In Ethiopia, the diaspora called to the rescue of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Large yellow carpet rolled out on the ground, traditional music and dances, coffee ceremony and interviews with the local media: as soon as they arrive at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, members of the diaspora who have come to spend their holidays in Ethiopia are celebrated as a hero by the authorities. And, since the beginning of January, they have already been several tens, even several hundreds, of thousands to go to their country of origin. These Ethiopians abroad have responded to the call of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who invited them to participate en masse in the “Great Homecoming” operation (the “Great Return”) to support his administration after months of crisis.

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To bring them, Ethiopia has not skimped on the means. The government offered them 30% discounts on plane tickets with the national company Ethiopian Airlines. Tour operators and hotels have followed suit, offering promotions on tourist trips to Ethiopia. In order for Addis Ababa to present its best face, shoe shiners have been temporarily evacuated from uptown areas. And no less than eighteen events were organized in January – economic forums, religious festivals, blood donations… – around this operation.

Normalization message

The importance given to the diaspora, which numbers between 1.2 million and 3 million people in the world, is commensurate with the support that its members gave to Abiy Ahmed in the context of the Tigray war. In the United States in particular, where there are around 246,000, Ethiopians have regularly served as spokespersons for the authorities in Addis Ababa, engaged in a bloody conflict against the rebels of the Tigrayan Defense Forces (TDF) since November 2020.

The success of the hashtag #NoMore (#Enough) is one of the symbols of this rapprochement. This patriotic rallying cry, launched by the Ethiopian government on social networks, targets both the TDF rebels and the imperialist West and opposes the calls of the international community for a ceasefire. The diaspora in North America helped to amplify the slogan, brandished during demonstrations organized simultaneously in about twenty American cities on November 22, 2021.

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The massive arrival, for a few weeks, of these Ethiopians from abroad allows the government to send a message of normalization to the countries which evacuated their nationals in November. A rescue who can triggered at the time by the advance of the rebels, who approached less than 200 kilometers from Addis Ababa before retreating again towards Tigray.

While the Afar and especially Amhara regions still bear the scars of the last fighting, the authorities are facilitating freight operations so that the diaspora can provide assistance to these two provinces from which many Ethiopians in the United States originate. A group of friends, who came for the “Great Homecoming”, thus gathered around 10,000 dollars (8,800 euros) to help the survivors of the war. “We sent three trucks to the town of Dessie [en région Amhara] », welcomes the manager of a café known to be the meeting place for the diaspora in Addis Ababa. Kilograms of soap, oil and flour were transported to several destroyed areas of the province.

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Hen with golden eggs

According to the Ethiopian Diaspora Agency, 23,000 Ethiopians abroad have donated the equivalent of $5 million for the reconstruction of the two regions since October. Another two million dollars were raised to support the federal army.

Often described as a goose that lays golden eggs, the diaspora has long been invited to invest in Ethiopia for the long term. Already in 2018, shortly after coming to power, Abiy Ahmed had urged him to support his economic reforms and the construction of the great Renaissance dam on the Nile. The Prime Minister asked each of its members to pay the equivalent of a “macchiato” per day, or $1. The Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund, the non-profit organization responsible for raising these funds, received $8.5 million over two and a half years.

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“Transferring money through legal institutions, promoting the made in Ethiopia and investing can reduce our economic dependence as well as the external pressures weighing on Ethiopia”, declared the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Redwan Hussein, on January 12, in front of an audience of guests from North America.

The government is thus seeking to mitigate the effects of the Tigray war on the economy, such as the shortage of foreign currency and inflation. Among other consequences of the conflict, Washington excluded Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade agreement in early January, accusing Addis Ababa of human rights violations. Thanks to this “law on growth and development opportunities in Africa”, Ethiopia was able to export $245 million in tax-free goods to the United States in 2020, out of a total of $525 million. The backlash was immediate. Ethiopian leather exports to the United States, for example, have fallen by 64% since AGOA exclusion, according to Ethiopian Industry Minister Melaku Alebel.

“You have to bring dollars”

“It is an unfair decision, but the diaspora must be able to fill the void left by AGOA, it is our duty, said Kal Kassa, a bitcoin specialist based in Texas. You have to bring dollars to Ethiopia, consume locally, invest and go through the conventional banking system. The black market is killing our economy. »

The Ethiopian government seeks to create what Kal Kassa calls “patriotic spending”. However, few Ethiopians in the diaspora choose to rebuild their lives in their country of origin. “Investing in Ethiopia can be difficult for a businessman accustomed to the American system, recognizes Kal Kassa, who returned to live in Ethiopia for five years, from 2013 to 2018, before returning to the United States. Bureaucracy is a headache and regulation is cumbersome, especially in the areas of finance and telecommunications. » In early January, the city of Debre Birhan, located 130 kilometers north of the capital, made 500 hectares available to the diaspora wishing to invest in industrial projects. Only a dozen interested parties have come forward so far.

Above all, in the middle of the honeymoon, an event seriously weakened the patriotic momentum of the “Great Homecoming”. On January 7, Ethiopian Christmas Day, Abiy Ahmed granted amnesty to some thirty political prisoners, including six executives of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the matrix of the Tigrayan insurgency. A release that aroused the ire of officials in the Amhara region, and, by extension, many Ethiopians abroad from this province. A week later, 21 diaspora associations in North America protested in an open letter against “a suspicious, incomprehensible, inconsistent decision of dubious legality (…) which undermines national unity”.

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