I had the pleasure of travelling to Meqelle, the seat of the Tigray Regional State, last week and the Southern Zone of the region on a five-day fieldwork assignment.
Before landing at Ras Alula Aba Nega Airport, I glanced down at the northern star only to get astonished by its rapid expansion: its tall buildings, large industrial estates, and large construction of residential buildings. I received a humble welcome from one of the taxi drivers and got a ride to my hotel. No less was I impressed seeing on my way to Pepsi Factory a large billboard reading, “Welcome to the City of Knowledge”. A great branding, I said to myself.
Although I was there 10 years ago and had information about the city’s fast growth, I was little prepared for such development in all aspects in just a decade.
Right after the demise of the Derg, the regional state gave priority to environmental rehabilitation and agricultural development, expansion of education and health facilities. Now, after 25 years, the region has over a million of educated, relatively well-fed and healthy youth. The region has four big public universities with over 100 faculties and departments that are sprawled over different campuses located in the main towns of the region.
The cornerstone for the Pan-African University was laid last week. These, together with 12 other private university colleges, technical schools and training centres, have tremendously improved labour productivity and business sense of the youth.
Take for instance a businessperson who has two factories located somewhere in the eastern industrial corridor of the country and one in Meqelle. He plans to erect an additional plant because he found a potential market for his products while labour productivity in his Meqelle facility is higher than his other factory.
I also had the chance to talk with other businesspeople during my stay there. A businessman operating a mill factory is expanding to different manufacturing businesses, including cold rolled products and concrete poles. Another has a cold rolling steel plant and is planning to install a hot rolling facility.
These businesspeople operating on the ground told me investors need to show their commitment to getting land in just a month almost free of charge if it is outside the industrial zone. Within the industrial zone, they get charged 4,000 dollars a year for 100,000Sqm plots. I witnessed that senior authorities and experts of the region were keen in persuading foreign and local investors, facilitating investment permits.
The auctions for land lease during the 58 and 59 rounds show that the average land lease offered for a square meter in central Meqelle was 650 dollars, against 45 dollars five years ago, 15-fold in just five years. Currently, a land is almost free of charge for manufacturing enterprises, although a few years from now, this will not remain in place.
As a result, except with imported items, major industrial products that have been brought from Addis are substituted to a larger extent by commodities from Meqelle and its environs.
Two days in Meqelle, we made our way to the South; the Alamata – Mehonni area is where fully irrigated smallholder and commercial horticulture farms are located. I was pleasantly surprised by the greenery of the area, the efforts of the farmers and their produces.
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