Ethiopia has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and is Africa’s second most populous country. Many properties owned by the government during the previous regime have now been privatized and are in the process of privatization. However, certain sectors such as telecommunications, financial and insurance services, air and land transportation services, and retail, are considered as strategic sectors and are expected to remain under state control for the foreseeable future.
The global experience shows that Diasporas of a given country have significant impact on building a nation by sending remittance legally and transferring knowledge, skills and technologies to the country; Ethiopian Government has recently engaged in bringing the attention of the millions of Ethiopian Diasporas residing in all corners of the globe.
The role of Ethiopian Diaspora in accelerating the national economy has been a recent phenomenon that came into being after the formation of Ethiopian Diaspora Agency in October 2018 as a single entity; since its establishment the Agency has served as a bridge between the Diaspora and the Government, and managed to bring the attention of the Diaspora to the overall socio-economic and political endeavors.
ABN approaches the Mohammed Indris (PhD), Ethiopian Diaspora Agency/EDA/ Director and discusses issues in line with the Great Ethiopian Homecoming and the roles his Agency plays in making bridges between the Diaspora and the Government.
1. ABN: When and why was the Ethiopian Diaspora Agency established? What are its main duties and responsibilities?
Mohammed: It has been over three years since the Ethiopian Diaspora Agency/EDA/ has started functioning as an independent federal institution. Prior to that diaspora issues were dealt in Ministry of Foreign Affairs /MoFA/ at a department level. However, following the reform that took place over three years ago, the issue of the diaspora was among the top priorities that the government of Ethiopia has given special considerations. As a result, EDA was established in October 2018 to serve as a bridge between the diaspora and the homeland.
The Agency is mandated, among other things, to facilitate diaspora issues; establish a system to facilitate knowledge and technology transfer opportunities; establish and administer financial and other contribution collection systems; and support institutional capacity of Ethiopian diaspora societies and organizations.
“The diaspora has been a great source of hard currency whether in supporting national calls and projects or remitting billions of dollars and taking part in investment.”
2. ABN: As we all know, there is what we call the “Great Ethiopian Homecoming” event in the next few weeks. 1 million Ethiopian Diaspora are expected to come back home to show their solidarity and national obligation to the country and their people in the fight against foreign pressure, and help victims of the unrest the Northern part of the country. What is the major role your office plays in receiving the Diaspora?
Mohammed: As the Prime Minister made the call for Ethiopians, Ethiopian origins and friends of Ethiopia to come and celebrate the Gregorian New Year here, a national committee that could handle the event was formed. While MoFA is the chair and MoT, the deputy, EDA serves as secretariat and coordinator of the event. Considering the roles assigned to us, we are working in collaboration with pertinent federal, regional and private institutions to make the event a reality.
3. ABN: What are your expectations from the Diasporas who are heading to their motherland right now?
Mohammed: As we all remember, the past one year has been a time of extreme pressure on Ethiopia. The UNSC has convened over ten times to pressurize Ethiopia from exercising its legitimate right as a sovereign country using its natural resource and protecting law and order. In all those difficult times, the diaspora has been front and center in protecting Ethiopia’s interests by holding rallies, conducting digital campaigns and lobbying influential persons and institutions in the west to respect Ethiopia and its interests. Financially too, the diaspora has been a great source of hard currency whether in supporting national calls and projects or remitting billions of dollars and taking part in investment.
As the diaspora comes home, we expect that political, diplomatic, social and economic objectives of the call will be met. Besides, the defamation, propaganda and speculations that were made against Ethiopia will be debunked.
“The diaspora participation can be said multi-faceted and improving from time to time. Skill and knowledge transfer; supporting national calls and projects; remitting foreign currency and participating in philanthropic activities are some of the areas the diaspora’s role is improving.”
4. ABN: What is expected from the people, service providers such as hotels, transport service providers and the like?
Mohammed: As I have mentioned earlies, the diaspora has shown that it is as asset the country and a dependable force that protects Ethiopia’s interests abroad. As a result, all of us need to provide the most care we can afford to the diaspora. Even though hospitality is deep in our culture, the guest we are going to have deserves special care. So, all service providers are expected to serve the diaspora in all their power.
5. ABN: How do you evaluate or describe the magnitude or the development of Diasporas participation in the country’s socio-economic development especially in multi-faceted investment?
Mohammed: The diaspora participation can be said multi-faceted and improving from time to time. Skill and knowledge transfer; supporting national calls and projects; remitting foreign currency and participating in philanthropic activities are some of the areas the diaspora’s role is improving. Investing in Ethiopia is also an interesting area where the diaspora is engaging with the homeland. Last year alone, close to 2000 diaspora investment projects registering over 30 billion birr have been supported. 13 thousand individuals have got job opportunities out of the 84 diaspora projects that got operational in the stated period.
6. ABN: What do you think are the challenges Ethiopian Diasporaface to engage in in their country’s overall socio-economic path?
Mohammed: More than ever, Ethiopia is said to be in a position where it can accommodate its diaspora. It also believes that the diaspora is a partner in development. Enabling legal and structural frameworks have been laid for this. These are fundamental issues for positive diaspora participation.
As a result of this, there is considerable growth in the way the diaspora is engaging with its home country. However, considering the level of participation of the diaspora vis-a-vis its capacity and the opportunities available, one can see that there is a gap to be filled.As Ethiopia is a developing nation; sometimes it could be hard to fulfill minimum standards. Bureaucratic red tapes andshortage of infrastructuresare also things we have to deal with. Diaspora’s own expectation, lack of experience and the necessary capital are challenges we need to face in order to achieve maximum results from Diasporas engagement.
7. ABN: What should be done to alleviate those challenges?
Mohammed: First and fore most our bureaucracy needs to be efficient so that it can satisfy the needs of the diaspora. The diaspora also need to have the know-how of the project it wants to participate and the necessary capital to carry it out.
8. ABN: Many argue that the bureaucratic system and poor governance mainly at regional level are the major bottlenecks that thwart the Diaspora from engaging in the nation’ s socio-economic development endeavors. What is your view on this this?
Mohammed: It is true that we are not free from bottlenecks that challenge the diaspora from engaging in the nation’s socio-economic development endeavors. Whether we talk about regional offices or federal institution, the challenges mentioned earlier are there.
9. ABN: There are a number of unions or associations established by the Diaspora, including Defend Ethiopia in Britain and Council forEthiopian Diaspora Action /CEDA/ operating in Canada, What is your relation with such establishments?
Mohammed: Supporting diaspora association is among the duties and responsibilities mandated to EDA. As a result, the agency along with Ethiopian missions abroad, works in close collaboration with these associations. Whenever new initiatives arise as national calls or projects, these entities are the ones we work with before we go to the general diaspora. In a nut shell, diaspora associations are the bridges that connect us the wider polity.
10. ABN: Many argue that Ethiopia does not make use of its high profile, renowned and globally recognized Diasporas for various reasons. For instance, we can mention Liya Kebede (international supermodel), Wayna (singer), and many more. To what extent does the Agency make attempts to contact such personalities and make them participate in national agendas?
Mohammed: In the past twelve months when Ethiopia was pressurized by some western powers to relinquish its sovereignty, it was the diaspora that stood against it. Among them there were many influential diaspora members. Involving others like the ones mentionedearlier can be taken as an assignment.
11. ABN: What message do you convey to the Ethiopian Diasporas and the people at large in connection with the “Great Ethiopian Homecoming” occasion?
Mohammed: To those diaspora members coming to Ethiopia in this time of need, I would like to say: ‘We are honored to welcome you in your beloved country. Ethiopia has been longing to see you. You are most welcome!’