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HomeOpinionSilent Voices: The Marginalization of the Ethiopian Diaspora in Abiy's Regime

Silent Voices: The Marginalization of the Ethiopian Diaspora in Abiy’s Regime

Ethiopians in the Diaspora, welcoming Abiy Ahmed back in 2018. (Photo credit : The Atlatic/Hannah)

By Essayias Lesanu

In 2018, the ascension of Abiy Ahmed to power marked a paradigm shift in Ethiopian politics. Seen as a beacon of reform and inclusivity, Abiy appealed not only to his compatriots at home but also to the extensive Ethiopian diaspora scattered worldwide. His active engagement with the diaspora served to present an image of unity, collaboration and shared nationalistic fervor. However, as his tenure progressed, this facade began to show cracks, revealing a more complex, and perhaps less flattering, reality.

The early days of Abiy’s regime were characterized by theatrical gestures of inclusion. High-profile diaspora activists were invited to Addis Ababa on the regime’s dime, their arrivals streamed live as if they were returning heroes. They were treated to lavish banquets at prestigious venues like the Millennium Hall, a symbol of Ethiopia’s contemporary progress. These events were strategically orchestrated to showcase the regime’s willingness to listen to the diaspora and highlight a supposed alignment of interests. The regime cleverly used these spectacles to garner public support, banking on the popular perception of the diaspora as advocates for change.

However, as the initial euphoria faded, the diaspora’s relationship with the Abiy regime began to change. Once lauded as partners in Ethiopia’s transformation, the diaspora found themselves increasingly sidelined. Their voices, which were initially celebrated, began to be drowned out in the cacophony of political maneuvering. The diaspora’s disillusionment grew as the Abiy regime’s true colors began to show. The narrative of unity and collaboration morphed into a tale of manipulation and abandonment.

This shift in the regime’s attitude towards the diaspora unfolded against a backdrop of rising extremism, most notably the surge in Oromummaa extremism. As tensions and violence escalated within the country, the situation painted a grim picture of the state of affairs under Abiy’s leadership. Coupled with the ongoing political and socio-economic issues, the once vibrant optimism for a new Ethiopia began to wither.

A small segment of the diaspora chose to stay allied with Abiy, allegedly receiving positions within his administration and benefiting from the regime’s patronage. However, many others expressed feelings of betrayal and abandonment. Their initial optimism had been replaced with cynicism as the promises of a more inclusive and reformed Ethiopia appeared increasingly hollow. The marginalized diaspora found themselves questioning Abiy’s intentions and strategies, feeling exploited for political gain.

Is the Ethiopian Diaspora a Catalyst for Change or a Conduit for Chaos?

The Ethiopian diaspora, although geographically removed, has traditionally been a key player in the country’s politics. Their engagement in homeland politics has been assertive and vibrant, often serving as a driving force for political change. Despite their potential as a catalyst for reform, their role under Abiy’s regime has been contentious and fraught with complexity.

Despite its geographical distance, the Ethiopian diaspora’s political engagement has often mirrored the intensity of those at home. Their use of digital platforms has allowed them to voice their opinions and exercise their influence. However, this involvement has not been without criticism. Emotional and sometimes inflammatory discourses have the potential to stoke tensions, potentially agitating citizens into confrontations with the government. The consequences can be dire, particularly for those on the front lines who face the immediate repercussions of these heightened tensions.

This fraught relationship between the diaspora and the homeland is not unique to Ethiopia. For instance, the Cuban diaspora, like its Ethiopian counterpart, has used its position outside the country to advocate for political change. However, it has also faced criticism for promoting risky actions that diaspora members are insulated from, leading to questions about responsibility and accountability.

Accusations have been made that some diaspora activists, once vocal critics, have been co-opted by the regime and rewarded with land, property, and positions. This has raised concerns about the credibility of these activists and the motives driving their actions. It brings up a crucial question: How can we ensure that the diaspora’s engagement is genuinely driven by the welfare of their homeland and not personal gain?

As we grapple with these complex dynamics, we must recognize that these issues resonate beyond Ethiopia’s borders. During the Syrian civil war, for instance, the diaspora’s role was marked with similar dilemmas, with questions about credibility, motives, and responsibility often overshadowing their activism.

Nevertheless, it is essential to acknowledge that the Ethiopian diaspora plays an integral part in the country’s political narrative. Their engagement is not just confined to political activism; it also includes knowledge sharing, financial support, and the creation of global networks that can contribute to Ethiopia’s development. By overlooking these potential benefits and sidelining the diaspora from the nation’s affairs, the Abiy regime risks losing a significant resource.

The struggles that Ethiopia currently faces indeed present a complex and multifaceted challenge. However, these challenges also offer an opportunity for the diaspora to reassess and recalibrate their engagement, to ensure it aligns with the realities on the ground.

To effectively contribute to Ethiopian politics, the diaspora needs to ensure its activism is rooted in a deep understanding of Ethiopia’s socio-political context. Emotion and passion must be tempered with a strategic approach that takes into account the unique socio-cultural and political dynamics of the homeland. This requires a departure from the often fragmented and sensationalized narratives propagated through social media platforms, which can easily ignite tensions and escalate conflicts.

The diaspora should also acknowledge and embrace their role in providing financial and intellectual support to the struggle back home. These resources can significantly empower local initiatives, driving sustainable change from the grassroots level. This approach can potentially help bridge the gap between international attention and local realities, fostering a more strategic and sustainable path toward political reform in Ethiopia.

Simultaneously, diaspora members must hold themselves accountable and be transparent about their actions and motivations. Integrity and credibility are paramount. Given past instances where some activists were accused of benefiting personally from their engagement, it is important for the diaspora to ensure their actions serve the greater good of the Ethiopian people and not personal interests.

In conclusion, the evolving relationship between the Ethiopian diaspora and the Abiy regime is a reflection of the country’s complex political landscape. The diaspora’s role, while significant, is fraught with challenges. By reassessing their engagement and ensuring it aligns with the realities on the ground, the diaspora can maximize their positive impact and contribute towards a more inclusive, accountable, and sustainable political landscape in Ethiopia. 

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com  

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1 COMMENT

  1. Those who really love Ethiopia should encourage Ethiopians to build human links across ethnic state lines & build Ethiopia – like this: youtu.be/PSROm-vgVRk?t=46

    1). LEAVE Ethiopia to ETHIOPIANS: The Ethiopian Diaspora (ED) are NOT Ethiopian citizens! So, the less they meddle in Ethiopia’s affairs, the better! Since ≈75% of the Ethiopian population is under age 45, let’s let them chart their future! It is their country!

    2). Always ED’s Crocodile Tears & Lip Service for Ethiopia(ns): ≥70% of ED are former regimes’ beneficiaries & stooges [Feudal Monarchy, Derg-Meison-EPRP, TPLF & Co., their scholarship recipients, etc.]. All these want is getting back to power by any means.

    3). ≈15% of ED are former Ethiopian regimes’ victims and REAL REFUGEES! The rest ≈15% are children & relatives of all ED. Even this category should approach Ethiopian issues in a supportive way. The ED’s “I know better for you…” is far too condescending!

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