Witnessing the resounding contributions and successes of the Tigrai Development Association (TDA) in promoting the reconstruction and development of Tigrai, three gentle men in the inner-core of TDA, namely Mr Araya Zerihun, Dr Assefa Abraha, and Mr Desta Asgedom, came up with an idea of establishing a model, boarding secondary school for high performing high school entrants. They were driven by two important rationales.
The first was to provide the excellent but poor children, mostly in rural communities, with opportunities to finish high school and make their way to colleges and universities. And, the second one was to encourage children all over the primary schools in Tigrai to excel as they aspire to joining the model high school. Mr Araya and colleagues pursued the project and the founding of Qalamino Special High School was realized in 1997 with the support of the National Regional State of Tigrai. The first rationale had its impact in driving the gentle men into initiating the cause. But, the criterion for admission to the School later became having the best performance.
All of the 51 Qalamino Special High School students of the first batch who sat for the 2001/2 Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Examination have passed, 49 of them earned “Excellent” score. The students joined various Ethiopian universities and colleges – of whom majority of them kept excelling but few could not reach the finish line of undergraduate education easily. The scattering of those excellent students in the colleges and universities throughout Ethiopia and the failure of few ones to reach the finish line were not pleasant developments. Moreover, many individuals within the TDA realized early on that Qalamino Special High School would have limited contributions if the talented students of the School are not provided with best tertiary education. Hence, Mr Araya and colleagues came up with the idea of opening a science and technology institute around Mekelle.
As the idea was brought to the stakeholders in the National Regional State of Tigrai (NRS of Tigrai) and the TPLF, the initiators and supporters have to justify the need for establishing a science and technology institute while there are institutions like Mekelle University and Maichew Technical College. The initiators were successful in conveying the rationales for having such kind of institution and obtain the support of almost every stakeholder. Nonetheless, there was another important point conveyed in this process – that such a venture is quite demanding in every aspect: infrastructure, resources, funding, and personnel. Academicians involved in the process would not help but appreciate that the venture is indeed demanding. Aware of the economic constraints of Tigrai in the presence of a multitude of other sectors requiring immediate attention, many of the stakeholders were not sure if the proposal should be pursued further. After several discussions and consultations, the stakeholders were courageous enough to approve this demanding venture.
According to the initial proposal, the institute was supposed to be built nearby Qalamino High School. A plot was secured immediately, but it was quite clear to Mr Araya Zerihun and his colleagues that constructing the institute is not an easy venture at all. Hence, they approached the owner of MEDROC PLC, Mr Mohammed Ali Almoudi for assistance. MEDROC was undertaking the construction of Aider Referral Hospital – currently hosting Mekelle University’s College of Health Sciences – and Mr Almoudi agreed to deploy resources to build a 20 million Birr worth facility for the purpose. Unfortunately, this opportunity was blown apart as MEDROC left Mekelle following the May 1998 Eritrean Aggression over Ethiopia. At that time, Mr Desta Asgedom came up with an important idea – negotiating with stakeholders to acquire Ainalem Management Institute, located at the southeastern outskirts of Mekelle. The Institute was established by the Government of the NRS of Tigrai in March 1995 to host the training of personnel assuming management and leadership posts in public sectors and civic associations. The idea delighted Mr Araya Zerihun and was shared to Mr Neway Gebre-Ab, a long time Economic Advisor to the Late Premier Meles Zenawi, who bought it instantly. The idea was relayed to Premier Meles. The Premier accepted the idea and advised the group to present the proposal to the stakeholders in Tigrai.
In this case too, some discussions, negotiation, and consultations were made to get every stakeholder onboard. This later endeavor was concluded with the Tigrai NRS generously donated the Management Institute – a multimillion facility rested on an eight hectare of land. Subsequently, Mekelle Institute of Technology was legally established as a private, non-profit, science and technology institute in November 2002. The founders were Mr Araya Zerihun, Dr Assefa Abraha, Dr Asmelash Beyene, Mr Desta Asgedom, Dr Hailemichael Abera, Mr Neway Gebre-Ab, Professor Woldegiorgis Woldemariam, and the Government of the NRS of Tigrai.
MIT launched its first undergraduate programs in four disciplines of engineering, science, and technology with 104 students, many of whom came from Qalamino Special High School, and five full-time instructors in November 2002. The official launching of the Institute was made on the 25th of November, as attended by: (a) Mr Araya Zerihun (TDA), Dr Assefa Abraha (TDA), Mr Desta Asgedom (TDA), Dr Hailemichael Abera (Civil Service University College), Mr Haileselassie Woldegerima (Addis Ababa University), Mr Neway Gebre-Ab (Office of the Premier), Dr Solomon Enquai (Tigrai State Council), Dr Teklehaimanot Haileselassie (Federal Ministry of Education), and Mr Teklewoini Assefa (the Relief Society of Tigrai – REST). All these sages delivered inspirational advices that would instill hope, determination, and commitment among the students.
As was feared by many stakeholders from the very beginning, nonetheless, financing MIT’s operations became quite difficult. Having excellent students and failing to provide the required education was quite frustrating. In this regard, Mr Desta Asgedom described the first six years – when the Institute has no major and sustainable financer – as painful. Mr Wolderufael Berhane, a member of the first batch, would argue that the painful experience could have its toll on the sudden death of Mr Araya Zerihun in 2007.Such painful experience at the beginning might have been the reason for the drastic reduction of the enrollment rates during the subsequent years, where only 115 students were enrolled between 2003/4 and 2005/6. During that period, the operational budget was shared by the NRS of Tigrai, the Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Tigrai (EFFORT), the REST, the TDA, and other organizations and private donors. Also, Voluntary Service Overseas, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, and Wheaton College of USA have provided technical assistance.
These developments obliged the stakeholders to transfer the mandate of governing the Institute to the EFFORT Board of Trustees. New Memorandum of Association and Governance Document were, accordingly signed in May 2008. The founders were: the EFFORT, Mr Sbhat Nega, Mr Getachew Belay, and Mr Woldeghebriel Gebremichael and Mr Atey Tadele. In fact, starting February 2008 till July 2012, the Institute was governed by the EFFORT Board of Trustees. The major financer being the EFFORT, the Institute generates some revenue through providing capacity building, consultancy, research and development, and maintenance services. The annual enrollment was stabilized at 20 to 25 students per department.
Mekelle University is dedicated to provide quality education, research, and community services to meet the needs and aspirations of the Ethiopian peoples and the world at large. It is, thus, mandated to the: (a) advancement of knowledge via research-based education, reliable and relevant research, and innovation and technology transfer; (b) preparation of professionals fully equipped with the required knowledge, skills, and attitudes; and (c) provision of tailor-made/need-based education, research, and community services to promote the economic growth and welfare of the Ethiopian people.