TDA, the Brain Child of the People and Tegadelti of Tigray
Aseffa Abreha 06-19-16
Aiga Forum has to be congratulated for organising very important discussions with North America-Based Tigray Alumni and Development Associations through teleconference held on June 5, 2016. The discussants include representatives of Alumni and Development Associations of Agazi, Queen Sheba, Shire, Enderta, Raya, Zalambesa, and UTNA. They explained formation background of and role each association/alumnus is playing in their respective communities. Members of those organisations deserve commendations for all they are doing to assist their communities in their respective localities in Tigray.
From the discussions, it appears that there is some debate going on whether Tigray communities in the diaspora, or even within the country for that matter, should or shouldn’t be organised on the basis of the villages where they come from. We think that the fact that they are organised at all to assist their respective communities should be welcomed and respected; because, as some of the participants argued, they, more than anybody else, are in a better position to know the specific needs of their respective communities. They have, therefore, to be appreciated for the financial, material or other kinds of support that they are providing to their communities. In fact, “let a thousand flowers bloom”, as they say. That said and done, it needs to be underlined that not all Tigray villages are represented outside their localities, never mind outside the country.
Those that have no representations in the diaspora, therefore, need assistance as much as others. And here is where the critical role of Tigray Development Association (TDA) is needed, not only to cater for those unrepresented but for much higher objectives as well.
TDA has done a lot in Tigray since its establishment in August 1989, particularly in the Education and Health sectors. Using the mantra of “from das to class”, it has built hundreds of schools in various parts of Tigray. TDA also encouraged and shared experience in the formation of sister development associations such as Amhara Development Association as well as Oromia Development Association. Attempts were further made to share experience with Regions such as Afar, Somali, Southern Region and others. Furthermore, TDA conceived and established Kalamino Special High School and Meqelle Institute of Technology (MIT), which produced hundreds of engineers and information technologists who are the pride of the Ministries of National Defence, Communication and Information Technology, and Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation. This writer would like to challenge the Diaspora to assess what conditions MIT and Kalamino Special High School are in today?
It would be worthwhile recalling that, although the idea of TDA originated during the armed struggle from the people and tegadelti of Tigray, it was established by the Ethiopian refugees (now Diaspora) from Tigray in the 1980s. If we could remember the situation of 1984-85 of Tigray, it was perhaps one of the most trying periods in the history of the people. The Derg war raged against the people of Tigray; Soviet and allied bombs rained on the people; one of the worst droughts occurred and took its toll; Shaebia prevented international relief assistance through territories it controlled; Derg used its “to destroy the fish, dry the lake (sea)” directive, and so on. It was at this time that the people and tegadelti of Tigray started to ask questions such as: “What are our refugee children (for the people) and sisters and brothers (for the tegadelti) doing during this most trying time of ours”. Further questions such as,” do they demonstrate at all at embassies of the Soviet Union and its allies against their atrocities against us”, were asked. Such messages were taken first to Europe and then to North America. Slide pictures were taken of the conditions the people were in and were shown, and their messages delivered, at meetings of Tigrayan refugees. Meetings of refugees were organised by TPLF Offices wherever there were offices, and conditions obtaining at least in those liberated areas were presented to the audience and discussed. Meetings were organised in the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Germany, different States in America and Canada. This writer recalls that the precursor of the TDA was a provisional committee formed after a meeting in May 1986 (or thereabout) in New York where slides presentation and delivery of message of the people and tegadelti of Tigray were made. That meeting included the late Ethiopian Patriarch Paulos, who was studying at Princeton University, New Jersey, USA, at the time.
The provisional committee had five members including Makonen Ketsela, Beyenech Gebregiorgis, and three others whose names this writer could not remember at this time. The provisional committee was tasked with coordinating collection of money, medication and other materials to be sent to Tigray. Such meetings went on up until 1989 when finally the refugees determined to establish the Tigray Development Association (TDA). By 1989, the armed struggle of first the people of Tigray, and then the people of the whole of Ethiopia represented by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) got the momentum leading to the downfall of the Derg. This momentum accelerated the occasion for establishing the TDA.
The TPLF Office in Washington D.C. organised an all-inclusive Conference of Tigrayans in North America on 12 August, 1989 at Howard University, Washington D.C. There was an excellent attendance from many states of the USA and Canada. The central objective of the TDA was to contribute to the Tigray people’s development efforts through mobilizing and soliciting support in terms of expertise, material and financial resources from concerned Tigrayans, other fellow Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians. The Conference elected 19 members of the TDA Board; and five members of the Executive Committee. The names of the Executive Committee members were as follows:
l. Dr. Aseffa Abreha, President
2. Dr. Tilahun Beyene, Vice President,
3. Ato Araya Zerihun, Finance
4. Ato Desta Asgedom, Media
5. Ato Zemen Libnedingle, Information Technology
During the remaining time before the victory of the armed struggle, TDA kept mobilising resources such as finance, hospital materials and medications, books etc. and sent to Tigray. TDA organised its 1stAnnual Symposium, on 19 August, 1990 at Howard University, Washington D.C., where 8 papers were presented. The proceedings of the papers presented were published in August 1991 in a book form.1
After the May 28, 1991 victory, the EPRDF formed a Provisional Government of Ethiopia. The leaders of the New Provisional Government of Ethiopia invited members of the Executive Committee of TDA to go to Addis and assist in drawing up rehabilitation programmes for the regions devastated by the war. Members of the Executive Committee, except the Vice President, went to Addis and helped in drawing up the programmes. At the same time, they helped to establish an Addis Ababa branch of the TDA. The President of TDA stayed on in Ethiopia to continue, together with others within the country, expanding and consolidating TDA and setting up TDA International in Meqelle, while the other members of the Executive Committee returned to the USA.
Now, some of the discussants said that they were members of TDA. But, they said, “TDA is weakened today”. Of course they are members! How couldn’t they be? After all, although TDA was the brain child of the people and tegadelti of Tigray, it was the Ethiopian refugees from Tigray – now diaspora - who established it outside the country in response to the questions raised by the people and tegadelti of Tigray. Therefore, it is their own organisation, and they are the ones who need to fix it. TDA is needed today more than any time in the past. TDA is a development organisation that belongs to the whole of Tigray and should be treated as such. It is a development institution that should be upheld for a long time to come. The Diaspora, wherever they are, have to find out why it is weakened. The reasons why it is weakened need to be identified by them. That will be the first step. There could also be managerial or other challenges in running TDA within the country. Once the Diaspora identified the problems from their side, they could call upon those concerned within the country to look into the issues on their part that are weakening TDA. The Diaspora, as the ones that formed TDA, have the responsibility, while maintaining their alumni and associations, to call upon stakeholders to organise an international conference in Tigray and fix it in a way as to properly contribute its due share to the development of Tigray as a whole.
1. Abraham Teklu, one of the few computer literate of the time, prepared together with Yasmina Sam Atsbeha, the Proceedings with his computer: “Proceedings, 1st Annual Symposium, Tigray Development Association (TDA), Howard University, Washington, D.C. USA, and August 1991”. Copies were distributed to members. We also took two carton-full copies at first to Addis Ababa and then Meqelle when TDA’s international headquarters was established there for its archives.