Is Tigray the problem ?

Filed under: News |

By Tadeos Anteneh

As the ruling coalition in Ethiopia prepares to mark 20 years at the helm of politics in the country, its critics and opponents have united in a renewed last-ditch effort to try and dislodge it from power by stirring a nationwide protest on its anniversary.

The proposed final push comes amid the unprecedented success of popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt where authoritarian regimes had successfully been toppled after dominating for decades the national political scene in their respective countries.

To the man in the line of fire, the real threat to EPRDF’s hold on power in Ethiopia however comes neither from the weakened legal opposition which hasn’t held a significant public rally since the historic political turbulence in 2005 nor from critics and activists far removed from the domestic political landscape.

The Ethiopian prime minister seems under no illusion that the most credible threat to his power comes from a rival regime north of the Ethiopian border rather than a disgruntled population feeling the heat of the recent price hikes in the price of petrol and other basic necessities.

Whether the prime minister is right or not about where the threat to his power lies will of course have to be seen in due course.

Meanwhile the intensifying debate about the real problems in the country seems to be heading in a rather dangerous direction as Tigray-bashing continues to eclipse rationale debates in some quarters of the Ethiopian Diaspora.

Despite the diversity of colours in political opinion, the cyber world of Ethiopian political activism is woefully peppered with indiscriminate and unambiguous news and comments castigating Tigray and Tigreans.

Such indiscriminate and purposeful targeting probably reached new heights when in May 2009 Ginbot 7 accused the whole of the Tigrean ethnic group of dominating key posts in the Ethiopian army.

The carefully worded press release which has since been widely echoed time and time again in all manners of news and comments on all anti-government websites said ‘a minority ethnic group that comprises no more than 6% of the total population (80 Million) controls the political, economic, and social life of 94% of the Ethiopian people.’

The trouble is such inflammatory and misleading statements shift the focus away from the real problem onto the less significant point of which ethnic group is in power as if that were the fundamental flaw of the system.

In stead of highlighting the perilousness of politics along ethno-linguistic lines , statements like this and the plethora of other obnoxious comments dominating Ethiopian websites in the Diaspora today target one ethnic group for the flaws of a system designed to favour an organised group of people in power in the name of a whole population in a part of the country.

This focused and single-minded attack also validates widespread myths about how a particular ethnic group (in this case the Tigrean ethnic group) is forging way ahead of the rest of the country in infrastructure development, health care, employment , agricultural production and other spheres of national life at the expense of the rest. This is of course not true.

Despite the anti-Tigray hype , the reality on the ground depicts a completely different story.

Today as in the past many hundreds of years , farmers in Tigray subsist on traditional farming methods and are just as exposed to the vagaries of nature as their compatriots in other parts of the country.

An independent research into food insecurity levels in Ethiopia described the situation in rural Tigray five years ago as extremely alarming.

The IFPRI-EDRI research published as recently as 2009 further showed that in 2005 , 10.6 per cent of children born in the region died before marking their fifth birthdays. The figure at national level is only 2.6 per cent worse.

Urban poverty is just as grinding in the region with a fast growing population increasingly finding it hard to make a living in an economy dominated by a giant business conglomerate with links to the ruling elite rather than the ordinary Tigreans whose lives have seen little if any change.

Suggesting otherwise is completely preposterous and self defeating as it is often the same people who brazenly admit that despite the ruling elite’s Tigrean roots, for the bulk of the Tigrean population, life is pretty much the same as everywhere else in the country.

Even in the fast growing construction sector , the ancient cities and towns of Tigray including the capital Mekele trail far behind their southern counterparts.

Bahr Dar , Dire Dawa and Awassa have seen a far greater degree of expansion and modernisation not to mention ever burgeoning though administratively less important Nazret and Debre Zeit .
Quasi government firms under EFFORT have in deed invested in the region creating employment opportunities in the nearby communities. However, the scale and depth of the benefits to local communities is often used to prove the politically charged accusations of unfair economic advantage to the people of Tigray.

As a former TPLF veteran disclosed , Tigray has so far not seen much of EFFORT’s multi-billion dollar wealth. Arena’s Asseged G.Sellasie recently told the Amharic weekly Awramba Times that EFFORT has not invested more than 30 million Birr in Tigray.

Far from being ahead of the rest of the country in economic progress, Tigray remains the same old deprived part of the Ethiopia where the no war no peace existence of at least the last 10 years continues to hamper any real prospects for the citizenry.

Hence, the misguided debate raging in certain quarters of the Ethiopian Diaspora needs to change for the better. It is counterproductive and it only helps entrench tribal prejudices which get in the way of working for the common goal of achieving equality and justice.