Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Tigray Economics and Ethiopian Politics

During the last two decades, Tigray has occupied the minds of Ethiopians. That EPRDF’s (the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Party) creator, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), is native to Tigray explains all the discourses. Ordinary conversations, media reports, and developments on the ground all seem to testify that Tigray is being preferentially and positively treated in all fronts.
It is known that TPLFities dominate Federal government offices including the military and security apparatuses. It is public discourse that people from Tigray take a significant number of scholarships being offered by top western universities. Compared to the other regional governments, Tigray presumably outachieves in nearly all economic indicators and measures.  In a way, Tigray is said to be the ‘pampered child’ of the ruling party.

The question is: to what extent these assertions hold water? That TPLFities have a grip on power is never contentious. Elusive and less grounded was the argument related to Tigray’s overall economic performance. How and to what extent the region performs economically compared to other regions? This was never answered authoritatively only until we happened to get a new empirical study conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The National Economy

In its January 2013 book entitled Food and Agriculture in Ethiopia: Progress and Policy Challenges, the IFPRI provided “…empirical evidence to shed light on the complexities of agricultural and food policy in today’s Ethiopia, highlight major policies and interventions of the past decade, and provide insights into building resilience to natural disasters and food crises” (

According to the IFPRI, the editors of the book, Paul Dorosh and Shahidur Rashid “tell the story of Ethiopia’s political, economic, and agricultural transformation”. The overall conclusion of the book is that Ethiopia is seeing better economic performances and that the agriculture development-led strategy is “sound”. “In fact, since 2001 the per capita income in certain rural areas has risen by more than 50 percent, and crop yields and availability have also increased. Higher investments in roads and mobile phone technology have led to improved infrastructure and thereby greater access to markets, commodities, services, and information” (IFPRI website).

It is interesting that Ethiopia is making developments in several key areas. This must be duly acknowledged and commended. Praising good beginnings and criticizing malfunctions should be the business of any reasonable and responsible citizen. There is no doubt that infrastructure is developed and productivity is improved. What is unfortunate is that the high cost of living (with double-digit inflation) is neutralizing the changes brought about. Although per capita income increases, purchasing power alarmingly deteriorates, putting households in a near perfect gain-loss scenario. Of course, the degree of income distribution at household and regional levels is also not even. The government and its sympathizers and the opposition should not exclusively focus on the amount of national income and rate of inflation, respectively. Both need to be considered for a meaningful characterization of our national economy.

Tigray Economy

The most important part of the book that caught the attention of media is, however, the one related to the comparative economic performance of Tigray. Compared to other regional governments, Tigray is performing pretty better in nearly all indicators and measures including access to and utilization of fertilizer, irrigation, technology, infrastructure, and crop production. The difference between Tigray, Amhara, Oromoia, and Southern Ethiopia is, according to the IFPRI ubiquitous and substantial.

The important question to ask is not why Tigray grows faster and stronger but how it does that. Meaning, given common macro-economic policy, how does Tigray outperform other regional governments in infrastructure development and crop production? It is well known that the weather and topography in Tigray are not any better conducive for crop production- we have there many arid, rocky and mountainous areas. In fact, one finds hectares and hectares of arable and fertile land in the other regions. It is difficult to argue that the labor force in Tigray is much more skilled and productive compared to in those other regions. The only significant factor that should explain at least much of the variation must be related to the degree of investment made. Tigray must have enjoyed the highest resource pool over the last yesteryears. And this seems in direct parlance with the popular cry that the region is the ruling party’s favorite stop for its economic train.

This is hard to refute. Some members of the top TPLF leadership have been talking to what extent Tigray is progressing. The most recent account is one which came from Azeb Mesfin. She eloquently talked of Meles’ vision and plan to turn Tigray into a truly industrial zone in just few years. The opposition and other people interpreted this as a mere political maneuvering made to create tensions between the Tigray people and the other Ethiopians. To me, her talks just talked of the truth.

Generally, the fact that Tigray is found to be the most ‘prosperous’ region in Ethiopia has serious ramifications. Seen from compassionate and moral grounds, it is good to see that part of the country to make improvements, for it ‘hosted’ several wars that involved Ethiopians and foreigners. Citizens from all parts of Ethiopia participated in heroic wars but Tigray, in addition to its soldiers, suffered a lot in terms of infrastructural damage and environmental and psychological realms. If all the investments took into consideration this reality of Tigray, it sounds justifiable. However, it would have been more edifying and blameless had it been done in absolute clarity, transparency and based on national consensus.  


That Tigray is economically leading the other regions means a lot. The IFPRI’s finding could be used by all interested stakeholders as a solid base of evidence in support of the structural inequality persisting in the country. The difference between Tigray and the other regions is as psychological and moral as it is economical. Meaning, it is morally wrong to grow one region faster than others. The difference could also stimulate and sustain psychological uneasiness between Tigryans and other Ethiopians. The already worrisome psychological climate might get intensified. Moreover, Ethiopians might have hard time discriminating between the ruling party and ordinary Tigryans. To the many, TPLF might mean Tigryans and Tigryans might mean TPLF. This hitherto hard-to-refute-and-accept perception might now look grounded. This situation in turn might force innocent Tigryans to identify with TPLF. That in the end means a protracted and undifferentiated struggle between TPLF/Tigryans and the rest of Ethiopians and would unnecessarily complicate matters. All these psycho-moral tensions might be considered barriers for future peace and cooperation between Ethiopians.

What to do

Empirical studies naturally appear credible and authentic. The comparative study reported by the IFPRI is likely to be considered a yardstick to measure how regions in Ethiopia perform economically. All stakeholders must see the case seriously to avoid any unnecessary complications. The government, the opposition, the media, Tigryans and the entire Ethiopian population must face the reality. The government must accept the reality and demonstrate its readiness to treat all regions fairly in the future. Bluffing and/or getting rough on this issue would not do any good. The educated, regardless of their political affiliations, would be influential in creating a common platform for all Ethiopians based on the reality on the ground. Workshops, seminars, conferences and/or publications that involve and consider the government, the opposition, Tigryans, and all other people are crucial.   


  1. The only reason why Tigray seemed to prosper is not because it is so but because the regional government cooks the data. And you should not use this to propagate your hate against the Tigray people. If you do so, nothing will happen but you lose the trust of the people. You could keep on barking, but the camel will keep walking. [For instance, take a simple case of high 'consumption' of fertilizer in Tigray. Make a random call to a farmer or have an informal contact with a researcher who has worked with Tigrayan farmers and you will get the answer.]

  2. Did you expect, the colonizer/Tigrai/ and the colonized/occupied territories (parts of Ethiopia with the exception of Tigrai) to develop equally. It was already clear of the massive capital flow to Tigrai in the preparation to independence. Tigrai developed geographically by forcefully taking land from Gondar and wollo, Afar will be annexed soon. All what we do is to unite and get rid of the home grown fascists do not expect anything positve from arrogant fascists.

  3. Hello Teklu,
    I have read your article entitled Tigray economics and Ethiopian politics. Mr. Teklu, I have been puzzled to make sense out of the conclusions of your article. As we all know, the engine of wealth in any country is private sector. More Tigreans were willing to invest and transform their region where as others were very lazy if we read between the lines of your data. Let me give you one simple scenario. Each region is allocated a budget annually fairly and squarely. The budget allocated to Tigray region by Federal government is exceptional or it is not larger than that of other regions. I heard that other regions have problems of mismanagement, corruption and also they return unutilized budget at the end of the year whereas Tigray implements it properly and even asks for more budget for the next physical year. So the gap in development is not because of inequitable allocation of budget or due to preferential treatment by federal government. Rather, Tigreans should be admired because of their commendable performance in all sectors of economy in their region. Motivational speech of Azeb Mesfin does not prove your argument that Tigray received preferential attention at all. As a representative of that region, she has obligation to motivate her constituency and care about the lielihood of her electorate as it is true with American Senators and Congressmen who struggle to attract more investment to their jurisdictions. as you know, all States are not equally wealthy in USA. For example, New York is the wealthiest State of all whereas Mississippi is the poorest of all. This did not happen by the design and negligence of US Federal government. It is not possible to twist the arms of investors to relocate to Mississippi to invest more no matter how the States tries to attract them from all parts of the country as well as from overseas. Similarly, the biggest factor in increasing investment in Tigray is the role of Tigray people themselves and active participation of Tigrean Diaspora community. They learned hard-work through hardship of yesteryears and they devoted their resources to change their cities, towns, suburbs and farms. Besides, there is nothing wrong if the local and federal governments pay strong attention in rebuilding the war-torn infrastructure of Tigray. No Ethiopian would have wished the magnitude of destruction and demise that took place in Tigray during civil wars to occur in his/ her region. So it is unfair to assume that Tigray people are taking more advantage and attention due to TPLF/ EPRDF regime. This is an attempt to arose another vicious cycle of civil war against our brothers and sisters. The best solution to increease development and economic growth of other regions is to engage in development efforts in our regions with all our resources, know-how, and capacity as Tigreans did in their regions. Tigreans who live within the country and those in the Diaspora are investing within their region tremendously. Most of them have positive outlook to the current leadership whereas other Diaspora members are not willing to invest in their region. Other Diaspora members are campaigning against our government and they are even discouraging people from being stakeholders in investment in Ethiopia. For example, they tell us not to buy a bond for Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) and carry out negative propaganda. So I am proud of Tigreans because they are proud Ethiopians who are making history by rebuilding our country and their region and they are playing a major role in eradicating poverty. For example, A Tigrean is willing to build a house in Aksum or Adwa, whereas others may choose only to build in Addis Ababa which is already modernized city instead of going to their region. So I pray that Tigray region becomes like New York as a result of the hard-work of Tigreans. They are really my heroes and I would like to imitate them to play my own role as a citizen of Ethiopia in my region and other parts of Ethiopia with all my powers

  4. Other reasons i witnessed for the unequal development among regions are: 1/ Many zone & wereda level officials are under qualified and atleast a single tplfite was assigned in many justice bureauos through out many weredas and zones , as an attempt to shut the mouth of desenting voices and the law was instrument of tplf dectatorship; 2/ Many of the army's (just not to say all)top brass & security hail from tigray & taking in to account the cronic nature of corruption , unaudited transactions within ministry of defence & huge procuremet at department of national security & immigration; corruption will certainly bring up investment capacity 3/Agricultural & other investment opportunities created from annexed weredas of other regions

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  9. Mr Teklu. I did read the post and it is clear that you have not stepped your foot in Ethiopia (the country you blog so much about) in a while. Even if you have done so, I doubt that you had enough time to visit Tigray and the southern part of Ethiopia. I visited both sides very recently. The magnitude of development is south is mind-blowing and I am really happy about that. Certain sections of Tigray have are showing signs of development but really not as much as the southern part of Ethiopia.
    What i have noticed about people is one thing - it is damn hard to satify them and you see to be one of them. If the country was in shambles interms of developments and economic growth, you wouild have complained and rightfully so if that was the case. If one section was growing at a visibly faster rate than the other states and you have irrefutable evidence, i would say you should argue so since this also implies unfair treatment by the federal goverment. But if the countryis growing at unprecented 11% or higher and and almost all sections of the country are growing at a great rate as states that govern themselves, then you should not complain. Especially when you have no proof.
    Once a great person said, some folks when the weather is cold, they complain it is damn too cold. When it is warn, they say it is damn to hot. And when the weather is perfect, they say it could have been better and they never say it is good enough or perfect.
    It is easy to make noise from the outside my friend. once in a while, you should try to be fair and put things as they. Do not be blinded by preconcieved propaganda or anything else for that matter.

  10. I have read the book and this is a complete lie and misrepresentation of facts and findings in a published material. I will inform the authors to take necessary legal action against a public misrepresentaion of their facts and views.

  11. There is one undeniable fact. Other Ethiopians already pretty much see people from Tigray as a branch of TPLF and from my experience most of them are. Listen to the language spoken by those who are driving around in fancy cars, being arrogant - they know they rule us ..for now. Let's not forget what these people are capable of. They managed to hide within our midst for so long, pretending to be one with us while at the same time, arming and supporting their ethnic fellows. Tigray people are very ethnic centered and we are not fooled anymore. The idea people used to have of Ethiopia is not really around anymore - there are plenty of Ethiopians that would support an Independent Tigray these days. Good riddance I say.


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