The Diaspora Politicians: Proper Reflection and Critical Appraisal

March 29, 2007

In the struggle that is waged, and going on for what seems forever now, to form a democratic society, many have taken part with great passion and determination. Every fund raising, protest march, vigil, lobby etc., is taken up by thousands throughout the world and these activities have served in, at least, keeping the spirit of Ethiopianess alive and also, rightly or wrongly, giving false hope against hope for millions who are inside the country.

This short article is aimed at, not so much as a response, but rather as an additional input to the important issues flagged by Ato Assefa Tola and followed by Ato Y H.Meskel as they appeared on www.ethiofact.com.

When we think of Ethiopians living outside the country as a unit, however amorphous it may be, and their endeavor to bring about the political change the mass always dream of, we would do a lot worse than to distinguish between those who lead the struggle and those who passively follow in the hope of paying their due to their beloved Ethiopia.

As with any other human societal activity, the political activities in the Ethiopian Diaspora is organised around the few who lead the pack. They set the trend, define the path, and lead the way or try to do all these and more at any rate. Whether they have succeeded in any thing is there for everyone to see.

The issues raised in the articles by Mr Tola and Mr H.Meskel states that, Diaspora Ethiopians’ political activities have contributed to the failure in achieving a better political system and to the detriment of the struggle that is waged at home. I happen to share this sentiment. I think the Diaspora Ethiopians’ immense wealth, be it in terms of educated manpower, finance and other resources, has not been used wisely so far to support the struggle inside the country.

Politics of the Diaspora Ethiopians have historically kept the glimmer of hope in the general population at home. But this is mainly due to the lack of any other hope; “KENA SITATA YIMELEMELAL GOBATA” sort of thing. If there was a viable entity nearer home, Ethiopians within the country would pin their hope on it. They did exactly that when some were available.

If we look at our recent history, the nearest the Ethiopian people got to freedom was during the recent May/05 election. The forces that brought about that situation were none other than strictly home-grown political organisations, only a couple of them at that. Those parties worked so hard for years shaping the political landscape and engaging the people in the struggle. Over the years, they knocked everyone’s door, reminded all, that freedom only comes through nothing other than hard, hard, hard work. The monumental achievement of those parties, who stood against EPRDF, was that, they re-kindled the spirit of demanding freedom as opposed to expecting it as a gift from afar. They made it possible and normal for Ethiopians to believe that freedom is in their grasp. It emboldened Ethiopians by asserting the profound truth that help from others such as the Diaspora and even further afield such as the so called “International Community” is really a secondary recourse. People were reminded that, it is their duty to stand up and be counted.

This galvanized the spirit of freedom and encouraged everyone to rise up and take part, vote and expect that whomever they voted for would represent their aspiration. Of course, the rest is history, a very recent history at that.

In contrast to the home-grown one, the Diaspora Ethiopians’ political movement in its entire history has hardly been able to affect any change in Ethiopia worth a mention, i.e. positive ones. In fact, with regard to the most recent drama, for the most part, the Diaspora was vehemently against standing for the election. And participation in the election was the primary measure that took the Ethiopian people nearest to being in charge of their destiny. When, despite their best effort, the Diaspora failed to prevent the participation, intrigue ruled the day. Although the Diaspora Ethiopians are not to blame for the entire failure of the political process at home, it is obvious that in the ensuing confusion some leading actors played a major role in undermining the domestic struggle.

Fantasy and Reality in the Diaspora Ethiopians’ Political Life:

The burning desire to uproot Weyane and form a just society is the sole driving power which keeps the ordinary Habesha immigrant community everywhere. They almost always follow and support the parties, organisations or support groups existing in their locality. However, for those who take the leading roles in these entities, the strategy followed to lead the struggle and the organisational efficiencies to hold a coherent path leaves a lot to be desired.

Their passionate speeches and Press Releases, promising a unified effort to unseat Weyane at various conferences, are much romanticized bordering fantasy. Soon after building up expectations, they falter on many fronts. They overestimate their own capacity to influence the course of events at home and elsewhere. They depend too much on closed circle consultations of dangerously like-minded long standing friends, thereby depriving their organisations and institutions the benefit of useful inputs from the vast pool of the Diaspora. Factions are formed with astonishing speed in these rather small entities, making them even more fragmented. Then, of course, intrigue becomes the next logical step to annihilate each other. This path invariably leads the Diaspora elites working day and night for the survival of their little fiefdoms i.e. Support Groups, Branch Offices, Parties etc. and the bigger picture of liberating and democratizing Ethiopia is set aside altogether.

May be not in so many words, but in all they do they advocate political struggle by remote control. They fail to realise that, everywhere in the world political victory for the masses is achieved solely by the shear force of local grass root politics. It always takes blood and sweat; and bearing the full brunt of the atrocities committed by the dictators. It involves getting crushed almost to extinction and evolving again painfully, slowly and methodically. It involves fighting the apathy of millions, apathy borne of despair, from decades of repression. These features don’t seem to have crossed the minds of those who tried to pass orders to the home-grown activists and their leaders. Of course, understandably, those back home tried their best to stand their ground and not be bullied. But circumstances at times were tricky. The flow of finance, or mostly the lure of it, must have tied some hands and silenced some mouths. Some must have genuinely thought that the Diaspora Ethiopians are a formidable political force. But more importantly the image of the Diaspora Politicians and the weight they carry in the minds of many at home has been a reason preventing many to state the fact that those outside the country can do very little to topple dictatorship at home. It was hard to dismiss them when the situation called for it. For decades now, the idea of liberating Ethiopia and Ethiopians by controlling the politics from thousands of miles away remained an abject failure. Not so surprising though.

Those who advocate the remote control of politics may be driven by their fervent passion to contribute towards the good of our country. But, of course, success and failure are not measured by how good the intention is but rather by the quality of the plan laid out, the efficiency of execution that followed and the result at hand.

The experience so far should teach everyone a lesson in many fronts. Those who played leading roles in Diaspora Ethiopians’ overall activities towards bringing about change in Ethiopia would be well advised to reflect and take a deep breath. They need to examine their contribution as well as their failures. They should look at their achievements for what they are, face to face, and be honest with themselves. Instead of trying to take control, they need to find ways of empowering the activists at home.

More importantly, those in the Diaspora who, for the most part, engage in participating to pay their due to Ethiopia, by taking part in various activities called for the various organisations, also need to examine and reassess their role. This is because ultimately, the achievement of the Diaspora Ethiopians is also the achievement of all – leaders and followers. So it goes with out saying that if we fail it will be the failure of everyone. In fact one can safely go a bit further and assert that the failure will be more ours than it is for the leading actors. Because whatever they came up with and however they behaved, they relied on our support. Therefore, we have to stop being taken for granted. There is also a need for a critical analysis of the organisations formed to lead the Diaspora struggle. Track records of leaders, validity of reasons why a faction or a splinter is formed, and other pertinent factors need to be seriously examined. Obviously, it is proper to pay credit where it is due. To that extent the hard working and tireless individuals and groups in the Diaspora whose passion and commitment perturbs the dictators at home needs to be praised. But this article is really not about them, rather why efforts like theirs remained to be much less fruitful than they ought to be.

All the above may sound disheartening and divisive for many. But look at it this way. With respect to what needs to be achieved, where we are is at the pit bottom. So it can only get better. A proper reflection and critical appraisal of all our activities so far can only be a stepping stone for a successful future. In this regard, I think the issue raised by Ato Assefa Tola and Ato Y H. Meskel is very useful in initiating the discourse for critical reflection and appraisal, to chart the right course of action and clarify a number of issues. So I say, take the bull by the horn.