The head of the immense state-owned holding company Tiret (Endeavours), Tadesse Kassa ketema (a.k.a Tinkishu), is at the centre of an action to acquire a controlling stake in two national textile companies, Bahir Dar Textile S.C, and Kombolcha Textile S.C. for which the company offered 315 million Br and 450 million Br respectively. Tiret managed to acquire the two factories at a price lower than initially expected, even though there were other competitors who offered more, settling 35pc of the price upon signing, and the rest in five years.
The obscure figure, Tadesse has been managing the party-corporate conglomerate, Tiret along with some other figures of the politbureau of the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) and senior military officials, from its start in the early 1990’s. He is said to have a vital role in managing this holding company that is increasingly controlling the region’s expanding private sector and operating inside many nonstate firms in the Amhara region. Tiret practically has become one of the large Investment corporates in the country, though not the richest, as that laurel belongs to Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT). Tiret operates in the same manner as that of its chief model and at times domineering partner EFFORT, a corporate led by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, with interests in construction, shoes, pharmaceuticals, printing and much else, reputed to be the richest party in Africa.
Gebru Asrat, former President of Tigray Regional State and founder of the opposition political party, Arena Tigray in his book on “Sovereignty & Democracy in Ethiopia” wrote that Tiret was established by a 40 million birr capital extended from EFFORT. He indicates that both Tiret and EFFORT are telling of the ruling party’s control of the key sectors of the Ethiopia economy – banking, publishing, building, and import-export trade. Starting from its formation in 1990, ANDM tried to build its own business empire under Tiret Corporate, which at first included Dashen Brewery, Tikur Abay Transport Company, Ambasel Trading House, and Zeleke Mechanization Farm.
Dashen Brewery, for instance, which was launched into partnership with the Castel-BGI (French Group) started production in 2000 with limited capacity of 300,000 HL in Gondar town, in the foothills of Semien Mountain, a region reputed for its barely products. Today the brewery has a capacity 3,000,000 HL, with additional site it added in in Debre Berhan. The latest figure shows the total asset of the brewery has reached 3.4 Billion Br and total capital 2.3 billion Birr. In 2014 Tiret opened its new malting plant that would supply Dashen Brewery, Gondar Malt Factory constructed on four hectares of land, that produces 16,200 tons of malt a year and its annual sale is 300 million birr.
Dashen, along with other Tiret owned companies, has been buffeted by ongoing boycott campaigners called after protests have sprung up in the Amhara region last year. In window dressing to reach lost clients, recently the Brewery has given 50 million Br for Bahir Dar International Stadium, which is going to be used to buy modern seating.
Tiret also established Belesa Logistics and Transit, to provide logistic solution to do customs clearance, freight forwarding, port handling, shipping agency, foreign and inland trade auxiliary. Another business owned by Tiret was Tana Communication based in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia’s first mobile phone assembly plant, that according to Tadesse assembles 3 million mobiles per year, which include two Amharic language handsets and fixed wireless phone. The assembly plant started production in 2011, with 100 million birr.
Tiret is also running the newly established pulp and paper mills, which is going to be the biggest in the country, for which it is looking for other model of joint-venture.
Like EFFORT, Tiret is a shareholder of Wegagen Bank, and Walta Information Centre, and its regional credit and savings organisation. It says it makes contributions to the work of the Amhara Development Association (ADA) and the Organisation for Relief and Development in Amhara.
A member of the elite armed struggle member since 1981, Tadesse has been chosen by the late Prime Minster Meles Zenawi to oversee this important business venture, making him one of the few senior ANDM officials to hold higher post in career stretching back more than three decades. The ‘power behind the throne’ has serous influence among the senior party apparatus, even though he is seen by his own party members as not representing the Amhara people.
In fact, Tadesse hails from the vicinity of Zata Giorgis, close to Korem town, which is today in the Tgiray region. Zata is one of those rare areas where three languages and cultures intermingle, people speaking Agew, Amharic, and Tigrigna. Ethnic identification here is based on family genealogy and one’s upbringing. Tadesse seems to play with all identities as required.
Tadesse and his comrades formed the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (EPDM), a party set up in November 1981 in the former province Lasta, in the Wollo Region. According to Yared Tibebu, one of the founders of EPDM and who lives in exile, in fact Tadesse was present when they were organizing the EPDM’s formation, but he left for Sudan two months or so before the founding congress of EPDM was convened. “He came back after we completed the founding. He told us he returned after he reached the western most town of Shilalo in Tigray, because Meles convinced him in person to continue to be part of the struggle. Most probably, or shall I say, I suspect he returned after being recruited for the underground MLLT, the Marxist wing of TPLF that Meles was organizing at the time,” Yared told this writer.
“After three years when we had our first party congress, though his name was forwarded, the ordinary peasant fighters decided not to elect him, saying he was not willing to make sacrifices and he had single-minded pursuit of power,” according to Yared. Yared also said that he later came to learn that Tadesse and Tamrat Layne were working hand in glove with Meles Zenawi and they even possessed radio to make direct communications with Meles Zenawi.
EPDM in 1994 turned itself into the Amahra National Democratic Movement in line with Meles’ policy favouring ethnically organized parties. Tadesse who increasingly enjoyed friendship with Meles has come to take a total control of the ANDM officials who are in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa. At the start, Tadesse faced uphill battle to win over the leadership of the party, facing resistance from Tamrat Layne (Prime Minister from 1991 to 1995) who was later expelled from the party over graft allegations and Tefera Walwa. However, the two weakened along the way, Taddese and Bereket Simon moving quickly to consolidate power, secure the control of the party and promote allies, under the blessings of Meles Zenawi.
Taddese would not hesitate to eliminate those he deemed unloyal and sideline political enemies. One of his victims was Berhanu Ademassu Taye, who was sent by Tiret to Germany to study at Betriebsbraumeiste (operation brew master), Bavarien Chamber of commerce from 1996 – 1997 and came back with Diploma in Brewing. Berhanu served as Managing Director of the Dashen Brewery from 2002 – 2010 until he came to lose Tadesse’s favour for reason not clearly established and he was even thrown into prison, sentenced to 18 years but released after 3 years.
Tadesse’s second man Wondewossen Kebede, ex-Finance Minister and ex-Director of Customs, initially member of TPLF, later transferred to ANDM also works quietly behind the scenes. In a rare interview with the Ethiopian Television months ago, he presented himself as man who made tremendous efforts to promote investment. A student at the Addis Ababa University in 1969, he was incarcerated along with Walelegn Mekonen and others for agitating uprising against the Imperial government. He in the 1970’s joined the armed struggle of TPLF, befriending Seyoum Mesfin and Meles Zenawi. Married with three children, one of his daughters studying architecture in Canada, Wondessen is a loyal party servant and has a formidable command of policy. That is why Meles appointed him to important financial positions, and his strong command of the Tigrigna language made him a suspect he is more close the Tigray Liberation Front than the Amhara party.
With Tiret and EFFORTS, the party in power pretended to create conventional firms, in reality they are setting up institutions to tap into local profits at all levels, which in the long term could allow them to build their own bases of power and patronage. Tiret, like EFFORT, led by party heavyweights, military generals, has notoriety in engaging in aggressive competitions with other private business. Tiret enjoys privileged access to credit, land and contracts, political connections, which are not generally available to their privately-owned competitors. They both engage in rent-seeking in the form of tailored state subsidies and protection. Tiret and EFFORT are there in designing the will and interests, economic and politics of the regime. Party officials not only stand behind government ministries, the courts, army, the media, but also behind corporations nominally private ones.