ETHIOPIAN DIASPORAS “VOTE FOR YOUR COUNTRY”

ETHIOPIAN  DIASPORAS  “VOTE FOR YOUR COUNTRY” By Yohannes Gebresellasie (Ph.d) Addis Ababa

The Ethiopian Diaspora spans the globe and stretches across all oceans and continents. It can be said that the sun never sets on the Ethiopian Diaspora. Ethiopian Diasporas left their country for variety of reasons; political, social and economic.  Few have been able to return home for short and long visits, few others came home for good and still others have not been able to come back for variety of reasons. Although these people who did not make it to their homeland have been preoccupied with their day to day activities making a living in their adopted country, their attachment to their homeland is still intact.  It is recognized that Ethiopians in Diaspora in general and those with specific educational background and professional and entrepreneurial skills in particular can contribute to the economic development of Ethiopia.

The motive force behind this article is to ask Ethiopians in the Diaspora to contribute to economic and community development which has potent influence on social cohesion and economic integration in their country of origin. In the face of international competition for citizen contribution, it is vital for policy makers in Ethiopia to design and maintain comprehensive policies to foster the economic contribution of the experience of Ethiopians in the Diaspora, especially those with specific professional and entrepreneurial skills. The above can be pursued through a diverse array of institutional and human resource capacity building activities, undertaken in a collaborative and participatory manner. Institutions, government, non-government, community and the private sector can be involved in designing and implementing this human resource development and capacity building endeavor.

 The population of the Ethiopian Diaspora is estimated to be over a million. There are more than 500,000 Ethiopian Diasporas in North America alone and they represent a significant number of immigrant populations in some major cities of North America. Their economic strength, educational as well as professional backgrounds and entrepreneurial skill are widely acknowledged in many North American, European and other countries. They live in different countries and speak different languages other than their native ones and are engaged in different vocations. They have developed their communities in their respective cities in order to promote their culture, heritage and help develop their skill and profession. They all have achieved a fair measure of success in their adopted homelands as imminent professors, researchers and scientists, factory workers and laborers etc. What are common in the Ethiopian Diaspora are their cultural heritage and their deep attachment to their country of origin.  Many Ethiopians at least believe that they should make a genuine effort to help their country of origin but there is a lack of serious policy response and implementation environment on the one hand and full commitment on the part of the Diasporas on the other hand.

The majority of the Ethiopian Diasporas are male, married and are estimated to be between 35-45 years of age. Therefore, they are at a prime and productive working age. In addition to their local or national languages, many Ethiopians in the Diaspora speak English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and many other languages. Many wanted to settle in different North American and European countries because they know such countries provide better job opportunities. Others wanted to settle there because they have some of their family members or close friends already settled in those countries and they wish to join them. Although the experience of Ethiopians in the Diaspora varies, what is common to many is that some are educated and skilled. Many have academic degrees. Others have vocational and technical skills. Some are doctors and engineers with Masters and Ph.D. degrees and in most cases with 10-20 years experience in their professional areas. Such people can be useful to this country provided they are given the chance to use their competence and contribute to the economic development of their country of origin. It is therefore important that a collaborative effort is made to provide a conducive and enabling environment for their participation. Those with non-conventional education and yet with years of foreign exposure and experience in their profession can also use their resource, skills and experience as private entrepreneurs to provide job opportunities to many Ethiopians in this country.

The Ethiopian Diaspora has played an important role in the life of the countries they reside. They contribute as entrepreneurs, workers, traders, teachers, scientists, laborers, researchers, investors, lawyers, doctors, engineers, managers, business consultants, administrators, etc. Their success can be attributed to their cultural heritage, educational values and qualifications and their capacity to harmonize and adapt to the situation of their host countries. Their discipline and cultural values and tradition rooted in their ancient culture and heritage has transformed Ethiopia’s image abroad. It also has a significant bearing on the political relations with the countries they reside. Thus, their destiny has been intertwined with the fortunes of Ethiopia: their country of origin. If Ethiopian Diasporas can have such a positive impact on the economy of their adopted countries, it is not hard to conceptualize how much their knowledge, exposure, skills and money can contribute to the socio-economic progress of their country of origin. Many countries for example, Korea, China, Vietnam, India, the Middle East and parts of Africa have benefited from their Diaspora populations. There is no reason why the Ethiopian Diasporas cannot do the same thing. If done in a coordinated fashion, their contribution can make a big difference in the economy of their country of origin.

Although the advent and explosion of technology and means and pace of travel and communication has brought about a closer interaction between overseas Ethiopians and their country of origin, majority of the Ethiopian population is unacquainted with the kaleidoscopic traits of its Diaspora or with its contribution if any. This trend has become more marked during the last decade as the Ethiopian economy has opened up giving rise to a new range of opportunities for emerging generations. Despite this, the Ethiopian public is relatively unaware with such a phenomenon.  Although much has yet to be done, this has also encouraged meaningful interaction between the Diaspora and their country of origin. This can be a great leap forward in the process of achieving significant and interactive impact in all segments of the Diaspora if there is a will from both sides i.e. the Diaspora Ethiopians and their country of origin.

Generally, Ethiopian Diasporas have made some contribution to the economic development of their country of origin, however, the fact is that their participation and contribution on investment and development endeavor is by and large minimal as compared to their number and potential. Therefore, much remains to be done and much is expected from them and from the government in that regard. Ethiopian Diaspora’s collaboration with the Ethiopian governmental, non-governmental as well as the Ethiopian public at large is thus crucial in the effort of poverty reduction and in enhancing investment and development in this country.

Ethiopian Diasporas can participate in many areas and fields of development endeavors. Among the most important areas of development, the education sector is a significant area. Diaspora Ethiopians can see the education and training of Ethiopians back home as a unique, attractive and lucrative investment destination. Education and training is a back bone for investment, progress and prosperity; therefore, to look at this sector and provide more focus on this sector is vital to both the Diaspora Ethiopians and their country of origin. If Ethiopia is to become a major agricultural, industrial and manufacturing nation competitive to not only with its neighbors but internationally, tens of thousands and even millions of its citizens need to be better educated, better trained with international standard and more competitive in the international or global market.

The globalised market place requires an ever increasing number of knowledge workers. Therefore, Ethiopians must be educated and trained at all levels to the highest international standards with a “FIT FOR EXPORT “stamp. The knowledge worker is truly his/her country’s best asset and export. India, Finland, the Philippines etc. are living testimony to this fact. For example, India trains 29-30,000 doctors per year-many for export to all parts of the world. Knowledgeable and trained worker is Ethiopia’s best asset, best investment and best import and export. Therefore, Diaspora’s contribution and collaboration in the education and training field is not only important but also paramount. Diaspora Ethiopia can help create business entrepreneurs, can ran professional training institutes for welders, steel benders, carpenters, joiners and masons. Ethiopian Diasporas have done some job regarding these and other professional activities but they are few and there is a great need regionally and nationally. The government has done a very commendable job in the education sector and as a result primary school enrolment was 29% fourteen years ago and it is over 90% now nationally. However, government, the private sector and especially Ethiopian Diasporas have to play a significant role in order to help this country in its effort to self reliance in all sectors.

The government must encourage the Diaspora Ethiopians to establish more international standard colleges, universities and even basic schools in this country. Also the government must act like a facilitator to encourage the establishment of more world standard educational and training institution in Ethiopia. Further, government must encourage ragged competition and allow parents to choose the best schools for their children. This will foster competition and raise the quality of education being offered as well as the number of good educational and training institution in the market place. Ethiopian diasporas must learn to form companies and a joint venture with endogenous as well as international investors can help overcome some financial constraints and it can even lead to profit making. Diaspora Ethiopians must learn to share the ownership of the pie so that a bigger pie can be created, which in turn will give larger returns to them and their country of origin. It should be noted however that as investors, they have to take a long view in order to create and build wealth. Further, they have to note that there are lots of opportunities that go bigger in the country- whether it is housing some or the poor, or health, nature or heritage tourism. Ethiopian Diasporas in collaboration with the Ethiopian government, their country of destination, the private sector and endogenous as well as international NGOs can make the wealth creation thing happen. There is a big opportunity for Diaspora Ethiopia in variety of sectors in Ethiopia; education, health, tourism industry are just a few, most importantly, let the diasporas come home as investors temporarily or permanently or they can invest from where they are. They can come as teachers, trainers and investors in the education sector. They can come and see the whole gamut of education and training as a very lucrative investment destination and have the private sector take on a major portion of the responsibility to educate and train Ethiopians’ young people at every sector in Ethiopia’s education system. The reward for Diaspora Ethiopians can be substantial in financial terms and immeasurable in social and international terms. There is enough investment opportunities in Ethiopia in which Diaspora Ethiopia can build their wealth and make success happen. In doing so, Diaspora Ethiopia can bring rapid progress in communication technology in provident Ethiopia with new opportunities for networking and enterprise; and perhaps above all, increasing numbers of Ethiopia in the Diaspora are reconnecting to their home land in imaginative new ways involving creative “peer to pear” development strategies. All these transformations are felling changes in the ways Ethiopian Diasporas nurture the relationships of accountability embodying practices of obligation, respect, responsibility and mutuality that underpin their connection to each other. Ethiopian Diasporas must combine their efforts to bring about a positive change in their country of origin. Thus, while they individually or through their community organizations still direct bulk of remittances money they send back home, they can channel more collectively. There is rise and rise of remittance flows over the last few years from African Diasporas, a good example is Ghana. The bank of Ghana estimates suggests that remittance flows in to the country stands over £864 million and it is further estimated that remittance flows in to that country alone amounted to about £1 billion in 2004. Ethiopian Diasporas can take a good lesson from this fact. Generally, Ethiopian Diasporas show a lot of jubilation wherever they are when our great athletes win in athletic competitions; they put their political differences aside and enjoy the festivity together. In the same way, Diaspora Ethiopians must show their collaboration, dedication and commitment to help their country of origin together putting their political differences aside. The same way they enjoy and become very proud waving the Ethiopian national flag when our great athletes win, they can also be proud of contributing to poverty reduction and other development endeavors in their country of origin. One way of doing so is among others by focusing on the education sector. Why on education? The answer is simple and clear; education is the most important investment of the nation. Diasporas can make a difference and can have a significant outcome in that regard.

 

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