Dr. Birhanemeskel Abebe Segni: Oromia and the Oromo People must defend and protect their businesspersons.

Oromia and the Oromo People must defend and protect their businesspersons.
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Dr. Birhanemeskel Abebe Segni

The attached screenshot from Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), a TPLF affiliated media outlets, tells more story than what is printed on its pages.

The FBC news reports the starting of the construction of 59 kilometers of asphalted road from Ginchi, (the Birthplace of #OromoProtests in West Shewa Zone) to Shikutie, another town in the same zone. The project is funded by the Ethiopian Road Authority, the federal government agency mandated to build, construct and maintain roads in Ethiopia. The project cost for this road is 846 million Ethiopian Birr. FBC news also states that the project is projected to be completed in two years and nine month time.

What is missing in this FBC news is what is at the heart of the news itself. FBC report does not report who the contractor and the builder of this road is. It is not an omission by mistake or journalistic overlooking. It was a conscious omission to hide the crimes the TPLF is committing on the Oromo business people in Ethiopia.

This 59 Kilometer Ginchi to ShIkutie road is being built by Gemshu Beyene Construction PLC (GEBECON PLC). Mr. Gemshu Beyene is one of the handful of Oromo businesspersons in Ethiopia, who are now on the verge of total extinction. In fact, he is among the two or three businesspersons with a means and some measure of wealth. In addition to GEBECON PLC, Mr. Gemshu Beyene also owns one of Addis Ababa’s five-star hotel, Elilly International Hotel.

FBC did not want to mention GEBCON PLC or Mr. Gemshu Beyene in the construction of Ginchi to Shikutie Road for one very important reason. Mr. Gemshu Beyene, similar to most other prominent Oromo businessmen, left the country under the threat of the security apparatus. As a diligent and self-made businessperson, Mr. Gemshu is managing this construction project from abroad to fulfill his contractual duties to the very government that is persecuting him and the Oromo people of the area that this road is supposed to serve. This is not a mere business. There is a strong sentimental attachment to the project for Mr. Gemshu and GEBECON PLC. The Ginchi-Shikutie Road is the only construction project that has ever been awarded to them by the Ethiopian Roads Authority in Oromia, Gemshu Beyene’s birthplace, in his over twenty years in the construction business.

One may wonder why the TPLF attacks Oromo businesspersons. Or, one might even think that the TPLF might be inclined to attack Oromo businesspersons if they show any political inclination to oppose the TPLF or support the Oromo oppositions. That is not the case at all. One might even say with certainty that Oromo businesspersons are not politically inclined at all. None of them are known to support any Oromo political groups or individuals. In fact, most Oromo businesspersons are not well connected in the Oromo community itself. Gemshu Beyene a typical example. He is very detached, hardworking and with limited social connections. For Gemshu, work is his life and life is his work. I witnessed that when I stayed at his hotel when I traveled to Ethiopia three years ago.

Then, way do the TPLF attack him? At face value, that looks like a million dollars question. In truth, the answer is very simple. TPLF does not want to see any wealth Oromo businesspersons as much as it does not want to see any bright Oromo politician or academics. Mr. Gemshu just became too wealthy beyond the standard the TPLF might have set for the Oromo. So he has to be pushed out.

There are hundreds of accounts to prove this seemingly implausible assertion. Mr. Gebreyes Begna is the best example. He is the founder and owner of Ethiopia Amalgamated. The company was founded during Emperor Haile Selassie’s time. Ethiopia Amalgamated survived the brutal Derg Regime and became the largest Fertilizer and agricultural supplies provider in Ethiopia. After 35 years in business, the TPLF decided to take the business of Mr. Gebreyes Begna. In October 2004, the TPLF security forces simply overtook the buildings of Ethiopia Amalgamated forcing the management and the staff of the company to retreat to a container. After a week they also took the container. Mr. Gebreyes Begna fled the country. TPLF companies now run the fertilizer and agricultural supplies business throughout Ethiopia, the same business Mr. Gebreyes Begna used to do.

Mr. Muluneh Kaka is another TPLF victim. He is one of over hundred coffee exporters and traders. One good morning, TPLF decided to overtake the coffee business in totality just the same way they did the Chat (Katch) Business. It turned out Mr. Muluneh Kaka’s business structure is well built and modeled with all the main supply and demand chain of the market fully in place including hundreds of trucks and warehouses. It took TPLF few months to drive him out of business and bankrupt him using banking and tax system and the kangaroo courts it totally controls. Now, the TPLF companies like Guna are the sole exporters of coffee. Oromo coffee farmlands are overtaken by TPLF affiliated companies and individuals in order to control the business from its root.

Hundreds of Oromo businesspersons are believed to have totally lost their business to the TPLF companies or TPLF affiliated individuals and groups in and around Addis Ababa alone. Some just fled the country. Gemshu Beyene is just another anonymous victim of these an unending attack on the Oromo businesspersons. No wonder FBC is hiding his name. That itself is a strategy. Eliminating the enemy in silence.

Returning back to the Ethiopian Roads Authority, there is another serious point to explore further. As I said earlier, this federal government agency administers all road sector budgets and is responsible for issuing and granting government contracts for road constructions projects to private businesses. The agency is the leading budget grabber from among all the federal agencies in the name of infrastructure development. For instance, in 2018 budget year, the Ethiopian Roads Authority is given a huge chunk of the federal budget, about 46 Billion Ethiopian Birr that it will disperse in the form of government contracts to private construction companies. The question is who is taking this money? Who are the contractors? And who is giving the contracts?

There are three important issues to note here. One, who is leading this government agency? Two, where does this authority build roads? Three, who is winning the government contracts to build these roads? As a major taxpayer in Ethiopia, it turned out the Oromia region and the Oromo people are the net losers on all three accounts. One, the Ethiopian Roads Authority leadership positions are always and exclusively reserved for the TPLF officials and only TPLF officials are appointed to lead this agency. Two, the TPLF officials here see the agency as the cash cow to funnel money to the TPLF affiliated construction companies and individuals. There are very few Oromo construction companies ever known to win government contracts from this agency. The same holds true of Amhara construction companies.

And third, on the road construction side, the Oromia region is the least beneficiary of all Regional states. For instance, in Arsi zone, one of the agricultural heartlands of the country known to produce surplus gains that feed Addis Ababa and many Ethiopian major cities, there is no single asphalted road built after the TPLF/eprdf come to power 27 years ago. The single two way one lane road that passes through Asela, the zonal capital, was first built by the Italians which was maintained by the subsequent regimes. Major cities and towns in all of Arsi’s about 22 Woredas or Districts like Robe, Adele, Bale, Seru, Huruta, and Kula and almost all major district cities and towns in Chilalo and Arba Gugu remain outside the Ethiopian road systems while almost all of them are within 200 hundred kilometers radius from Addis Ababa. The situation in all other Oromia Region zones including all Shewa Zones, Wellega Zones, Harar Zones, Bale, Jimma, Guji , Borana and Ilu Aba Bora zones are the same. Who is responsible for this? The Ethiopian Roads Authority comes at the forefront among the responsible agencies although not the only one.

The construction and infrastructure development sector including the Urban and Housing Development Agency and the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile where over hundred billion Ethiopian Birr budgets go are the major cash cow and embezzlement fields for TPLF companies and its affiliates.

Among most Ethiopians, particularly among the Oromo people, there is greater awareness about the land grab by the TPLF companies and its affiliates. But, there is very little or no awareness about the federal government budget grabs and business grabs in Ethiopia and where the Ethiopian taxpayers and foreign loan and foreign aid money goes. The Ethiopian people must follow where their money goes and hold accountable those who steal, loot and embezzle them.

On the Oromo side of the equation, the problem is very serious. Oromo business people are totally extinct. The Oromia National Regional Government and the Oromo people must adopt a clear policy to protect and defend existing Oromo businesspersons from attacks and dispossession while endeavoring to provide legal and security protection for all new business entrepreneurs and businesspersons Oromia produces. Similar measures should be taken at national level to make Ethiopia conducive for business and businesspersons, not thieves, looters and criminals.

Oromo business people must also make a major thinking shift and way of doing their business. They should stop running alone and join hands with the Oromo people and speak up on the Oromo cause and support the Oromo people. They should participate openly and clearly in all Oromo people’s activities and movements as members of the Oromo society. The Oromo people, on the other hand, should be organized and mobilized to defend and protect their business persons from any and all forms of internal and external attacks.

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