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An outsider’s Observation On Ato Dawit and other Investors in Tigray

An outsider’s Observation On Ato Dawit and other Investors in Tigray


Kelemu Smeneh                     August 12, 2015


First my apologies.  Due to technical difficulties I am forced to share my opinion in English.


My knowledge of TPLF is rudimentary.  Three general impressions that I have about TPLF look like the following.  In the beginning I was no fun of its mode of struggle that was nationalities based. I was of the impression that nationalities based form of struggle undermines the Ethiopian identity.  Thus, despite my being physically in Tigray at the time of the formation of TPLF and having my best friends with whom I still maintain intimate friendship join the TPLF, my decision to join a multinational group in the fight against the brutal Derg.  Irrespective of my beliefs though I have been from the start respectful of its method of struggle.  


Secondly, I have always admired the fighting spirit of the TPLF and its military leadership. They fought and formed a formidable alliance that was able to destroy the worst form government in our modern history.


And finally TPLF was able to produce a visionary leader who was able to command the respect of all the world leaders and paved the way for a rapid development of the country.  Despite the differences I had in the way the EPRDF handled the Eritrean issue, I will always remember Meles as the best leader the country ever had.  Too bad we lost him too soon.  I only pray that he died a natural death, an assumption that I find hard to fathom.


Back to the issues at hand:


I heard a lamentation of a prominent businessman who had poured his money to Ethiopia either though bond purchases or building factories regarding the obstacles he is facing in fulfilling his dreams in Tigray.  Few months ago I read many commentaries about a complaint that was put by another investor in Tigray, a man whose land was ‘confiscated’ and handed over to foreign investors.


In the last two years I have travelled to Ethiopia several times and witnessed that the level of corruption that has become so ugly is repugnantly restricting normal business practices. My observation in Tigray was even worse. As much as there is infrastructure development, health services and schools, it is hard to imagine that women who still carry logs of wood on their back to make ends meet to be appreciative of the system.


I know of a person who was found to be undesirable by staff and members of the community who was removed from the institution that he was responsible for only to be posted in a higher position in Mekelle.  I was told that his only ability rests in his proclaimed public allegiance to TPLF - in words not in deeds.


Perceptions, Realities


I am not here to either support or reject the complaints and accusations of these two gentlemen in question.  I simply do not have the independent facts, and frankly it does not matter whether the businessmen have a basis for their complaints. Perceptions are not necessarily inferior to realities if issues are not handled delicately, openly and respectfully. Perceptions tend to replace realities. Opinions and beliefs formed in either way can have similar effect on how one sees the government and its administrative organs.


What bothers me most is the response that is provided by the government or members of the TPLF that have been posted on Aigaforum.

I would like to list two important points as I see them.


Governments and their supporters should always respect and be respectful of the points or complaints raised by people whom they are supposed to serve. They need to understand that they hold government positions in order to serve and support the citizenry -be it a business person or a lay person like me.  In terms of Ato Dawit and the other gentleman, they chose Tigray/ Ethiopia because

a) they believe that they can have a good return for their money (as businessmen); and

b) because they want to help their country develop. That sense of responsibility displayed by the politicians in Tigray is also equally engrained in the hearts and mind of every Tigrean/ Ethiopian.  It is therefore important that supporters of the regional government and government officials do not question the intentions of those who demonstrate their frustration in public.


Government officials should understand that they hold their respective offices to help the citizens of the state; to make sure that each individual client gets the best response possible.


The above observations, accusations, and complaints – acknowledging that there are two sides to a story – are indicative of a problem of good governance brewing in the country.  And this deserves an attentive ear by all concerned; especially by those who are high in the power echelon.


More importantly, government officials and responsible citizens for that matter should concentrate on the subject matter at issue, not the individuals that raise their concerns and frustrations. Failure to do so leads us to disputes, confrontations and leaves the problem unsolved.


Responding Responsibly


Be it supporters of the regional administration or local government officials, to my knowledge, have not been helpful.  They tend to be combative, intimidating and accusatory to the extent of being loaded with warnings bordering insults.  This is unfortunate and unnecessary.


The interesting thing is that the writings of those who seem to indicate issues of governance in Tigray in particular are more measured and tend to address the issues. 


I have been reading some opinion pieces on the topic of Dawit’s frustrations on Aiga Forum. Except one article (not directly related to Dawit) written by  Mehari Yohannes ( hwehat ab qerani mengedi) –TPLF at a Crossroad) all the other responses were polemical, accusatory and frankly not helpful. Despite Aigaforum’s opinion that the discussions (airing of views) were helpful, I found them to be not constructive.


Mehari Yohannes, whom I guess is a member of the ruling party, has eloquently listed the many obvious progresses that have been achieved and the many challenges that the regional government as well as the country is facing in terms of good governance, corruption and human rights.  He suggests that his colleagues in the party address the many glaring problems which the public faces at this juncture.  This a constructive engagement that deserves our respect.


On the other hand Slas-Gdey;  Tesfay Yibrah (Poking the eye claiming to beautify it), Nardos- Ajeboy (a word used to sarcastically undermine the complainant) and others have used unnecessary phrases and counter-accusations that contribute nothing except negative outcomes to the discussion.


These folks may have a legitimate reason for refuting the complaints raised by the businessmen. However, I failed to read anything substantive in their refutations.  They were general in nature and do not address the issue of mal-governance identified in the interviews.


Obviously, Ato Dawit was neither helpful in presenting his complaints.  In my opinion he could have been more measured in presenting his side of the story.  However, it is no reason for others to wantonly attack him for expressing his frustrations with the authorities.


I only hope that official representatives of the government give a reasoned response to the issues raised in their upcoming expected responses.


Finally I think it is worth mentioning the following. The Government of Ethiopia as well as all regional governments are currently busy hosting the Diaspora and inviting them to invest in their country of origin.  All the government media and government offices are declaring that they are open for business and ready to provide special incentives to those who are willing and able to invest. All this is good.


However, one has to know that investors- Diaspora investors- take more cue and advice from those who have invested earlier.  Their experiences, positive impressions and negative experiences play a big part in attracting others than words or promises provided by the government. The government should therefore try to keep investors like Dawit happy and forward looking.


The case should never have reached to this level.  But if all are for Tigray and its people, I am sure that few folks ego will be replaced by rational thinking and normalcy prevail.


At last my unsolicited advice to Dawit: do not lose hope. I do not know Dawit but I am appreciative of his decision to invest in Tigray and in particular in Raya, an area which has been neglected and repressed by all the governments of Ethiopia until recently. I am sure that you do not need a reminder but my sense is you do what you do out of love to your country.


More so, it is my sincere hope that TPLF higher officials and its members make an honest evaluation of the condition in Tigray and go out of their comfort zone to address issues raised whether they are perceptions or realities.



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