, as the name implies, are meant to serve their people who invested greatly for their schooling. In our country, civil servants reign over the people and expect to be served further. This attitude needs to be combated head on. Focus should be on changing the attitude and thinking of the overall population. This is something which cannot be handled solely by the government. All stakeholders should be involved in the fight against corruption and some other bureaucratic malpractices. The buraucratic set up should be constantly reformed. BPR was introduced for this purpose and the endeavor should be ventured on by the government, the ruling party, and the people. Corruption cannot be combatted if there are people who contribute to it by for example offering bribes or exercising nepotism.

Educational expansion has also been addressed in the meeting. For the primary cycle, i.e., grades 1-4, it it the policy of the regional government to build schools within a 3.5 km radius throughout Tigray with the exception of some places like Irob and other highland areas. For grades 5-8, a 5 km radius is earmarked. For high schools, it is 25 km radius. Attempts are being made to lower the high school radius. There are many schools with no building and students are still learning in the traditional ‘das’ system. The internal facility of most high schools is still a challenge in terms of material input, laboratories and libraries. Much is expected from Tigreans in the diaspora. The attempts being made by the different alumni associations are to be appreciated, but much more is still expected. Ayte Tedros stressed that changing the life of the Ethiopian people in general and Tigreans in particular is not something that we have to leave for the government alone. He said as diaspora people want to hold the government accountable and responsible they themselves should also do their best efforts to do their share in helping changing the standard of life of our people. In the education sector, more attention was given in the past to expansion, but nowadays much more attention is given to the quality of education. In particular, teacher training and ethics development training to teachers and students is given paramount consideration.

Big strides have also been made in the health sector. Primary health care package is expected to be achieved in two years, a key component of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Two health extension workers are assigned for each ‘tabia.’ 80% of the population is covered in the package. Ayte Tedros mentioned that it is the goal of the government to have one health center or clinic to serve every 25,000 people.

Overall, the meeting was very effective in the sense that ideas were exchanged expansively in civility. Ayte Tedros managed to not only cover many issues in his introductory briefing but also address questions that were brought up by participants of the meeting in the follow-up Q & A session. More questions would have been entertained if the meeting had started as scheduled. However, as we know it, or as they call it Ethiopians’ time, there always is a two hour delay. When are we going to change this backward attitude? We are in the western where every bit of a minute has value. We hope going forward we will give consideration to time and be at the needed place on time. We have to break the adage “ASHASYA AB QOTSERO’U YIRKEB”.

Many thanks to Ayte Tedros, to those who organized the meeting, and also to those who managed to attend the meeting and raise many insightful questions. It is our sincer believe that if meetings like this continue in the future and information is shared on a timely basis, with sincerity and honesy, trust will be build between politicians and the diaspora Ethiopians. We hope that such a tradition will continue to be practised and bridge the gap between government officials and Tigreans in the diapora. In meetings like this it is hard to amues every body. However, most of us belived that Ayte Tedros had given us the most valuable information about the efforts of the government and his party to transform our nation. They are doing their best effort as individuals, government and political leaders to improve the life of the people. We may disagree or agree in the leadership styles,  however, the ultimate goal is to make a strong and better Ethiopia. Therefore, it is time to ask ourselves if we as concerned citzines have done our share as needed for the bettermnet of the country in our capacity? To be heard, for our voice to have value, and to influence our leaders we have to step up to the higher standard of service and support of our people. Then and only then we can criticise the officals and other bystanders who do not care about the economic and social problems that our beloved nation is facing. Let us strive together to make a difference. Let us be united,stand together as one, and remain strong against those who wants to see the demise of our people.

May God bless Ethiopia and its people.
Authored by: Weldu M (PhD) & Abraha W
Denver August 30, 2009