Yohannes Gebresellasie (PHD)

The Union of Tigrians in North America (UTNA) has always and, that in good and in bad times sided with the people of Tigray and its party: The Tigray liberation Front (TPLF). UTNA’s association and collaboration and siding with its people and the party that leads the people of Tigray is not a recent phenomenon and it is not simply for the sake of assisting either. The relationship between UTNA and the TPLF and the people of Tigray has its roots beginning with the struggle of the people of Tigray against aristocrats as well as military dictators and fascists. The relationship is based on a firm principle of fighting to eliminate dictatorship and create a peaceful, democratic Tigray and indeed Ethiopia that treats its people equally irrespective of race, gender, language, religion or any other differences there may exist.

During the struggle, UTNA was at the for front helping and assisting both financially and materially in order to emancipate the people of Tigray from those chronic enemies of the people of Tigray such as  those above mentioned.  UTNA even sent its members to the war front to fight the enemies of Tigray and some of its members gave their precious lives for the cause. As a result, UTNA’s contribution and collaboration vis-à-vis its assistance towards the people of Tigray goes without saying.

UTNA has been well-organized and dedicated to its members and followers for years; for over forty years.  It has also been firm to its mission and core principle i.e. to support the people of Tigray.  UTNA has had  firm and strong followers and highly dedicated executive board as well as hard working staff over the years; however, UTNA’s  staff as well as its executive leadership has often times been occupied by and limited to few individuals who stayed in the same position without being replaced by new and younger generation for many years. As a result, UTNA`s leadership has been occupied by few and same individuals with no transfer of leadership for many years making their names synonymous to the organization itself. That caused a gap in terms of transparency and also a gap of generations with different narrative and different paradigm thinking vis-à-vis  the organization’s activities.

Here, the problem does not lie exclusively on the old leadership alone but also on the young generation as well. To begin with, most of the old leadership has often than not been reluctant to leave their position because they genuinely thought without them, the organization may be weakened or fall apart. On the other hand, the young generation i.e. the youth have been complacent and even lacked confidence on the role they could play if they take over and lead. The young generations have been simply happy and willing to be led. On the one hand, the young generation simply did not know the required and needed potential, their energy, and innovation and the technical and technological know how they possess and how that could transform and move the organization forward. On the other hand, they simply were not willing to take action and to accept responsibility as leaders of the organization. That lack of understanding, not taking action and failure to take responsibility of the organizational leadership has helped the old leadership to stay in their position for many years and that obviously hearted the overall organizational activities and performances. That was the paradox that existed within the organization for many years.

Over the years, there have been striking similarities between the leadership of the TPLF and UTNA. Both have been committed to the cause of their people although the commitment and sacrifices of TPLF way out ways that of UTNA’s and reasons for that are many and varied. Both exercised similar leadership i.e. static rather than dynamic. Leadership in both cases was held by few individuals for many years with only little change here and there. Followers in both cases were committed and loyal. The young generation in both cases had no chance to climb the ladder or was not confident enough to challenge the leadership position. In both cases, the young generation trusted and firmly believed that the old leadership is more capable and more equipped than them; thus, they chose to remain in the same position for the sake of the safety and security of the organization. For them, replacement meant detrimental to the cause. Generally, in both cases, there was no transformative leadership although few from both tried. Here it will be wise to note that the late pioneer TPLF founder and leader Seium Mesfen: a towering personality and dignified Statesman who loved and served his nation and his people until his tragic death by fascists was among the few old leadership of TPLF who were pushing for transfer of leadership to young generation. Seium was willing and ready for transformational leadership in order to support the youth to take over and was ready and willing to support them when deemed necessary and when asked for. Same was true with few UTNA’s old leadership as well. ‘’In the transformational leadership model, leaders set direction and help themselves and others to do the right thing to move forward. To do this, they create an inspiring vision, and then motivate and inspire others to reach that vision. They also manage delivery of the vision, either directly or indirectly, and build and coach their teams to make them ever stronger. Effective leadership is about all of this…”

In course of time, few chapters of UTNA started to discuss the issue in question and tried to change the status quo and business as usual practice of the organization and tried to recruit the youth to take the lead and to take over the leadership. It was not an easy task to begin with because of the resistance; however, with persistence and constructive discussion and some push here and there, the youth began to take the lead of almost every discussion with tenacity and vigor added with much needed innovative and up to date information that helped the organization.  Their voice was heard loud and clear amongst the members and that led the taking over and transfer of leadership from the old to the youth and a healthy transformation began to emerge as a result. Here, it is important to note that most of the old leadership were willing to support the transformation process and were ready and willing to guide the youth when deemed necessary. That willingness and cooperation between the two stakeholders helped the organization to grow and to be better organized and better equipped. Other chapters soon followed through and now it has become a norm within UTNA and now the youth has taken over the leadership and are leading.

I believe this is a noble experience and a lesson or two has to be taken from that and I believe the TPLF has to take a lesson or two from that as well. TPLF is not an assembly of angels as some loyal supporters claim. It is not either an assembly of devils as some blind opponents and hate-intoxicated people would like us tobelieve. It is a gathering of brave and dedicated human beings, nationalists and life-long patriots who have been relentlessly struggling to build a strong Tigray and make its renaissance a reality. Of course, as human beings, they are prone to making oversights, miscalculations and mistakes. Absolute majority of Tigrians have supported TPLF not because they approve everything the party does or does not do or because TPLF is 100 % righteous but rather it is because of their unquestionable life-long commitments and strength and because of their very impressive and historical achievements which by far outweighs their shortcomings. Last but not least, they are always willing and ready to conduct continuous and non-stop self-appraisals and evaluations (Gemgam) of their organization and themselves with the aim of timely corrections of their shortcomings. That is why they have repeatedly come out victorious against all internal and external enemies and that against all odds. In addition, many sane and practical citizens agree that TPLF is currently the best option for Tigray and at the same time, they prefer to peacefully and legally struggle to persuade and even force the party to rectify its shortcomings and weaknesses for the sake of the people of Tigray.

In today’s Tigray, one should not be a blind supporter or a blind opponent of TPLF as it is inappropriate, misleading and beneficial to nobody except Tigray’s sworn enemies. Either position should be driven or dictated only by down to earth logic and pragmatism and not by emotions. TPLF and for that matter all other political parties are temporary and it is only Tigray and its national interests that are permanent and eternal. TPLF should always uphold the lofty ideals and dreams of our forefathers. It should also never fail to carry out its historic missions and responsibilities to tirelessly work for complete peace and stability and even more impressive economic development of Tigray with absolute commitment and determination and without negligence and fatigue. It should also work, as a matter of urgency not only for the collective creations but for the fair distribution of wealth among its citizens.  TPLF leadership will be the first to acknowledge that they are not infallible; therefore, TPLF should be praised when it is due and genuinely and constructively criticized when certain shortcomings are observed. I would, thus, like to underline that unlike the extreme opposition individuals who are fond of misinterpreting, belittling and opposing everything TPLF does or does not do and endlessly engage themselves in blind and destructive criticisms solely driven by boundless hate and lust for power, the sole purpose of this view is to humbly, objectively and constructively critique TPLF with earnest hope and belief that it would genuinely re-examine itself and take timely corrective measures in the short and long-term interest of Tigray. As Bernard Shaw once said “progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” thus, change is needed sooner than later.

By aiga