Cablegate: Experience Engaging the Ethiopian Diaspora
DE RUEHDS #2299/01 2671443
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P 241443Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6284
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 002299
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SUBJECT: EXPERIENCE ENGAGING THE ETHIOPIAN DIASPORA
REF: STATE 86401
1. (SBU) Per reftel, Embassy Addis Ababa compiled experiences
engaging the Ethiopian diaspora community from relevant agencies at
post. Post's point of contact for future submissions is
Political/Economic Officer Skye Justice (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Responses to specific reftel questions follow:
A) To what extent are diasporans from your host country an
identifiable community? Are there existing diaspora networks,
organizations or online communities available as platforms for
There are two million estimated members of the Ethiopian diaspora
worldwide, with as many as one million of those living in North
America. Sizeable, well-organized diaspora communities are present
in many larger U.S. cities. Both formal and informal networks are
common, with some focused primarily on shared cultural and religious
heritage, and others focused on business networks or political
From a political and business perspective, there are at least four
clearly identifiable sub-groups within the Ethiopian diaspora in the
U.S.: 1) politically-active supporters of the current Ethiopian
government (GoE); 2) a politically-active opposition to the current
GoE; 3) apolitical, pro-business insiders (notably in Seattle and
Los Angeles) likely to return to and invest in Ethiopia; and 4) an
apolitical group interested in returning who might invest, but are
Various newsletters, radio programs, and websites target the
Ethiopian diaspora and promote connections within the community.
Many of these actively reach out to residents of Ethiopia as well;
some are censored by the GoE for political reasons.
B) What is the nature of the connection of the diaspora community to
the host country? Examples include kinship networks; educational or
other institutional ties; financial support as from remittances; and
direct participation in community or country affairs and civil
Ethiopian diasporans commonly connect through kinship and ethnic
networks. Educational and professional societies (e.g.,
associations of Ethiopian physicians and attorneys) are present, if
less common. The National Bank of Ethiopia estimates that private
diaspora remittances totaled USD 1.8 billion for the 2008 fiscal
year, representing an important source of desperately-needed foreign
exchange. Many diasporans are involved in charitable or civic
outreach to their communities in Ethiopia; family- and
community-based outreach is more common than more formal civil
society organizations. Many diasporans pay close attention to, or
are involved in, Ethiopian politics.
C) To what extent has your host country or government activated its
diaspora communities for humanitarian relief? How would you
characterize the level of response? If outreach is relatively
recent, do you foresee opportunities to maintain diaspora community
involvement in country over the long term?
Large-scale, organized humanitarian activity has not been pursued by
either the GoE or the Ethiopian diaspora community. However,
diasporans support their relatives and local communities in Ethiopia
in many ways. While the potential for further support is
significant, diasporans are more likely to donate to charities or
sub-national groups, rather than the GoE.
D) To what extent is the diaspora community engaged in
long-term investment in country, for example micro-enterprise
development, job creation, entrepreneurship, and institutional
capacity building? What is post's assessment of the future potential
for long-term and sustained engagement of the diaspora community in
Members of the diaspora play a major role in Ethiopia's economy.
Direct investment in construction, manufacturing, and agro-business
is significant and continues to grow. There is enormous potential
for long-term and sustained engagement of the diaspora community in
investment, including in relatively under-developed sectors of the
economy such as tourism and trade in services.
E) To what extent is the diaspora community working toward
scientific, engineering, medical and educational institution
building? How might diasporans with backgrounds in these fields or
otherwise affiliated with the Academy, or professional and technical
societies, become engaged in science diplomacy programs?
Many highly-skilled diasporans (including many trained in Ethiopia)
work in medical, scientific, and academic fields abroad. There are
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a few initiatives to tap into this knowledge-base. For example,
Addis Ababa University recruits members of the diaspora to return to
Ethiopia and teach intensive university-level courses in their field
of expertise for one month, providing for travel and accommodation,
as well as a small stipend. Such initiatives operate on a small
scale, without organized outreach. There is clearly potential for
expansion of these programs. Limited job opportunities, very low
salaries, and a poor investment climate in Ethiopia are deterrents
to return for many diasporans, and political considerations also
play a role.
F) To what extent is the diaspora community engaged in
conflict resolution and peace building? Do you see future potential
to translate diaspora community participation in these processes
into other priorities governing the bilateral (and/or regional)
Ethiopian diaspora engagement in conflict resolution activities has
been very limited. One major exception is the group of diasporans
who returned to help end the conflict surrounding the 2005
elections, noted below.
G) To what extent is the diaspora community engaged in
meeting the health, education and welfare needs of indigenous
As noted above, many highly-skilled Ethiopian professionals reside
outside the country. However, the number of returnees to Ethiopia
with engineering and medical degrees and experience has increased.
For example, there have been several missions in Ethiopia conducted
by diasporan doctors who performed medical operations in
collaboration with local hospitals. And two of post's 2010 U.S.
Fulbright scholars are Ethio-Americans engaged in hydrology and
environmental engineering studies and projects in Ethiopia.
H) To what extent is the diaspora community engaged in
democracy promotion, electoral reform and civil society development?
Are there key milestones in your host country or host government's
development that would create opportunities for such engagement in
Many diasporans are involved, or attempt to be involved, in
advancing political reform. Diasporans who belong to the political
opposition play the role of spoilers, and the GoE actively attempts
to restrict their involvement in political matters in Ethiopia.
Opposition parties and sub-national movements (some deemed
terrorists by the GoE), such as the Oromo Liberation Front and
Ginbot 7, maintain offices abroad. Conversely, the effort of a
small group of diasporans was strongly felt during the national
crisis after the election of 2005, when diaspora leaders
collaborated with local elders to contribute to national
reconciliation. Positive engagement is more common at the personal,
rather than party level.
I) How would you characterize the level of concern and
attention given to diaspora communities by your host
government? If applicable, please describe the host
government's organization and strategy dedicated to
relationship-building with its diaspora communities. For example,
host governments may have established promotion offices to encourage
diasporans' return, bringing with them know-how and financial
Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a Directorate for
Ethiopian Expatriate Affairs (EEA) in 2002. The EEA provides the
following incentives for diasporans to return to invest in
-- Tax and customs free rights given for returnees.
-- Issuance of urban land for the construction of residential
buildings for those organized in housing cooperatives free of
-- Under proclamation 270/2002, foreign nationals of Ethiopian
origin are treated as Ethiopian citizens in matters of investment.
(Note: Because Ethiopia does not recognize dual citizens,
diasporans who attain foreign citizenship are stripped of their
Ethiopian citizenship. End note.)
-- Foreign currency accounts.
In addition, the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, DC maintains an
office solely dedicated to outreach to the Ethiopian diaspora in the
U.S. This office has particularly targeted the sub-group Post
identifies as apolitical and interested in returning, who might
invest but are less business-oriented.
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J) If post has undertaken programs to reach out proactively to
diaspora community members, please share the circumstances that
prompted the outreach effort, how outreach was conducted or
programmed, personal impressions from the experience, and
benefits from the outreach effort.
USAID currently funds the VEGA-Ethiopia AGOA Plus Project, which
provides basic services to the diaspora community looking for
investment opportunities within the country. The recently launched
Diaspora Direct Investment (DDI) project under USAID's Development
Credit Authority (DCA) program provides assistance to Ethiopians
looking for loan services from local banks. The project leverages
investment finance by way of sharing 50 percent of collateral
requirement of the local banks for lending to diaspora investors. In
addition, the project provides loan packaging services that include
business plan improvements and assisting with documentation
requirements for loan approval.
The USAID/VEGA-Ethiopia project also serves as a contact point for
diaspora members seeking various information such as investment
opportunities, trade and investment policies, rules, regulations,
and procedures for doing business. The program conducted several
diaspora Investment Forums both in Ethiopia and in the U.S. in
collaboration with members of the diaspora and Ethiopian Embassy in
the U.S. To sustain diaspora community engagement, there is a
proposal to establish a one-stop-shop service center for diaspora
networks and associations.
The Embassy's Public Affairs Section (PAS) also makes use of
diaspora representatives in outreach programs. Each year, several
of post's U.S. Fulbright Scholars are U.S. citizen diasporans. PAS
taps them to speak to students and other groups about their American
experience, as well on subjects of their own professional or
K) If post has received unsolicited requests from the
diaspora community, please share the nature the requests, the
considerations post took into account in formulating respective
responses, and the outcomes of interaction.
PAS recently received a proposal from, and provided a grant from
existing funds to, the Association of Ethiopian Alumni of American
Universities to research and hold a workshop on the role of the
diaspora in developing the Ethiopian economy. PAS also recently
provided support to an Ethio-American who is opening a school of art
and design in Addis Ababa. Both are examples of positive
interactions between the Embassy and the diaspora community. In
other instances, PAS has received proposals that are not fully
developed, and has worked with diasporans to improve their
proposals. Even when such proposals cannot be funded, PAS gains
valuable insight from the ideas generated by the Ethio-American
Occasionally, USAID/Ethiopia receives unsolicited proposals from
diaspora. Unsolicited proposals in general are very rarely funded,
as the USAID budget is earmarked and otherwise planned and approved
well in advance of receipt of funds, with few discretionary funds.
L) To what extent has post designed or participated in public
diplomacy programs customized to diaspora community needs and
interests? Does post anticipate taking advantage of such
opportunities in the future?
After the 2005 elections, PAS brought an Ethio-American with
expertise on the U.S. government to Ethiopia through the U.S.
Speakers Program to present a series of lectures on democracy and to
meet with ruling party and opposition leaders. The visit was
successful, and PAS brought the same visitor back in 2006 to conduct
a workshop with high school teachers on ethics.