Upon taking power in 1991, the ruling Tigrayan
People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) liquidated non-military assets held by the movement to found a series of companies whose profits would be used as venture capital to rehabilitate the war-torn Tigray region’s economy. The TPLF bestowed a portion of this initial roughly US $100 million to each of the three other component parties in the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition to establish similar endeavors in each of their home regions. While companies were initially established in the names of party loyalists, they were formally transferred to the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) under the “endowment” provisions within the Ethiopian civil code, which prevented
individuals from withdrawing money from enterprises for their own gain. Although the Board of Directors of EFFORT closely monitors the finances and business plans for each company under its umbrella, EFFORT’s books themselves are not subject to any transparent external review. Throughout the 1990s, EFFORT commissioned feasibility studies and provided capital for various commercial ventures throughout Tigray. In this decade, however, no new EFFORT ventures have been established despite significant profits, lending credibility to the popular perception that the ruling party and its members are drawing on endowment resources to fund their own interests or for personal gain.
Seeye argued confidently that the business community’s perception that EFFORT’s and similar EPRDF parties
endowments’ companies receive preferential access to limited credit and/or foreign exchange stocks, or treatment on government bids and contracts, customs clearance, and import/export license is certainly true. He went so far as to argue that these “party-statals” likely receive preferences even over the special treatment received by state-owned enterprises. Seeye argued that, much like Sebhat Nega’s removal from the TPLF Central Committee in 2006, his removal as CEO of EFFORT in late 2008 likely reflects tensions between Sebhat and Prime Minister Meles’ wife Azeb Mesfin. While former regional Vice President of
Tigray Abadi Zemo has taken over the CEO position at EFFORT, Seeye argued that Azeb’s ascendance to the EFFORT Vice Chairmanship reflects an increasing consolidation of influence within the party and control over resources by Meles and Azeb.