In July 2018, while presenting a three-month report to Parliament, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) addressed the nation and the diaspora community. In his address, he spoke about the role of the diaspora in the development of the country and promoting Ethiopia to foreigners. He mentioned that the diaspora has the responsibility to convince potential tourists and investors to flow to the country. As a foreign resident, who has been living in a Scandinavian country for nearly 15 years, my reaction to his address was mixed. I have been coming to Ethiopia every year and I would like to speak about what the country needs to address before it starts to attract tourists, and what the role of the diaspora should be in promoting the country and creating a positive narrative of the nation. When it comes to the issue of the diaspora, first I appreciate the Prime Minister’s optimism and desire to engage the Ethiopian diaspora for the development and transformation of the country. But his address neglected the complexity of the relationship between the diaspora and their home country. Except for a few individuals with genuine issues, most of the Ethiopia diaspora left the country because of economic reasons. In proper sociological terms, they are economic migrants; the economy is both the push and pull factor. But upon their arrival in their host countries, economic reasons are not justifiable grounds for securing entry and residence permits. Consequently, they present themselves as victims of political persecution and domestic violence and ask for asylum on political and humanitarian grounds. Therefore, the diaspora must create a case – real or fictional –to justify their request for protection. They use every conflict and social unrest in the country as a potential case. If there is a fire in one part of the country, it becomes a wildfire in the narrative of the diaspora. If there is a demonstration, it becomes a countrywide protest. In such ways, every local issue becomes a national issue; the whole country is painted with one brush. The diaspora is a megaphone that exaggerates issues and promotes a certain narrative about the country that benefits her/his case. This complex issue should be investigated before calling the diaspora to engage in the matters of the country.
On the other hand, the excessive focus of the new administration on the role of the diaspora simply undermines local initiatives and devalues the potential of Ethiopians who are in the country. The issues of the country can be solved not by a diaspora that has a contractual relationship with the country but by locals who have managed to survive against all the odds.
The second issue is related to the current state of the country. Recently, I came to Ethiopia with my family for the summer holidays. I asked my seven year old what her impression of Addis Ababa – she said it is too dirty and has too many unfinished constructions. She is right on both – the city has been under construction for the last 27 years. Addis Ababa has become a concrete jungle with no accessible public parks. The city is also full of badly managed rubbish.
The hygiene issue extends to the bad water supply of the city. My children suffer skin rashes every time they came to Addis. My niece, born abroad, comes to Ethiopia every few years, has been experiencing skin rashes, and she is “allergic” to Ethiopian water. Are we supposed to use bottled water for a shower?
Then there is also the issue of the bureaucracy. When we came to Ethiopia my wife wanted to use her mobile phone that she brought with her from abroad and was told that she must go to one of the centers of ethio telecom in order to make it functional in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, she had to spend three days just to make the phone usable. The queue, the requirements and the lack of information is just too much hassle – it is unacceptable to spend more than 15 minutes on a simple issue. How do you promote a country that loves bureaucracy – where the public servants are not there to simplify life and provide services but to complicate and hassle the public?
Diaspora or locals – we all have a responsibility to promote the country. But before embarking on the promotion of the country, we need to do our homework properly.
6th Year • Aug.16 – Sep. 15 2018 • No. 65