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Perspectives on the relationship between the Diaspora Community and the Government of Ethiopia

 

Perspectives on the relationship between the Diaspora Community and the Government of Ethiopia

 

Blelen Gebreselassie  10-25-16

 

Introduction

 

The relationship between the Ethiopian government (GOE) and the Ethiopian diaspora community (EDC) have gone through many ups and downs over the past twenty-five years. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been governing Ethiopia since the downfall of the DERG regime in 1983 E.C. EPRDF constitutes four parties that representAmhara (ANDM), Oromia (OPDO),Southern Nations and Nationalities (SNNP) and Tigray (TPLF), (Ethiopian Government Portal, 2016).

The GOE has been focusing on comprehensive nation building efforts. Though further research will be required to investigate the causes that lead to empowering the extreme elements in the diaspora, the GOE is partly to blame for the systemic failures exhibited in our Embassies, and the local media. Therefore, it is high time that the Ethiopian government aggressively persues to engage the diaspora beyond rhetoric and provide them with up-to-date information regarding the current economic, political and social developments in Ethiopia. By doing so the GOE could get the most from diaspora and also expose the smear campaign waged upon Ethiopia by the extreme elements.

This brief piece attempts to highlight the reality of our diaspora community and its relationship with the Ethiopian government. It also addresses concerns regarding the few extremists who are tirelessly working to undermine the progress Ethiopia has been making since EPRDF came to power. This paper also hopes to give the Ethiopian government and readers an opportunity to realize the importance and influence the diaspora community has on the internal affairs of Ethiopia.

 

The Ethiopian Diaspora

Tens of thousands of Ethiopians had fled Ethiopia and sought refuge all over the world mainly during but also after the struggle to overthrow the Derg regime (Schlenzka, N, 2009 and Melaku,E,2002). By now, a lot of Ethiopians have the opportunity to go abroad due to the Government’s foreign policy which focuses on public diplomacy. The countries in which Ethiopian diaspora reside are usually North America, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and Africa (mainly South Africa, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea).The Ethiopian Diaspora is usually composed of three major groups. The first group consists of Ethiopians that maintain Ethiopian citizenship and permanent residency. These people live abroad temporarily pursuing mainly advanced degrees in foreign colleges & universities. The second group contains Ethiopian citizens with foreign permanent residency permit obtained through one of these paths: DV lottery for example (in the USA), relatives, marriage, political asylum, & refugee. Immigration via the paths aforementioned leads to change in citizenship & this forms the third group of Diaspora.

There are 2.5 to 3 million diaspora Ethiopians, (FDRE Ministry of Foreign Affairs,2016). Having realized the number and the importance of the diaspora Ethiopians the government set up an institutionalized diaspora engagement Affairs Directorate General under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2002. Further, the government announced its engagement with the diaspora by formulating the ‘National Diaspora Policy’ in 2013,(National Diaspora Policy,2013 and FDRE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2016).In doing so it has mobilized Ethiopians from all walks of life. For example in 2016 diaspora Ethiopians have injected 4 billion USD in Remittance, EBC 2015 and Ethiopian News Agency, 2016). The implementation of this has resulted in a positive contribution of the diaspora in the Ethiopian economy. However, it can be still said that EPRDF has not utilized the potential of EDC to the fullest extent.

Diaspora Ethiopians have a great leverage to make positive and negative impact on the political, social and economic development of the country. Inputs from the diaspora provide a great opportunity for the government enabling it to view issues from a different angle. In addition, Ethiopia needs the diaspora to share the democratic knowledge, experience, values and practices they have acquired over the years. Additionally, in times of no viable and capable opposition parties or lack of strong voice of home grown civil society, the diaspora could play a constructive role.

I would like to emphasize that while some rag tag elements of Derg and Derg Sympathizers work day and night to tarnish the image of Ethiopia, at every opportunity they get, the silent majority of Ethiopians also need to do their part in at least mobilizing global markets to Ethiopian commodities and building the goodwill of the nation.

The Ethiopian government

The relationship between Diaspora and GOE is a reflection of the dynamics of our internal affairs. Whenever any weakness emerges in the governing party, the extreme elements exploit it. This has led to chaos in several instances from post-election violence in 1997 E.C to the recent destruction in some Amhara and Oromia region towns. EPRDF continuously underestimated the destabilizing potential of these anti-peace elements. This is not to preclude the legitimate grievances that some opposition parties and personals raise. However, EPRDF entangled in its internal problems seems to forgo paying attention to pending external challenges. Some of the internal challenges include corruption and lack of good governance. These, unfortunately, are the main reasons that have been eroding public trust in the current system. In addition, the delay to solve problems on a timely and transparent manner has fueled the momentum of the obstructive forces from the diaspora. These culminated with inept public diplomacy at the Ethiopian embassies have empowered the extremists to shamelessly lie, defame, and undermine Ethiopian progress made under the leadership of the current government.

Ethiopian Embassies

Ethiopian embassies are supposed to be at the forefront of internal and external issues to inform and mobilize the diaspora. Despite some efforts they lag behind given the magnanimity of our challenges outside Ethiopia. The following failures can be attributed to Ethiopian embassies;

• Poor services: this includes inaccessibility to persons over the phone

• Miscommunication: Their website is not current and informative

• Ineffective and uninformed personals: Individuals that work in the embassies, at least some of them, do not seem to have a grasp of the policies of the GOE and become an obstacle to the Ethiopians that would like to make positive contribution to mega projects such as the GERD. Further, there are some individuals who use their position to exploit the diaspora (corruption).

• Lack of vibrant engagement: Embassies abroad especially around DC in the United States are surrounded by some extreme anti-government elements. Nevertheless, that should not be an excuse to not delegate its responsibility to reach out to the silent majority.

• Lack of aggressive approach against anti-Ethiopian elements: The embassies’ dormant approach to the threats posed to their personals, and to pro-government diaspora members is not acceptable at its current state. If they are doing anything, they don’t inform the public.

 International organizations

The destructive role that international organizations such as the “Amnesty International” and “Human Rights Watch” play is one of the driving forces behind the extreme diaspora elements. These organizations are the extension of American foreign policy with the intention of implementing the neoliberal agendas in the name of democracy and human rights. Given their significant influence around the globe, the GOE should aggressively debunk each of their fabrications at any given opportunity.

Foreign media

Though there are some foreign media outlets that are fair and report the truth there are some who are known to be one sided in channeling unfounded reports about Ethiopia to the international community. They cite extreme diaspora elements in their reports and legitimize the lies cooked by the extremists. Some of these media, to mention a few, are Aljazeera, ESAT and VOA.

Local Media

The government has failed time and again to be proactive in informing & mobilizing the silent majority to engage in the development activities in Ethiopia. The local media such as EBC predominantly report of development related news which is great in itself. Yet it refuses to discuss problems in the system and expose, even challenge, authorities who are supposedly culprits of corruption and bad governance. It also fails to follow up on development projects that lag behind schedule and to thoroughly investigate maladministration. As a result, the public is fed up with the content, style of presentation and lack of diverse opinions in the government media. The loyalty of these media should be to the public first and foremost.

Social media

In the globalized world, the use of Social Media has reached its pick. As a country it cannot be denied the potential of this in the world. Some countries have used this positively and successfully while in some it has been destructive. Mostly in the developed world, this has been the case but in the developing world there is this phenomenon to direct its use for destruction of society. This has been the case in Ethiopia, where the extreme elements have been propagating obliteration through Facebook. The government has a long way to go in utilizing social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in order to convey its policies and current developments. Dr. Tedros Adhanom is the exception to this as because he single-handedly has been combating misinformation in the virtual world.

 

Hostile states

The nations that are directly or indirectly sponsoring terrorist anti-Ethiopian elements include Eritrea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Arguably, the policy the GOE has been following is not able to contain the belligerence and hostility by Shabia because Shabia in full force is spending millions of its meager money to fund anti-Ethiopian elements. Similarly, it is a public secret that Egypt seeks to see a weak and divided Ethiopia. As the recent violence against development infrastructures and investment installations attest, the Egyptians are using OLF and Ginbot 7 as their agents to wage a proxy war against Ethiopia hoping to halt the progress of GERD.Saudi Arabia is an exporter of Wahhabism to many nations and Ethiopia has had its fair share of such incidents. About a year ago, it established an air base in the port of Assab. The consequences of its actions remains to be seen, but one can hope that the GOE is doing its home work in this regard.Qatar, on the other hand, uses Aljazeera TV station to implement its anti-Ethiopian subtle policy by misreporting events and adding fuel to the fires that may ignite here and there.

A way forward

First of all I would like to highlight the fact that this is not a detailed research or analysis of the diaspora. However, it could be used as a starting point for more research and analysis on this sector of the society. It is undeniablethat the diaspora community has a huge influence in the political, social and economic development of the Ethiopia. Hence, the government needs to be pro-active in dealing with the diaspora. The full potential of the diaspora needs to be exploited in all aspects. In line with involving the diaspora in economic developments of the country, they also need to be involved in the political arena of the country. The government and especially the embassies need to work vigorously so that the diaspora community overcomes the major challenge it faces in terms of the lack of accurate and up-to-date information about Ethiopia.

 


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