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Aseffa Abreha 8-2-19


Sometime ago, a presentation of a three-year development plan of the Tigray Development Association (TDA) was broadcast by its Board Chairman, Engineer Yemane Tadesse. I found the presentation very impressive.   It is clearly thought out, well designed and presented.  The Board Chairman explained with clarity the contribution of TDA, especially in the areas of education and health, to Tigray’s development, although in terms of quality of education it leaves much to be desired.  At the same time, the presentation shows how long we have come in terms of the level of communication and information technology development from the time TDA was established on August 12, 1989 at Howard University, Washington DC., USA.  TDA’s motto at its establishment was to support Tigray with whatever each concerned Tigrayan owned – money, knowledge, labour, etc.  Engineer Tadesse could now easily reach Tigrayans dispersed throughout the world by using his power point presentation thanks to technology development.

His presentation has two parts: The first part includes contributions and achievements of TDA during the last thirty years of its operations.  The second part covers its development plan for the next three years.  

TDA’s contribution to Tigray’s economic and social development during the last 30 years include the following: 
670 elementary schools 
42 high schools 
21 libraries 
2 hospitals 
7 clinics 
74  health centers 
24 science and technology centers 
36 virtual computer centers 
—  Kalamino Special High School 
—  Meqelle Institute of Technology 
— many water wells and small scale irrigation projects 
— various assistances worth millions of USD.

For the next three years, TDA has planned the following five projects(estimated cost is in Ethiopian Birr):

1.  To liberate the children of Tigray from learning in “dass* classes with snakes”. The number of current dass schools which need to be replaced are 3072.  They have to be replaced by properly constructed, regular schools at the cost of 200,000 birr each.

2.  Soft Programmes to be provided for all Tigray elementary schools (2,213) X10,000X3.

3.  To establish ICT centers for all Tigray high schools (265-68) X 550,000.

4.  To create Honors class programs for all preparatory 11th and 12th grades (3x70) X 100,000.

5.  To raise the number of high schools to that of a normal country level equivalence, i.e, one high school per five elementary schools to be constructed by TDA (30) X 20,000,000.

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Total budget required by TDA during the next three years in order to implement its planned projects will be Birr 1,409,740,000.  The Board Chairman proposed that in order for TDA’s projects to be materialized, all Tigrayans, both at home and abroad, have to rally behind TDA, like worker bees which surround and protect the queen bee, and provide the main ingredients for honey-making, to raise a Birr/Dollar a day per person.  There are 1,095 days in three years, and committed 128,745 Tigrayans could raise in three years the amount needed to implement the planned projects.  In order to achieve this proposal, he suggested the following membership organizational structures for the Tigrayans all over the world.

1.  TDA AMERICA with chapters in various USA States, Canada and Latin American countries.

2.  TDA EUROPE with chapters in each European country.

3.  TDA AUSTRALIA with chapters in each Australian State.

4.  TDA ASIA with chapters in each Asian country, and

5.  TDA AFRICA with chapters in each African country. 

It is gratifying to note that TDA has reached this level of development wherein it is ready and prepared to make the best use of the present opportune times.  Firstly, it has now a working experience of thirty years under its belt.  More importantly, it has more favorable conditions than when it was founded 30 years ago.  The people of Tigray have their own Regional Government within the framework of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.  Thirdly, the Tigrayans who founded TDA were mostly “ Sedetegnatat” at the time. Today, I believe most of them are citizens of the respective countries they reside in.  Therefore, I hope and trust that today’s citizens will be more than prepared to meet TDA’s call this time around too.
TDA Board Chairman Engineer Yemane Tadesse acknowledged that TDA was founded in the United States of America.  He thanked, and rightly so, those who have been contributing towards TDA’s successful activities. However, in order to complete the picture, I think it is also worth noting how it was conceived and created.

Often times, the question of how the idea of TDA was conceived and its consequent birth are not always mentioned or are glossed over. However, everything has a starting point and here I hope to fill the information gap about how TDA came about. In fact, its foundation took a process and needed huge commitment, tremendous energy, effort and time from 1984-1989.  Contrary to facts, an erroneous narrative has been developed nowadays. The idea of TDA originated from questions raised by the people and Tegadelti of Tigray and was conceptualized in media during the most trying times of the armed struggle.**

Some of the trying times of the armed struggle included, among others, the raining of bombs on the people and Tegadelti of Tigray both from the sky and ground by the Derg with full support of the Soviet Union and its allies.  To make matters worse for them, the most severe drought of 1984-85 confronted the people of Tigray.   The reaction of the world was immediate and made food assistance available to Ethiopia. However, the Derg would not let food aid go through to Tigray.  Instead, the Derg designed its cruel policy of “dry the sea to eliminate the fish” by luring people to collection centers to receive food assistance.  But instead of providing them with the promised food, families were separated and hauled away with Soviet made lorries to various parts of the country. Thus, the Soviet Union and its allies, instead of saving lives, became accomplices in hauling starving people to other parts of the country.  The TPLF had thus to devise other strategies.  One was to get food assistance from the international community through the Sudan.  

An important point to note at this juncture was that this critical strategy faced an unexpected obstacle.  It would have been unimaginable at that time to expect that two antagonistic and irreconcilable forces would agree on one agenda.   After the Derg prevented food assistance to go through to Tigray, another route was considered to get international food assistance to liberated Tigray.  This time around the attempt was made from Sudan through Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) controlled areas.  Like the Derg. The EPLF refused to allow food assistance to the dying people of Tigray.   The TPLF then had to mobilize the people to clear a dry weather road from Western Tigray to Sudan.  It was an amazing feat.  Within a few days the dry weather road network became operational. 

Subsequently, the TPLF designed two strategies.  One was to organize most affected and able-bodied people, starting from Southern Tigray, to trek to Eastern Sudan to get food assistance.  Their movements were organized mostly by nightfall to avoid air bombardment by the Derg.  Tegadelti had to carry children and their military equipment at the same time and had an immense task in front of them.  They also had to take care of the elderly and those who got sick on the trek.  It was one of the most trying moments of the armed struggle.  Fortunately, Government and people of the Sudan were generous enough to have prepared camps and allowed over two hundred thousand of our people to encamp in the eastern part of their country.  They also availed security protection for the people.


One of the most dramatic scenes that I vividly remember and could never forget at the camp was the way our people behaved. They barely had food while trekking to Sudan for all those days.  When they arrived, representatives of international humanitarian agencies were there ready with truck-loads of food. Our people got their assigned tents and were seated in front of their tents.  The trucks were in front of them too.  We and the representatives stood facing them and were able to watch their reaction in amazement. There was no movement whatsoever until their representatives had to be called in turns to receive their shares for each group.  The representatives were dumbfounded because they were expecting the starving people would rush to get their share when they saw food.  That did not happen in the case of our people.  In spite of trekking for days on end with hardly any food, our people showed tremendous dignity in those most trying times.  With that long trek and hardly any food traveling to Sudan, the people who moved to Sudan for a short but trying period showed immense pride in one of the most trying periods of their time.  Watching that, we were very proud.  Abadi Zemo, Tedros Hagos, two or three others and this writer were there standing.


The second strategy was to transport food assistance from Sudan through the new road built by the people at the direction of the TPLF to those at home who could not make it to Sudan.   It was at this critical period that the people and Tegadelti of Tigray kept asking whether Tigrayans in Europe and America knew about what was going on in Tigray at the time.  In fact, they specifically kept asking whether or not Tigrayans outside of the country were demonstrating against the Soviet Union and its allies outside their embassies for supporting the inhuman bombardment of Tigray by the Derg and what they were also doing to help their people.   It was during these difficult times both for the people and Tegadelti of Tigray that the idea of TDA was conceptualized and the message carried on to the Tigrayan sidetegnat in Europe and North America from 1985 to 1989. They then responded by establishing TDA through a founding conference organized with the assistance of the Washington D.C. Office of the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) in August 1989 at Howard University, Washington, D.C.   This writer made a presentation at the opening of the TDA founding conference explaining the efforts made between1985 to 1989 that led to that point. He also delivered the message mentioned above that he carried from the tegadelti and people of Tigray  in his many travels to media i.e., “what are our children living in the west doing to try to help their people back home”. It can thus be said that TDA is the brain child of the people and Tegadelti of Tigray.


The founding conference made the following decisions: 

1. The name of the organization would be called Tigray Development Association (TDA).

2.   It would have a board with 19 members from Tigrayans all over the world.

3.  It would have an executive committee with five elected members.  

At the conclusion of the founding conference, participants elected this writer President of the TDA Board and Chairmen of the Executive Committee. Unfortunately, I can’t recall the names of all 19 board members but the members of the executive committee were, I as chairman, Dr. Tilahun Beyene, Vice-Chairman, Ato Desta Asghedom, Ato Araya Zerihun and Ato Zemen LibneDengel. It should also be noted that the late Alemayehu Mesfin designed the first TDA logo.TDA was thus officially born on August 12, 1989 at Howard University in Washington D.C.The First symposium was organized at the same place in1990 to celebrate its 1st year of establishment, and scholarly papers were presented.  TDA members Yasmina Sam Atsebha and Abraham Teclu worked very hard to collect all the papers presented and prepared a booklet. ***








*     DASS is roughly translated as wooded tent.

**    For details, see,  July 2019,  “ Looking Back-TDA 1st Symposium, 1990 “.

***   This writer personally brought two cartons of the booklet, one for Meqelle TDA head office after we set it up, and another one for the Addis Ababa branch office.


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