Ethiopia vis a vis Ethiopians in the Diaspora

Ethiopia vis a vis Ethiopians in the Diaspora

Elias Melaku

The Reporter

For different reasons, a good number of Ethiopians are living abroad who have left their country for decades, if not centuries. Basically, it wouldn't be difficult not only to speak of the principal reasons why these home-grown Ethiopians have gone away from the country where they had been brought up and somewhat educated. It is also difficult to tell why they do keep on living overseas instead of returning home. For the former, political persecution, particularly, during the Mengistu era, and economic motive (seeking a better living condition) are believed to be the main ones and, as far as the latter is concerned, most Ethiopians who live abroad are in good shape in comparison with their fellow countrymen who are currently living in their country.

The Derg regime (1974-1991) that had ruled the country virtually through a state of terror and to which physical persecution and psychological injury of many Ethiopians was attributed, not to mention the massacre of a large number of civilians, is responsible for the exodus of Ethiopian citizens in their thousands. Surprisingly enough, during the reign of Emperor Haile-Sellassie, it was morally reprehensible for Ethiopians then to abandon their country and to acquire citizenship of another country no matter how rich and democratic the country they had gone to might be. In other words, not returning home from an alien country had been tantamount to an act of betrayal not only to the country but also to His Majesty the Emperor.

Viewed in this light (though short of detailed description), the current Ethiopian government has been encouraging Ethiopians in diaspora to return home so that they can take part in the socio-economic endeavors that the country has embarked upon. As an Ethiopian, I sometimes wonder whether Ethiopians in diaspora are a challenge or an opportunity to their poor but potentially rich country. Of course, I have long come to know that many Ethiopians get remittances from relatives and friends for survival and other needs. However, given the size of the Ethiopian community abroad and its aggregate financial capability, much could have been done in terms of reducing poverty, hunger and disease for the benefit of the many. Unlike the preceding regime, EPRDF doesn't consider Ethiopians in diaspora as enemy of the state or blind opponents to the ongoing political, economic and social developments within the country. It (EPRDF) has genuinely expressed its desire and readiness to work together with all individuals or groups for the sake of changing the lives of the many living below the poverty line. In fact, it is we Ethiopians who can make a real difference in our country's economic, political or other matters rather than distant foreigners and their institutions. Hence, responsible and patriotic Ethiopians, here as well as abroad, are expected to be concerned and get involved aggressively in every activity and development for the betterment of the poor Ethiopians.

In light of this, Ethiopia's remarkable diplomatic jump towards Ethiopians in diaspora has been witnessed at the Ethiopian government community meeting which was held at the Ghion and the Hiliton hotels that attracted a large number of participants from the latter. During this meeting, top Ethiopian government officials elaborated major policy issues and entertained different questions. Broadly speaking, the meeting produced  seeds of hope for the expected  expectation that the Ethiopian community whose contributions to the development of the country is believed to be indispensable and has now become determined and full of optimism to work with the government in moving the country forward on the road to some level of economic development.

It has to be appreciated that the EPRDF has reaffirmed its commitment to play a pivotal role in providing favourable atmosphere for all Ethiopians including foreign citizens of Ethiopian origin who want to invest in their country. There are some rumors from different quarters, though, that Ethiopians in diaspora are approached by the government for the sole reason that the "financial muscle" they have could prevent the foreign currency problem of the country from further deterioration. In principle or as our life philosophy, we shouldn't be based on rumours of what so-and-so said Rather, we have got to use our reasoning faculty to do what we believe is right and proper. The same has to be true for those Ethiopians or foreigners of Ethiopian origin living abroad. It is an open secret that Ethiopia needs active help to bring about speedy socio-economic transformation for the benefit of its people. Therefore,  I don't see anything wrong in saying that Ethiopians living overseas are expected and morally obliged to play a constructive role by using their potentials (financial, material and skills) as Ethiopia is desperate to improve the lives of its citizens who have become entangled in chronic economic problems.

It is pretty obvious that some Ethiopians residing outside found themselves in opposition to the EPRDF government  and were occasionally portrayed as negatively charged diaspora lobbying in the midst of the think-thank of foreign governments and policy-makers so that political as well as socio-economic situations would be altered as they perceived them right. Regardless of this, the EPRDF seems to be so resolute to spare no effort to bring on board all citizens, including Ethiopians with non-Ethiopian passports in, the fight against the grinding poverty that has prevailed across the country. To this effect, the EPRDF government has stated that it would create an investor-friendly environment by lowering lease price, easing bureaucratic bottlenecks, and providing various rights and privileges to foreign citizens of Ethiopian origin to the extent of lifting the legal restrictions imposed on them.

To me, the most crucial point at stake is not narrating about who left Ethiopia when and under what circumstances. It is not either the political difference between Ethiopians living abroad and the EPRDF government; it is rather how to alleviate the dire economic problems of Ethiopians that effectively make us impotent not to realize our potential and give the impression to the whole world that Ethiopia is poor and famine-prone. To change this picture, it is imperative for Ethiopians in diaspora first to compromise with themselves, i.e, solving whatever differences they have through dialogue, and then take the initiative in working with the government for Ethiopia's prosperity.

Copyright, (MCC),

2002 Media and Communication Center (MCC)