August 14, 2007
In my previous writing entitled “TPLF and Tigrean Identity Politics” dated May 25, 2007, I expressed a view that Tigrean nationalism is overtly discriminatory, and it is therefore distinguished by negative manifestations of the Ethiopian integrative power. Instead of uniting multi-ethnic Ethiopia, the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) leadership has antagonized them, and as such, it has excluded even Tigreans from mainstream Ethiopian political discourse. In this follow up, necessitated by email feedbacks I received, I intend to provide some evidence without encumbering the reader with too much detail that such data would otherwise require.
My previous argument leads to a conclusion that the negative identity formation in which a group (TPLF) defines itself and also others in terms of what it is not, according to a famous sociologist, tends to lead into a "pathological situation of internal violence." This has occurred on a large scale in the Balkans, Sri Lanka, or the Middle East. The situation in Ethiopia is an even more fitting example with acutely rising consequences. Tigrean discrimination ignores individual merits based on the victim’s ethnic background, and this serves as a stifling factor for development, killing ideas in a poor country that requires mobilizing all its brain capacities to get rid of the ravaging poverty.
My previous view also suggests that Tigrean discrimination has paradoxically played a very important role of coalescing the discriminated people, pulling together victims who share the same abuse to a united powerhouse capable of undermining or perhaps even toppling the discriminator. Oromos, Somalis, Sidamas, and Amharas, etc. are united in wanting to dethrone the TPLF. In other words, even a negative integration, integration that is achieved for a reason of shared abuse - threats, hatred, tortures, arrests, and killings is integration of some sort. This natural coalition of the oppressed is as strong as it can effectively resist political opportunism as well as TPLF’s corruptive infiltration. There is tangible evidence, that creation of a country-wide united national opposition front to this Tigrean domination is targeted by infiltrators from the TPLF dominated regime. But the creation of a broad-based unity has its own weak points that expose it to such manipulations.
The weakest link
The Ethiopian political intolerance, exceptionally violent and intense in its makeup, is nourished by delusional tradition that borders with compulsive disorder. By and large, it assumes that every human being with opposing opinion, every political group with a dissenting view, is an enemy. This intolerance characterizes the individual activist’s manner so profoundly, that one can observe its manifestations in coffee bar debates, at community gatherings, and even at scholarly meetings. This is in major part the legacy of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party (EPRP), the weakest link in the creation of a broad-based opposition against Tigrean domination, i.e., a hazard for political progress in the country.
In a familiarly condescending tone whose authorship must have a thing or two to do with EPRP mentality, one wrote, “The theory of the nation which decomposes Ethiopia by weaving the myths (emphasis mine) of Tigreanism, Eritreanism, Oromoism and so on goes counter to the core experience of the people, …” After reclaiming Eritrea, an independent country and replacing the well established Ethiopian myth with his own, the author attempts to guard the mythical “framework” by delivering another punch to its contents: “There can be no compromise on the Ethiopian and African framework for citizen expression and engagement.” The author forces all the Ethiopian cultural and ethnic diversities to either become Ethiopians or Africans of his personal definition of certainly chauvinistic preeminence, or face a wrath of his verdict and imagination – no compromise, we are told in no uncertain terms.
So, vaguely articulated malice of EPRP’s ideology still permeates through the deeds and words of the now senior or middle-aged activists who commenced politics in the 70s as infantile children. Their politics never stopped growing, but it grew crook! In the 70s, in a bizarre combination of feudal tradition with Marxism, the EPRP offered nothing else to the Ethiopian political roundtable other than winning by killing or dying, even when in its opposition stood a well-armed national army pronouncing its sure demise. There was no compromise then as now. Blinded by emotional ambition, traits of which are still glaring among its rank and file, the children were too young to fathom the essence of a military balance and too confused to comprehend the impact of a generation’s death. The military junta was driven insane by their obnoxious and unflinching ambition, and as a result, the junta passed a collective death verdict on the generation. This in part allowed the military to keep political power for one more decade, leaving behind a scar of historical magnitude. In this sense, the EPRP and the TPLF have little to distinguish them from Khmer Rouge, except that the TPLF, also a teen army that grew to power without growing to the society, is now terrorizing Ethiopia whereas the EPRP resides in old Diaspora minds as a political paranoia. They do share concealed hate and love for each other; they can’t go against each other, that can’t go for each other either. It is sad to see that neither the politics nor the social evolution of the last thirty years offered any cure to the survivors of the lost generation of Ethiopia that continue diffusing discord throughout all the political establishments of the region. There is little doubt that most of the destructive vectors and inward fighters in all political fronts and organizations can be traced to this futile ideology in a resistive or adaptive form. Their relentless propaganda for the unity of Ethiopia on one hand, and equally relentless objection to the unity of Oromos, Amharas, Somalis etc. when not on their own sadistic terms on the other, their objection to the very idea of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD), is a synopsis of their fixation on winning, with extremely poor judgment of their capacity that would enable them to win. By betraying its own mission and stated goals, the EPRP is acclaimed to be the weakest link of the Ethiopian political opposition against Tigrean domination, and therefore the creation of a better tomorrow for the region.
Facing a disgruntled Ethiopian opposition forces is the TPLF, an organization that has an exceptional talent in further disgruntling opposition forces. The TPLF has two strong virtues that link it to the Ethiopian political power and shape its capacity to destabilize the opposition. They are its a) military, and b) economy.
a) The military : Strictly speaking, the Ethiopia armed forces are Tigrean no less than the TPLF is Tigrean. The following list makes this argument abundantly clear.
Ministry of Defense
l Commander of Ethiopian armed forces - Melles Zenawi (Tigrean)
l Defense Minister is a non-Tigrean, but this position is constitutionally manned by a civilian, not a military person
l Chief of Staff - Samora (Mohamed) Yunis (Tigrean)
l Department of Training - Major General Taddese Wored- (Tigrean)
l Department of Logistics and Administration - Major General Gezahi Abera - (Tigrean)
l Department of Operations - Brigadier General Gebrzgiabher Mebrhatu (Tigrean)
l Department of Military Intelligence- Brigadier General Yohannes (John) Gebre Meskel - (Tigrean) …. Recently appointed as Deputy Commander of Central Command. This Department will also be commanded by head of operations Brigadier General Gebrezgiabher Mebrhatu (Tigrean).
l Commander of the Air Force - Brigadier Molla H. Mariam (Tigirean)
Under the Ministry of Defense there are 5 Ethiopian Army Commanders.
l Northern Command (HQ Mekele) - Major General Seare Mekonnen (Tigrean)
l North Western Command (HQ Baher Dar) - Brigadier General Abraham Gebre Mariam (Tigrean)
l Special Army Command (HQ Dessie-Bure Front) - Birgadier General Teklai Ashebir (Tigrean)
l South Eastern Army Command (HQ Harar) - Brigadier General Seyum Hagos (Tigrean)
l Central Army Command (HQ Shire Indasilassie) - Major General Taddese Wored (Tigirean - Agaw). Recently, Brigadier General Yohannes G. Meskel also Tigrean.
The Ministry of Defense has 28 Division Commanders.
l All but one are Tigreans
Division Commands have 106 Regiments.
l 98% of the Regiment Commanders are Tigireans
It can be safely argued therefore, that there is no Ethiopian national army but Tigrean.
b) The economy: The Ethiopian economy is controlled by two large conglomerates:
l The Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT)
l The Ethio-Saudi AI-Amudi-family - Midroc Ethiopia
Of interest to my ongoing argument is EFFORT. We will return to Midroc at another opportune time.
In 1978, the TPLF created the Relief Society of Tigray (REST), a financial umbrella organization of the TPLF which acted as an NGO despite headed by a TPLF Central Committee member. It collected donations from the international community and channeled it to the TPLF, playing a key role in the survival and ultimate victory of TPLF over the Derg.
After the rise of the TPLF to power in 1991, REST was formally registered with the governmental Relief & Rehabilitation Commission in Ethiopia as an NGO. As the TPLF’s financial backbone, it continued enjoying the state protection, and the restructured organization emerged as the richest “NGO” in the continent. In the summer of 1995, about four years after it took control of central power in Ethiopia, the TPLF established a stronger peer for REST - the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT). Sources suggest that EFFORT started its business venture with a lofty investment volume of about 2.7 billion birr, - then just under US $1 billion (currently $1 US is about 9 birr).
Through EFFORT, the TPLF has considerably diversified its economic activities and expanded its outreach even to foreign countries. The European financial maneuver of the TPLF is based in UK where family members are trained and placed in key areas of Ethiopia’s financial institutions. In some cases, they are assigned to a now growing number of internationalized affiliates co-owned or owned by EFFORT, such as the Tower Trading Company (TTC) – a London-based TPLF owned company mandated with money laundering.
New companies continue to emerge, fully or partly owned by EFFORT through an intricate system of shares and investments. By controlling key growth areas, EFFORT has become the soul of the country's economy: agriculture (Hiwot Mechanized Agriculture), industry (Almeda Textiles Manufacturing Sc., Mesfin Industrial Engineering SC.), import-export (Guna Trading House), transport (Trans-Ethiopia SC.), insurance (Africa Insurance SC.), mining (Meskerem Investment SC.), communications (Mega-Net Corporation), banking (Wegagen Bank), just to mention some. Clearly, TPLF’s business enterprises cover numerous activities including textile, chemicals, pharmaceutical, and food industries. They also cover major service industries such as banking, insurance, transportation, printing, advertising, land developing, import/export, construction, mining, leather products, and farming.
EFFORT is divided into several sectors directed by members of the TPLF Central Committee, like Abadi Zemo for industrial activities, Arkebe Oqubay Mitiku for construction and transportation, and Tewodros Hagos for mining. The individuals may be moved around, but no non-Tigrean is appointed to EFFORT. In fact, no non-TPLF Tigrean is appointed to the ranks of EFFORT. Strategic positions of the Federal government that generate large amounts of cash are also led by Tigreans of EFFORT who hold multiple offices. For example, Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin is chairman of Ethiopian Air Lines, chairman of the Mugher Cement Factory, chairman of the Ambo Water Factory, chairman of EFFORT, and deputy-chairman of the TPLF at the same time. The more trusted individuals are usually offered the more strategic positions.
Although EFFORT is strictly controlled by the TPLF, it is not the only entity owned or controlled by high-ranking TPLF officials or favored Tigrean citizens. For example, although EFFORT controls WEGAGEN Bank, the TPLF encouraged the creation of DEDEBIT Credit and Savings Institution, headquartered in Meqele and administered by the local government of Tigray. The bank has numerous financial links with other TPLF controlled businesses of the country. DEDEBIT, as an extension of Rural Credit Program, acquired a near total monopoly over credit to rural areas, mostly farmers. The financial monopoly over rural Ethiopia has serious political ramifications. In the early 2000s, the main source of the bank was interest from fertilizer. Farmers were identified, registered, and forced to make a down payment of 25% on the price for the amount of fertilizer. The Bank estimated the amount of fertilizer the farmer supposedly needed. A credit agreement was written with each farmer, and after six months, the bank collected the debt from the farmers with 15% interest.
Business in Tigray is completely closed to non-Tigreans, and all walks of Tigrean businesses are exclusively owned by EFFORT or the local Tigrean government. For example, the trading company GUNA has a near monopoly in sesame and incense wholesale in Tigray whereas TRANS Ethiopia carries all goods designated as relief.
The TPLF also benefits EFFORT by ordering free transfer of funds from government accounts, often under a bogus claim of services that TPLF institutions offered to the public. It allows free flow of goods in the name of EFFORT, without customs and taxes, but EFFORT is allowed to compete with for-profit businesses of the country through its tentacle bureaus. Thus, Moseb Cement factory was built with public expenditure at a cost of 1.5 billion birr, and a Textile factory in Adwa at 1.2 billion. However, the incomes from these public investments are fully controlled by the TPLF through EFFORT.
EFFORT also makes extensive use of the credit opportunities offered by the state-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) and other financial institutions controlled by the government. The generous provision of credits by CBE to EFFORT is clearly politically influenced and based upon directives issued by the TPLF controlled government of Ethiopia. When EFFORT defaults in the payment of loans CBE provides relieving credit, obviously upon directives from the Ethiopian government. In some cases, millions of birr loans obtained by EFFORT are unlawfully delayed or even cancelled. In a widely publicized case a few years ago, the Vice-Governor of CBE overruled an earlier decision by the credit department of CBE not to grant 40 million birr credit to SUR Construction, a subsidiary of EFFORT. There is no way escaping the conclusion that the loan was made possible by political intervention from the TPLF regime.
As an almost sole beneficiary of state contracts, EFFORT’s income continues to grow exponentially. For example, during the Ethio-Eritrean war, EFFORT became the financial wing of the war. MESFIN Engineering supplied water, fuel, and vehicles. TRANS-Ethiopia supplied trucks, and SELAM Bus was in charge of transporting militia. The income from the war propelled these companies to powerful monopolies of the country in their respective business domains.
EFFORT has now become a self-contained economic state operating on the call of the official government, formally serving the personal appetite of state officials, a phenomena witnessed nowhere in the world. Its assets are protected federally, and its under-the-table contracts are enforced by TPLF’s iron fisted militias. It has a favored access to government as well as to foreign aid contracts with profitable niches, dominating joint ventures with domestic and foreign investors. One of the strategic alliances is with Amoudi’s Midroc which supplies the TPLF with billions of birr through investments. Midroc buys natural resources of the South including gold and other precious stones from the TPLF with cash, and service contracts at these sites go back to EFFORT.
At a policy level, the Financial Sector Steering Committee (FSSC) serves as an umbrella institute for justification of fund transfers, creating the legal framework for supporting even poorly performing EFFORT auxiliaries, or channeling funds to the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) cash institutes. EPRDF is a bogus amalgam of Fronts populated with non-Tigrean renegades, created and dominated by the TPLF. FSSC defines policies and strategies for banks, appoints board of directors and executives for the banks, and routinely monitors their operations. Thus, the FSSC oversees all government banks, and has full power over their activities. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi chairs this committee. It is a public knowledge that he personally mandated EPRDF companies: Guna, Ambassael, Dinsho, and Wando to take over the sugar company when the plant was privatized. Interestingly Ato Sebhat who owns Guna, Ato Bereket who owns Ambassel, Ato Girma who owns Dinsho, and Ato Kassu who owns Wando are members of FSSC, and some of these same individuals seat on the Board of CBE that financed these companies. As a result, all privately owned enterprises competing for the privatization of the plant, Star, Abeba co. etc. were shut out of the competition.
The EFFORT companies are reported to owe billions of birr to Ethiopian banks. In fact, most of the EFFORT companies would not survive without government protection. In one case, CBE, the Construction and Business Bank, and the Ethiopian Development Bank collectively loaned 1.7 billion birr to EFFORT. According to insiders, the loan has not been paid to date. The 1.7 billion birr was distributed to Adigrat Pharmaceutical Factory, Adwa Textile Factory, Dashen Brewery, and Mesebo Cement Factory. These and other EFFORT or EPRDF affiliates including TESCO, Tikure Abay, Dansho Transport are constantly in deep financial crisis.
Although the main focus of this paper is private business ventures of the TPLF, it must be noted that Tigray, the TPLF’s home region has inequitably benefited from federal funds. For example, a recently published paper presents comparative welfare analysis of four Ethiopian regions: Oromia, Amhara, Southern States, and Tigray. A 2001/2002 data of these regions shows that 42% of children in Tigray are fully vaccinated, where as the percentage is - 10% for Oromia, 15% for Amhara, and 11% for Southern States. Population to physician ratio is 28,600 for Tigray. This jumps to 60,800 for Oromia,, 60,700 for Amhara, and 44,000 for Southern States. Secondary education enrollment for Tigray is about 25% (a six-fold increase in just a decade), but Oromia has 11.6%, Amhara 9%, and Southern States 11%. According to World Bank report “Ethiopia Public Expenditure review” the Federal government never transferred more than 6% of the country’s cash revenue to the states, which leaves more than 94% of the federal budget at the discretion of the TPLF, appropriation of which is apparent from the above numbers.
In conclusion, the TPLF has clearly violated international business rules and practices, and as a ruling political party, it not only owns large amounts of properties and engages in commercial and trading activities whereby it places competing private sectors in a hopeless situation, but it also uses this economic dominance to incarcerate, harass, dominate, and control political opposition forces to stay in power. This injustice justifies continued armed struggle of the people against the TPLF domination, and rejection of foreign expeditions to exploit natural resources of the country on behalf of the TPLF.