By Haile Tessema, Dec. 26, 2019
Wanted to write this opinion piece last week, but not to be a “party pooper”, held it off till the closing of the TDA telethon.
Let me start with my appreciation of TDA chairperson Mr. Taddesse Yemane and his team for their dedicated effort in bringing TDA back to the surface, and making it fairly relevant. Indeed, we have yet to see someone, who is not an elected or public service official, working as hard as Mr. Taddesse has in tackling a social problem on top of a demanding fulltime job.
So, this opinion piece is not a disregard for what he and his colleaguesatTDA have done, and continue to do. Rather, a genuine concern and critique to suggest change in policy and practice.
1. The number of projects being announced.
It’s said, “One of the most difficult aspects of project management is setting and then managing expectations ... While creating a timeline and defining the scope of a project upfront is helpful, if the expectations are unrealistic, the schedule and budget can easily blow up”.
When it comes to TDA, not just schedule and budget, but public opinion and trust in the Organization are also on the line. If so, how realistic is it then to have such a long shopping list of construction projects – from elementary and high schools to university – which makes one wonder if this whole thing is based on regret for lost golden opportunity hence a yearning to do more than a realistic project plan. Particularly,the costly university prospective project, which would be very costly in the current economy.
The project plan is already being attacked by some as inequitable. If so, could this perhaps be more due to a not well-thought-out rush to action, which of course is correctable, than a deliberate discrimination?
2. The one birr a day& the numbers game.
A dollar a day is a fundraising scheme several charitable organizations, particularly those involved in caring for socio economically disadvantaged children, have been pursuing for years. Not only is this a good source of relatively regular and consistent income, but also gives a sense of co-ownership to a greater number of citizen stakeholders.
Nonetheless, not every 6 million Tigrean (notwithstanding this is not an agreed upon number) can contribute to TDA. For one thing, in addition to the 1 in 3 said to live in poverty, there are babies, children and elderly people with no income who cannot take part (not all parents can contribute on behalf of their children either).
For another, TDA is not the only organization that is engaged inhumanitarian and development work people should exclusively give to, which takes us to the next point.
3. Giving the wrong impression that TDA is the soledevelopment organizationin Tigrai.
The politically self-serving dogma that TPLF and the people of Tigrai are one and same, and that it’s the people’s party for life – which has caused incalculable harm in the political and socioeconomic arena – should not be replicated in charitable / development work.
Truth is, there are a lot of community-based and development oriented organizations to which Tigreans give their support to. Some, such as those in neighborhoods and local communities, TDA may never be able to reach out to on its own. So, similar to political parties, TDA has to compete for peoples’ hearts and minds in an equal level playing field.
4. Fundraising by instilling guilt.
It has become common for some TDA members and supporters to share the story and picture of children studying outdoors thereby challenge, at times even rebuke, fellow Tigreans by trying to instill a sense of guilt. But that, in my view, is an outdated and wrong income mobilization approach.
In the past, making people feel sad and guilty was considered a fair game and, in fact, an effective fundraising strategy. Hence, for instance, the 1980s “We are the world” famous song to raise funds for famine victims in Ethiopia with pictures of babies and children who deteriorated to skeletons. And, another example, World Vision’s advertisements in the West (usually during lunchtime) with naked, hungry, babies and children with flies all over their face aimed of course to make viewers feel sad, guilty, thereby open their hearts and wallets.
However, while social problems as“cause selling”opportunity hasn’t fully come to an end, the new resource mobilization trend is to show the positive funding impacts on individuals, families and communities thereby prove to prospective supporters how their donation could reach more people in need, there by lead to further positive changes in society.
Similarly, TDA ought to share its human, family and community success stories and encourage and prove to existing as well as prospective givers why TVA should be the choice.
5. Cherry-picking on underlying causes of poverty and under development.
In his understandably burning desire to lift Tigrai out of poverty into a path of development, Mr. Taddesse has been bringing up the geographical size and socioeconomic status of Tigrai, thereby comparing it with that of the State of Israel, Singapore, South Korea, etc. And the solution his team apparently has come up with is – if the “6 million” people work hand-in-hand each family giving 1,000 birr, which will enable TDA to put more children in class and build distinct schools for high performing students – Tigrai will make major economic strides to get out of poverty, and embark on development.
As good as this sounds; as inspiring as it might be to aspire for a great common goal; and, in contrast, as pessimistic as it might seem to think differently, education is only one aspect to a multiple of problems requiring other equally important developmental remedies.
On that note, one other major factor is government public administration and economic management policy and practice. After all, a country or region can secure billions or even a trillion of dollars; have a high number of citizens with masters and PhDs, yet if there’s no proper management of resources, the only likely scenario to develop is “throwing money at a problem” which is never a solution.
A compelling argument could be made that – 28 years after TPLF’s forming a government and having had access to billions of dollars – the fact that students are still attending schools with no roofs over their head is not due to scarcity of funds. After all, a fraction of the big money costing celebrations; the wining and dining of guests; the sponsoring of sports teams and artistic and social events (mostly outside Tigrai) by EFFORT companies, for example, could easily have built the schools in a time when the prices of building materials and labor weren’t as inflated as it’s the case now.
Alas, a misguided, show-offish party and government policy that believed in distorting facts, falsifying data and practicing fuzzy math for shortsighted public relations gain is what has put Tigrai to yet again having to make a public plea for help in order to put children attending in a tent / outdoors into buildings / indoor classrooms.
6. TDA’s fixation with education to the neglect of other equally vital development concerns.
The importance of education is indisputable. However, education is not the only pressing development challenge Tigrai currently faces. Rather, for instance, there is an equally vital issue of land resource management and utilization which – perhaps because it’s more contentious and risky to touch – TDA, to my knowledge, barely, if at all, tries to tackle.
It’s a public knowledge that – without making any meaningful work to modernize agriculture, enhance farm productivity and reduce Tigrai’s food dependence on the inflation-prone national and international food market, not to mention the U.S. and Canada grain aid (which oddly is called food security) – the Government of Tigrai has been ill-advisedly expanding urbanization; rationing farmlands to so-called investors and highest bidders who many of them have not made use of the land they have occupied for years.
What is worse, not only have farmers been deprived of their right to equitable and secure access to land, which is believed to be a major factor for reducing poverty and hunger, but they have been denied fair land compensation by heartless government policy that fattened its own coffers at the expense of subsistence farmers.
In fact, vast lands surrounding the TDA’s main location at Kalamino, south of Mekelle,have become a target of reckless urbanization policy. The 70 ካሬ/square meter at Debri (east of Kalamino) seized for town house type home-building was known for its high crop production. To Kalamino’s south, Dagia too is being targeted for home building, and the land invasion seems to continue thoughtlessly and unabatedly. And the same is the case in most parts of Tigrai.
So, how come the TDA that constantly sings the poverty reduction chorus from the hymn book of development chose to remain silent on land invasion, misuse and abuse? Can’t the organization at the very least formally speak out when the poor and the helpless are wrongly targeted; voice its concerns on the social, economic and environmental impacts of hyper urbanization; develop a policy paper to make recommendations for policy makers to consider? Or is this particular development matter too political for TDA to tackle? Not that the organization in principle remains to stay outof anything political, mind you. After all, when it comes to pro-TPLF politics, TDA’s partisanship is quite evident (its last director’s resignation letter cc’d to the TPLF Party is proof of the organization’s allegiance).
Come to think of it, what has TDA done in the field of agriculture: in empowering farmers; mechanizing, modernizing farms and dairy farms in Tigrai other than its own in Kalamino compound? The naked truth is, Tigrean farmers are still using oxen to plough their land; farms are vulnerable to the increasingly erratic weather of drought, frost and excessive rain. Crops have to be cut manually, and harvested using animals.
The recent fight against locust invasion, which was spear headed more by concerned young Tigreans than any governmental or non-governmental institution, is a sign of agriculture that is left centuries behind, thus highly vulnerable to any natural and man made threat.
So, why is agriculture – on which 80% of the population is believed to depend for livelihood – not given the attention and priority it deserves by TDA? And how can people’s attention be drawn to socio economically developed countries as role models when the basics are not being done at all?
Let’s take Israel, which the TDA Chairman and many others rightly look up to as a development model, as an example and for conclusion. “Facts on Agriculture in Israel” summarizes (link at the bottom):
“Israel’s agriculture is the success story of a long, hard struggle against adverse land and climate conditions. Over half of Israel’s saline soil is arid or semi-arid (only 20% is arable) and Israel’s natural water supplies are below the UN definition of water poverty. Even so, since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the country has almost tripled the territory used for farming, and production has multiplied 16 times, link. Today, Israel manages to produce 95% of its own food requirements.
Israel’s agricultural success is attributed to the close cooperation between farmers, Israel’s agro industry, and technological research (R&D is about 17 percent of Israel’s budget allocation for agriculture). Technological achievements include computer controlled drip irrigation, computerized early-warning systems for leaks, thermal imaging for crop water stress detection, biological pest control and new varieties of fruit and vegetables. Water shortage is alleviated through extensive water-reuse (86%) and desalination plants.”
So, while TDA’s work on education is to be commended, the organization also has to give agriculture a top priority for development to take hold in Tigrai. Otherwise, education alone backed by infomercial type hype is not going to bring meaningful development, and TDA will have a credibility gap to fill in years to come.
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