In all these years of the EPRDF rule, there are a few controversial subjects as much as the history and role of the endowment companies that are active in the national economy, claims gossip. Beginning with the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), which was established in the summer of 1995 with seed money contributed by the TPLF, all the four parties in the governing coalition have these business entities. All of them are governed by a board of directors and chairpersons appointed from no less powerful places than the politburos of the parties.
EFFORT`s first chairman of the board of eight was Seyee Abraha, TPLF`s strongman and politburo member since 1979 and up until his purging in the early 2000s. He was accountable at the time to a Council of 25, headed by Tewelde Weldemariam, vice chairman of the TPLF then. It is not apparent to those at the gossip corridor if this Council remains functional after eight of its members, including Tewelde, were purged from the TPLF following a sharp split in the top leadership, in 2000.
However, the Board`s chairmanship was transferred to Sebhat Nega and Seyoum Mesfin, respectively, before it was handed over to Tewodros Hagos, all the three veterans of the struggle and members of the politburo during various periods in the history of the Front. With an estimated initial investment of 2.7 billion Br, EFFORT was established with an expressed aim of promoting the industrialisation of the Tigray Regional State, investing where the government is reluctant, and the private sector is unable.
Yet, there were companies predate the formation of EFFORT and in business before its formation such as Messebo Cement, Almeda Textile, Mesfin Industrial, Ezana Mining, Hiwot Mechanization, Guna Trading and Trans Ethiopia Transport. Among the founding managers of these companies were Abadi Zemo, Tewodros Hagos, Sebhat Nega, Arkebe Oqubay (PhD) and Tsegaye Tamyallew, gossip recalled. At some point in the year 2000s, the company had clustered its area of businesses in three, with industrial activities put on the care of Abadi; Arkebe responsible for construction and transport, and Tewodros in charge of looking after mining interests.
Today, EFFORT has become a business force to reckon with for paying over 2.6 billion Br in taxes last year, while employing over 20,000 people working in the many companies at its subsidiaries, according to Azeb Mesfin, the CEO, who was on the record recently trying to challenge what she had felt was a misconception by the public on its activities.
Azeb has had a debut with EFFORT as early as the mid-1990s managing Mega Printing, a subsidiary of EFFORT. She raised to the most senior position of leading the conglomerate in 2008, perhaps taking over from Abadi, says gossip. However, her stay at the top of EFFORT after almost a decade was foreseen not to continue by those at the gossip corridor following her suspension from the TPLF politburo in November 2017.
Beginning last week, Azeb is no longer head of EFFORT, although the circumstance of her departure remains a subject of different narratives at the gossip corridors. While some claim that she decided to leave on her own, others say the Board of Directors have removed her from the office and installed Habte Hadish, general manager of Mesfin Industrial Engineering, as an acting CEO.
Her departure, mainly due to political fallout inside the most influential body of the TPLF politburo, marks the second significant change of guard at the EFFORT in nearly two decades, claims gossip. It also signals more changes to come in the coming few weeks, gossip says.
Considering the refreshed prominent role Seyoum Mesfin has played during last week`s conference in Meqelle of senior and mid-level cadres, it is more likely that he will come back as a chairman of the conglomerate, replacing Tewodros, claims gossip. That the Board has remained reluctant to promote Azeb`s deputy at the EFFORT, Beyene Mikru, may show that he will unlikely to be appointed as the next CEO, according to gossip.
Beyene was one of the two politburo members of the TPLF who had stood up to the status quo in the leadership led by Abay Woldu but demoted to the Executive Committee of the Front. Nonetheless, the idea that it may be about time for the EFFORT Board of Directors to consider hiring a non-political but competent person as a CEO is gaining currency by the day, gossip observed.