The website of the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains that Ethiopia has 39 missions (embassies and consular offices) in Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa. These missions officially represent Ethiopia and poise to serve the Ethiopian Diaspora and Ethiopian-origin nationals. They also intend to encourage and facilitate the transfer of capital, technology, and science to Ethiopia. Since recent times, missions seem to aggressively work on 1) winning the hearts and minds of foreign investors particularly from the Arab world, India, and China, and 2) collecting funds for the construction of the “Grand Renaissance Dam”.
To what extent Ethiopian missions accomplish their missions? This is not for sure easy to answer mainly because information about the operations of the missions is not made readily available. But from media reports and mission-organized events, one could identify several areas where missions seem to perform inadequately.
In this paper, I highlight some of the weaknesses and limitations of Ethiopian missions, with a goal of inviting further discussions and then possible improvements in the way they do their jobs. Although missions might be somehow different in terms of their organizational capacity and readiness to change, it is argued that they do have several common traits as outlined below.
On Modern Slavery
Due to a whole set of socio-economic and political complications at home, Ethiopians are leaving their country in droves and for slavery. Thousands cross the Red Sea and the Sahara illegally and under life-threatening conditions. Several failed to make it to their destinies- they perished along the way. Several are stolen of their internal organs; several are raped, tortured, and indefinitely detained. Those who luckily reached their destinations are equally vulnerable to mistreatments of all sorts. They are forced to work under inhuman and hard-to-believe conditions. In a way, one could argue that Ethiopia is a witness to the revival of medieval period slave trade.
Several Ethiopian activists and some international organizations have started exposing such atrocities. What is surprising and worrisome is the silence of Ethiopian missions in relation to this titanic-big problem. Although everyone has that natural right to live anywhere in the world, it should be a moral responsibility to our missions to ‘cry’ for those challenged people. Missions were/are expected to make clear statements to the government in Ethiopia and even to other governments and international organizations. Moreover, they were/are expected to well support those Ethiopian victims, especially those in the Middle East and Africa.
Rather, there are several missions that sort of facilitate the immigration of Ethiopian teenage girls to the Arab world. To me, this must be one of the most embarrassing failures of 21st century diplomatic missions. If embassies and consulates do not care about suffering Ethiopians, who else is supposed to be responsible? One could argue that our missions do not have the organizational and resource capacity to do that. To me, this holds no water; if they do not have the resource base to accomplish tasks like this, it is easy to mobilize the Ethiopian Diaspora and other organizations. Resource is not and should not be a problem but motivation and readiness and belief is. Media are working a lot to mitigate modern-day slavery whereas missions are busy sustaining and scaling it up. Missions do not adequately support and galvanize even legally residing Diaspora Ethiopians, too.
On the Ethiopian Diaspora
As the websites of nearly all Ethiopian missions maintain, they have that responsibility to serve the Diaspora regardless of their backgrounds. Unfortunately, our missions intentionally exclude the majority. Mission-organized fund raising events such as those related to the “Grand Renaissance Dam” and even cultural festivities are reserved for government sympathizers and members. Partly because of this, the Diaspora are relentlessly disrupting those events.
This happened in South Africa, Europe, and North America. The latest and perhaps the most embarrassing one (to mission officials) happened in Norway (in Oslo and Stavanger) and San Diego where the opposition forced the cancellations of the fund-raising events. From video releases, it is easy to see how painful those happenings were to mission officials. If missions do not change tactics and strategies, their very existence is less justifiable- let alone contributing to the construction of the grand dam. Stated simply, our missions failed to accommodate the needs and expectations of the Diaspora. Expectations are clear and simple: to first dam injustices of all sorts. Excluding, by design or accident, the Diaspora has serious implications when it comes to political civility, development back home, and national image.
On National Image
Our missions, along with other duties, are supposed to create and maintain a good image of Ethiopia. But due to their failure to accommodate the now powerful Diaspora, the events they organize usually turned unsuccessful. Because of the opposition, they are forced to interrupt their meetings. The hotels where they rent meeting halls and the guests thereof see the tag of wars between the Diaspora opposition and mission officials. Such people see the wide gap between the missions and the Diaspora. This will surely create a bad impression of Ethiopian politics and Ethiopia generally.
On Knowledge Transfer
Ethiopia is one of the few African countries that is most affected by brain drain. Best educated and experienced Ethiopians are working in western institutions and in international organizations. Thanks to advances in information and communications technologies, it was/is quite possible to employ such precious brains to the development of Ethiopia. Our diplomatic missions have the possibility and moral mandate to mobilize the educated Diaspora. Unfortunately, only a limited number of the Diaspora are given the chance to serve their country while residing abroad. Several experts had applied to freely serve their people back home but their applications did/do not succeed for unexplained reasons. Instead, expatriates (from India and Nigeria) are flooding Ethiopian higher education institutions and are paid three times higher than the salaries of Ethiopian professionals.
One could argue that the educated Diaspora do not support the regime back home. My take is that one does not have to support a given government/party to serve his/her own people in his/her profession. It is indeed their natural right even to oppose the governing party. The government is our missions must adhere to genuine democratic governance and the rule of law. If these are fulfilled, many highly educated Ethiopian Diaspora would not hesitate to serve their people.
Ethiopian missions could, in addition to their consular/visa-related services, embark on ambitious and more significant projects. They do have all the opportunities to exploit the talent and resource of the Ethiopian Diaspora. They could learn from foreign countries’ democratic ideals and practices. In a way, they could be change agents when it comes to Ethiopian politics and economics.
This is possible if and only if they start to be dictated by logic, reason, evidence and principles of human rights versus party affiliation and mere indoctrination. Missions need not limit their missions to the service of governing parties: they are supposed to represent Ethiopia as a nation. They should also consult the government on such key strategic issues as the rule of law, democratic governance, and generally freedom of all sorts. But before that, they have to make sure that they themselves believe in and advance democratic cultures and alternative voices. Reducing ambassadorial role to 1) the collection of small funds from a limited number of the Diaspora, and 2) the invitation of foreigners to cheaply invest in Ethiopia is nothing but a miscalculation and misrepresentation of national interest.