Ethiopia’s Diaspora Policy: Fit for a diverse, complex relationships?

Building democracy and cultivating a culture of good governance remains to be a challenge that demands a concerted effort of all stakeholders. In this regard, Ethiopian Diaspora has a unique potential and legitimate role in promoting democracy and good governance. In order to tap into this potential resource and to enhance overall Diaspora’s multidimensional contribution, there have to be provided a set of norms and legal framework that guides and creates conducive environment for engagement. In 2013, under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ethiopian government proposed Diaspora policy which has been under development since then and due to be adopted in the near future. This piece intended to review Diaspora policies in general and to comment on one particular aspect of the draft policy pertained to Diaspora’s participation in Good Governance and Democracy in particular.

To begin with the recent Diaspora festival,  it was the first Ethiopian festival  held to give an opportunity to Diaspora members to see and be part of the progress the country has made during the last decade. The purpose of the festival, as Foreign minister noted in his opening remark, was to recognize the valuable contribution of Ethiopian Diaspora to the process of development and transformation of Ethiopian economy.Photo - Ethiopia diaspora

Many countries uphold Diaspora festivals as a symbolic capacity building effort which is incorporated in their Diaspora policy. India and China, for example, implement a policies that are directed to build capacity, both symbolic and institutional, for their millions of Diaspora population abroad and at home. Institutional capacity building policies include the formation of Diaspora organizations and networking. Australia, China, Argentina and New Zealand promote transnational networking and uphold Diaspora festivals, conferences and conventions regularly. Diaspora policy is a comprehensive guidance to achieve an enabling environment for development.

Development Oriented Diaspora Policy

World practices indicate that government’s Diaspora outreach and the nature of policy adopted to their Diaspora communities varies depending upon many factors. These include national character of the country origin, composition of Diaspora community (political vs. economical driven immigrant), legal framework that sets citizenship status, significance of remittances to home economy etc.

According to Galmen (2005), governments who prefer to partner with their Diaspora for development follow three types of engagement strategies or the combination of them: remittance capture, Diaspora networking, and Diaspora integration.

Remittance capture encompasses not only increasing the volume and productivity of remittances, but also the full range of Diasporas’ potential contributions. In its broader context remittance capture incorporates:  offering various investment options and supporting incentives, including remittance-backed bonds, foreign currency accounts, investment tax breaks, exemption from import tariffs on capital goods, duty-free shopping bonuses, and free passport insurance (Brinkerhoff 2009).

In addition to programs and policies that incentivize and facilitate remittance/investment, knowledge exchange, and Diaspora philanthropy governments pursue the second strategy – Diaspora networking strategy. Diaspora networking strategy  provides intermediary functions which comprises forming Diaspora organization, hosting and facilitating websites, print, radio and TV media outlets. The networks benefit Diaspora in accessing economic opportunities, political contributions, and informational resources. (Brinkerhoff, 2009)

The third strategy is Diaspora integration program. This program aimed to enhance belongingness, responsibility, credibility and legitimacy to Diaspora. Diaspora integration policies address the question of legitimacy, social status and political influence to the Diaspora and its potential input to support the homeland.  These policies include voting rights, permitting dual citizenship, offering diplomatic and moral resources to legitimize and encourage the contribution of Diaspora. Many countries set policies aimed to extend rights and integration of Diaspora in home politics. Armenia and India allow dual citizenship. Argentina, New Zealand, and Brazil allow embassy voting. In Dominican Republic Diaspora member can even run for office. Analogous policies are implemented in Mexico and Morocco.

The Pending Ethiopian Diaspora policy

There has never been formulated government policy till now and  never was particular  government organ  responsible for Diaspora affair. But there were several departments in different ministries which were dealing with different aspects of Diaspora engagement. In its preamble, the policy draft document states that Ethiopian government has mandated Ministry of Foreign Affairs to manage Diaspora affairs and created Diaspora Engagement Affairs Directorate General under the ministry.

The draft document rationalizes the need to adopt national diaspora policy as follows; “It has become imperative to prepare a Diaspora policy that can efficiently respond to the need to ensure active Diaspora participation in political, economic and social activities of the country so that it benefits from its engagement and contributes to the well-being of the country.” Thus the draft policy has basically aimed to address the problems and concerns of Ethiopian Diaspora abroad and inside the country and to ensure active Diaspora participation in development agenda.

Section two of the document identifies the following objectives of the policy:-

  • Preserving the rights and benefits of the Ethiopian Diaspora.
  • Improving Diaspora engagement in investment’ trade and tourism.
  • Enhancing knowledge and technology transfer.
  • Encouraging foreign currency inflows and strengthening Diaspora participation.
  • Promoting cultural values and promoting image building.
  • Advancing Diaspora participation in good governance and democracy.
  • Supporting philanthropic and development associations.

Advancing Diaspora participation in good governance and democracy In Ethiopia

Creating conducive atmosphere for Diaspora contribution that advances good governance and democracy requires unconventional way of thinking, new structures, and political will and commitment of Ethiopian government.

The main problem to create a favorable atmosphere for Diaspora participation in good governance and democracy in Ethiopia is that unlike for NGO or political party, Diaspora participation and contributions is not incorporated into considerations of state-society relations nor is reinforced in legal frameworks and government modalities.

Another challenge to create a favorable atmosphere for Diaspora participation in good governance and democracy comes with the complexity and diversity of relationship the government has with Diaspora. These relationships can be categorized into four types of relationships following Najam’s (2000) 4 C’s NGO model.

  1. A cooperation relationship, where Diaspora and government not only share similar ends and means but also favor alike strategies for realization them.
  2. A complementary relationship when government and Diaspora have the same goals but divergent strategies.
  3. A co-optive relationship when government and Diaspora share similar strategies but prefer different goals.
  4. A confrontational relationship when government and Diaspora contemplate each other’s goals and strategies to be hostile to their own.

Despite the diversity and complexity of relationships, the government has to formulate a strategy that allows to reach out all segments of Diaspora. Attention has to be given government’s own capacity to interface effectively with all segments of Diaspora. The degree of political willingness of the government to engage with Diaspora impacts on Diasporas’ propensity to contribute to the country regardless of political differences. Both the country and the government benefit by affording a more conducive environment for engagement of Diaspora on these specific issues from abroad and at homeland.

The proposed draft document states that mechanisms will be in place for Diaspora participation in national policy research and formulation. In this regard, it is advisable to establish an independent policy research center based on partnership between government and Diaspora. This partnership may serve as platform to engage academic and philanthropic institutions in the process. Policy implementation mechanisms and details are very important factors that demand out of box approach. As the old aphorism goes ‘The devil is in the details’, so is true that the kind of mechanisms used to implement the policy can turn the good policy into animated practice or just a bureaucratic slogan. Given the diversity and complexity relationship with diaspora, mechanisms of approaching have to be designed and tailored to all specifics of government-Diaspora relationships.

Being outside the homeland gives unique advantages to Diaspora to see problems in different perspectives. Knowledge and experience acquired abroad help to to promote effectively democratic values and practices. In light of absence of viable and capable opposition in the country and lack of strong voice of home-grown civil societies, Ethiopian Diaspora’s potential role as source of constructive and alternative voice would be immensely valuable.

One hopes the pending Diaspora policy will be an effective instrument which inspires, encourages and enables all Ethiopian Diaspora to be part of the country’s social, political and economic success. Our country will be well served if the government able to mobilize all segments of Diaspora in cultivating a broad-based political culture that upholds democratic values such as trust, tolerance, and openness.

God bless Ethiopia


Befekadu Wolde Gabriel - Ph.D. in agriculture, B.Sc in Sociology and graduate student (MPA master of public administration) at Franklin University - Ohio, and can be reached at [email protected].

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