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Problem and Problem Solving In Tigray



Problem and Problem Solving

In Tigray


Sisay A. Teklu

Development & Finance Consultant

June 2020




We all face problems in our personal life and at work individually or institutionally.  Some of them might be minor day-to-day problems while other challenges that might arise can be much more significant and complex.

Problem solving is a systematic process of solving a problem when there is a gap between actual and expected results or something that is unsatisfactory for which a resolution or solution is needed.

Common organizational problems can be low productivity per hour/employee/hectare/Birr. Poor time management, declining sales volume, poor employee motivation, below standard public service, below standard customer service, etc.

While the existence of problems is a dry fact in almost every organization, region and country, there are only few organizations, regions and countries that established a systematic problem solving mechanism, and tackle challenges on continues basis.

To begin with, problems and problem solving must be appreciated and must be taken as an opportunity. In any successful organization, this is the first step towards securing sustained progress and/or improvement. However, problem solving is not easy like saying. Research shows 80% of problems identified are ‘killed’ due to procrastination and absence of enabling environment.

The objective of this study is to conduct an assessment necessary for the design and implementation of a systematic problem solving at organization (entity) level across Tigray so that each and every organization (entity) in the regional government effectively and efficiently utilizes its most PRECIOUS asset (human resource) and each entity excels similar organization (entity) in East Africa. It is about attainment of continues improvement using the intellectual, (a person with first degree and above) a resource abundant through out Tigray.




1. Problem solving – Historical Background

1.1 Early Tigray Civilization and Problem Solving

One who visits the town of Aksum definitely, has to raise questions and issues seeking more information to learn what happened in Tigray before 2000 years. Why is Tigray the only place in Sub- Saharan Africa that was capable to have its own letter, number, currency, written language and huge traces of engineering and medicinal knowledge? How did the kings learn to administer not only places in the present Ethiopia and Eritrea but also vast area of Africa including the Middle East? How did they learn to build the huge Aksum obelisks, build irrigation dams, engaged in import and export trade, mint gold and silver while many countries in Europe and North America were not even traced?


The answers to those and similar questions are not easy and beyond the scope of this paper, however, our forefathers were undoubtedly successful not only in identifying important development and social issues or problems around them but also capable to think differently and creatively, generate ideas and solve problems; an evidence of their unique talent and skill that impacted Africa and the Middle East in general and Ethio–Eritrean language, culture, history and religion in particular.


Saint Yared the great African scholar from Aksum

Yared who was fluent in Hebrew, Greek and Geez was able to witness his hard work, talent and skill, first by learning the three languages completing the Old and New Testament lessons and graduated and become Deacon.


Persistent practice guided by the echo of the melodies of birds, Yared transformed himself to a great signer and composer as well as choreographer. He prepared his Zema composition from 548 to 568 AD. All his compositions follow the three musical scales (Kegnit) which he used to praise his creator. This took place much earlier than the composition of the musical note using seven alphabetic letters within the Western World.


The above remarkable achievements clearly depict Yared’s level of hard work, talent and a vision to influence the future. Yared’sZema composition that took 20 years itself is clear indication of his hard work, discipline, focus that are critical elements of problem solving. His work and achievements were visionary still significantly, influencing the Churches, music and art in Ethiopia and Eritrea until to date. 


Zara Yaaqob – the critical thinker and philosopher from Aksum – Tigray


Yaaqob is most noted for his ethical philosophy surrounding the principle of harmony. He purported that an action's morality is decided by whether it advances or degrades overall harmony in the world. His philosophy is theistic in nature. While he did believe in a deity, whom he referred to as God, he rejected any set of religious beliefs. Rather than deriving beliefs from any organized religion, Yaaqob sought the truth in observing the natural world.


Clearly, some of our forefathers were engaged in critical thinking and curious to understand their surroundings. It also shows the desire to ask and question the World around. Zara Yaaqob during his time preferred to ask about reasoning, harmony, ethics and morality that are higher level thinking; a critical element of problem solving. 


2.Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF)

The TPLF, established in 1974 was the product of the marginalization of Tigray within Ethiopia. The Tigrayan elite and peasantry had a strong regional identity and deeply resented the decline of Tigray. Memoirs of the armed revolt of 1942-43 (KedamyWeyane) against the re-establishment of imperial rule after Italian occupation remained alive and provided an important reference for the new generations of the educated Tigrayan nationalists.


The first three – five years of TPLF’s existence were marked by a constant struggle for survival, such as; challenges from other Tigrayan fronts, fierce fight with the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU), a fight for self defense against the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and unstable relationship/cooperation with the EPLF.


The few mainly, urban based Tigryans were able to sustain their existence against the initial odds and proved their leadership quality and skill of solving a multi-faceted challenges.


The TPLF was able to organize its army’s organizational hirarchy in Ganta, Hayli, Botoloni, and Berged. The peasants, women, youth, small town dwellers and the diaspora were formally organized under the front having mission, goals and objectives. The organization of Baitowith its operations manual and rules was very critical to bring about managed administration across the liberated areas in Tigry. Within less than ten years, Tigray under the TPLF was administered under a defacto government.


Similarly, the TPLF was able to establish and operate entities such as agricultural section, rural based education section (betetemehertiweyane), trading organization (local and foreign), health care stations, auto mechanic and machine shop centers, road and building construction unit, radio station, printing station, and music and entertainment bands.

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The above initiatives required thinking and idea generation, brain storming, reading and writing, among the few elite fighters. It truly demanded the fighters to address issues and solve problems of high magnitude. Leaving all things aside (how much resultant), the establishment of an ‘entity’ in the liberated areas was a result of creative thinking, skill and talent of appropriate organizational establishmentusing the limited available resources.


2.1 TPLF Leadership Tools –

Plan and Problem Identification: TPLF’s planning process was keen to identify and solve a problem in each and every hierarchy of leadership. The process claims to be a learning organization in that each planning and performance evaluation is an input to an upcoming plan preparation and implementation. 


Performance evaluation (time consuming, protracted and at times, influenced by a chairman) was critical leadership tool that was instrumental to assess plan. TPLF’s plan unique feature during plan preparation was its trial to identify critical problem (issues) and possible solutions ahead. While solving all kinds of problems was a task of the leadership, an identification and addressing and analyzing the critical problem over the other problems was practiced in remote Tigray villages since the 1980s.



2.2 Betseferena

For TPLF, the most important resource in any endeavor was its unshakable belief and leadership capability of mobilizing its human resource. It appreciates the necessity of all resources but puts its members and the people of Tigray over and above all other resources. This was named betseferena.

During the 17 years struggle, the TPLF got material or moral support neither from the West nor from the East. Unlike the Eritrean liberation fronts, the oil rich countries in the Middle East didn’t have a purpose to support the organization. Therefore, for TPLF the motto Betseferena was an objective reality.


Within 16 years, the TPLF grew from a few dozen men and women into the most powerful armed liberation movement in Ethiopia. Leading a coalition of movements named the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1989; it inflicted a total military defeat on the dictatorial PDRE regime and established a new government in 1991 that has ruled Ethiopia for almost three decades.  Clearly, the above historical success was attained by the TPLF due to its competent and self-thought leadership across all its structure that appreciates the identification of problem and problem solving, that is, a critical leadership element.


2.3 Current Practices (after 1991) of Problem Solving

 In the previous topics, we have seen the success of our forefathers in solving problems at different times across all socio -economic endeavors. Broadly speaking broad based socio-economic development and multi sectoral problem solving was evidenced both during the Aksumite civilization and the 17 years of the TPLF struggle. The reason for the positive historical marks of the Aksumite civilization and the success of the 17 years of TPLF struggle was mainly due to the capability to identify and solve problems systematically.


The past 27 years (as customarily said), was a time of remarkable political, social and economic changes in Ethiopia. During this period, Ethiopia, in its history was able to sustain an eye browsing change and development. Looking at the performance of the overall economy speaks for itself.  An annual growth of more than 10% was sustained for more than a decade. This rapid and broad based growth was more than double the sub-Saharan average growth registered during the same period. Similarly, annual budget increased from $10bln to $90bln,GDP has increased from $120 to $870, PPPfrom100 Dollars to 2200 Dollars, life expectancy from 42 years to 68 years, absolute poverty declined from 48% to 23.4% and energy supply increased from 400MW to 4000MW , among others.


In less than two decades, Ethiopia stood first and became the giant East-African economy. The country has lined up among the fastest growing economy both in Africa and the World rushing to become middle income economy using only, pertinent policy instruments and workable development strategy. The climax of achievements, success, national strength, confidence and unity of purpose among citizens was believed to be behind the final decision to kickoff the Grand Renaissance Dam by the late Prime MinsterMelese Zenawi.  


In Tigray, before 1991, the urban - rural naming was simply symbolic with minimal urban characteristic features. Now, there are so many big towns in the region other than Mekelle. Tigray that had only, one floor mill before 1991, now, has a number of factories and business organizations including Mesfin Engineering, Messobo cement, Sheba Tannery, Addis Pharmaceutical, Almeda Textile, Trading and construction companies, transport and agricultural establishments, banking and insurance, etc. Tigray, that didn’t administer one 12+ 1 institute is now administering four Universities, Nursing, Agricultural, Technical and Teachers colleges among others. 


It is important to note what it takes to establish a manufacturing plant with almost zero background in Tigray. What it takes to conduct project identification, project feasibility study, implementation and administration of a number of huge and complex contracts. Who knew what technology supply was in 1994/5 in the whole Tigray; while the broad based name for any type of intellectual was simply teacher (Memeher)? Thus, the required hard work, thinking to design and implement the pioneer public institutions and business organizations that are now pillars in Tigray was tremendous. Behind all the above achievements, one fundamental question must be addressed to the TPLF and to the people of Tigray. Why is the TPLF struggling to survive (Helewena) now? Why the TPLF is now engaged in the agenda of Helewena?  Of course, not easy to answer. However, fact based assessment around the misguided problem identification and problem solving on the so-called Bonapartism and leadership succession might give a clue why the TPLF is where it is now.


The people of Tigray and the TPLF in the past 27years, proved their capability to bring change and development in Ethiopia in general and in Tigray in particular. The generation is not only proud and appreciative of what happened in the past that coined Tigray and Ethiopia before 2000 years. It also proved its capability to attain remarkable socio-economic developments in less than two decades in the 21st century. Actually, in the last 45 years, there is non in the East Africa like the TPLF that was able to won a protracted war against a military government followed by remarkable economic success. 


3.  The need for problem solving in Tigray


At present, the Tigray region is at a very critical historical spot. Its immense sacrifice during the 17 years struggle brought a political structure that serves the majority of the Ethiopian nations and nationalities is being considered as a crime by unitarian vocal elites. Some from our cousins in Eritrea are contemplating to revenge their loss of the 1998 - 2001 war. The region is facing multi-faceted challenges from a number of federal agencies to smoothly administer federal programs and projects.

This is leaving Tigray to rely on its available resources; the making of each private, government and non-government agencies effective and efficient by utilizing the region’s resources, mainly the knowledge capital. Thus, systemic problem solving must be an agenda of each and every Tigryagn intellectual as a means to attain sustained improvement and defend the hard earned victories and secure our Helewena.


In addition, the changes witnessed from 1991 – 2020, highly appreciated; still are far away for Tigray to bring it back to its Historical place in East Africa. The region’s main development agenda is still fighting poverty. There is huge issue of unemployment and the need for better public administration. Therefore, identifying and solving important economic, social and political issues by establishing a systematic problem solving that calls the participation and leadership of the intellectual is second to none; so that Tigray can defend its hard earned victories and put it back at its historical place in East Africa.   

3.1 Rely on human/knowledge capital and secure continues improvement  

Tigray is uniquely positioned to bring change and continues improvement across its private and public entities and all its entities in the urban and rural areas by systematically mobilizing its human capital. Japan was able to transform its economic structure by effectively mobilizing its human capital to identify and solve problems so that it can eliminate waste (Muda) and transform its economy in few years. Japan's economic development was not necessarily, dependent on material resources. On the other hand, a number of countries in the Middle East and Africa blessed with huge natural resources are still developing. In Tigray, mobilizing the critical development ingredient, the intellectual must be doable, but not easy. This doable claim must aim to put the Tigryan intellectuals to be the best in East Africa capable to establish the best entities in East Africa.


On a separate note, the haphazard position of the TPLF on the intellectual should be corrected. True, the organization mainly stands for the peasants and the lower level urban strata. The intellectual is an “ally” of the developmental state. The developmental state that aspire to achieve lower to middle income economy and build capitalism must work with the intellectual putting in its right social place rather than considering this group sometimes ally and alien. Let’s work on the intellectual to inherit the values of the Aksumite civilization and the 17 years struggle and coach, orient and train so that desired goals can be achieved. 


3.2 Establish a win-win relationship

An introduction and implementation of systemic problem solving is needed so that a win-win solution for both the organization and the problem solver can be witnessed. The problem solver who is engaged in identifying a problem, explain the problem, conduct an assessment using sufficient references and reading, formulate options, make informed decision and prepare plan of action, implementation and feed back of an important organizational problem is worth of recognition, appreciation, and material reward. Similarly, solving a problem is about increase of production and productivity per hour/hectare/birr/employee, cost reduction, effective time utilization, revenue increase, better customer service, better planning and operations, improved work flow, etc. This definitely, brings significant change and improvement to the organization under consideration that must be JUSTIFIED, VERIFIED and WORKABLE. This can bring about a win-win relationship and continues improvement that can take organizations to their “true North”.


3.3 Problem solving can positively influence organizational work culture

At present, one can say there is no culture of problem solving. Problem solving, if any, is considered to be the job of a team organized in a company, a consultant, or a researcher.  To begin with, this composition is very few in number to address the cumbersome issues/problems in the whole region while the need is evident at any organization and at any level within organization. In most of the case, management is comfortable to stay with problems unless a special committee or a consultant is hired to do the job. This is mainly, because the enabling environment to attract and motivate the majority of the intellectuals doesn’t prevail. Therefore, to meaningfully bring improvement in each entity on continues basis in Tigray, an introduction and implementation of systematic problem solving is a timely call.


Arriving at work place at 8:00 and leaving office at 5:00pm and dealing with routine and repetitive tasks is only, minimal challenge at workplace. This “norm” mut be changed in Tigray. In Tigray, it must be a culture to solve a problem and problems must be solved in many organizations and at many levels within organizations on a continues basis so that problem solving can be a culture and organizational norm. Indeed, this work culture can bring a meaningful change and improvement in the whole region. It is this kind of engagement, belief and determinationthat can play key role in defending the hard earned achievements and sustain each entity in Tigray to be the best in East Africa lead by the best intellectuals East Africa.    


Conclusion and Recommendation

Occurrence of problem and problem solving is a phenomenon apparent at any organization on daily if not, on hourly basis. The problems or issues identified, among others can be: proper budget utilization, improving workflow, process flow, revenue increase, poor planning, in effective organization and management, cost reduction, increase production or service per hour/ land area/ employee, birr, etc.

Any organization that established a system and procedure to solve these and similar problems shall be capable to maintain sustained growth and improvement on continues basis.

There are organizations and nations that were able to bring change and improvement by intentionally creating the enabling environment for the problem solver to assume special responsibility of brining continues improvement.

Historically, the region has enlightened society that has experienced and brought remarkable civilization that is still influencing the Ethiopian religion, culture, history, language, art and the likes. During the last 45 years, the region has proved its capability to bring change and improvement mainly, by effectively mobilizing its human resource at every level. During this time, Betseferna was at the center of the scene in the whole endeavor. 

There are observable changes and improvements in Tigray. However, the Tigray region has a long-way to go. Poverty, unemployment, poor public administration and public resources management are prevalent through out the region. In addition, there are some tirelessly working to undermine the hard earned achievements that stretches to the extent of threatening the survival of the region -Helewena Tigray.

Therefore, the implementation of scientific and systematic problem solving in Tigray at organizational level must be due time so that all organizations in Tigray can be more effective and improved on continues basis. Similarly, the intellectual can be engaged in problem solving to address important organizational issue and inherently upgrade his/her skill and academic qualification. The total sum of all these endeavors brings Tigrayan entities (organizations) to be the best in East Africa administered by the best intellectuals in East Africa.



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