Ethiopian Diaspora Year - Time to scale up diaspora engagement

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AsnakeDebebe
Migration is a phenomenon as old as humanity. However, its causes and scale spiraled with the advent of globalization. Toda, it is estimated that more than 200 million people live outside their birth place. That is almost 3.3% of the world population and it is estimated that the figure is rising by 2.9% annually.
Ethiopia is among the countries who exhibit high levelof migration. It  is  estimated  that  not  less  than  2  million  people of Ethiopian  origin are living  in   North  America,  Europe,  the  Middle  East,  Australia  and  other African nations.

Researches indicate that the migration of Ethiopians peaked during theperiod between 1978 and 1995. The politicaloverthrow of the Ethiopian Imperial Government in 1974, the independence struggle of Eritrea, the war between Ethiopia and Somalia between 1977 and 1978, and the civil conflict in Sudan and Somalia in the 1980s have all been mentioned as major catalysts of large scale migration.
Moreover, Ethiopians who were abroad, mostly for education, before the advent of the military regime, chose to remain in their respective countries. 
Due to the  dictatorial  behavior  of  the  regime,  educated  people  in  the  country  and  farmers  who  reside near  borders of  neighboring  countries  lost  their  hope  and  were  obliged  to  leave  the  country. Without considering citizens who left to other destinations, this made Ethiopia the top ten sources of migration in North America.  
An academic paper published byMaastricht Graduate School of Governance (MGSoG)indicates that:

"Until the early 1990s, Ethiopia was one of the largest producers of migrants in Africa.....the number of refugees from Ethiopia increased from 55,000 in 1972 to over a million in 1992. Even though Ethiopia has experienced migratory flows throughout its history, the movement of Ethiopiancivilians became substantially greater in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Especially after the 1974 revolution, large migration flows started to arise. Most of the migrants from Ethiopia were refugees, escaping political conflict, famine, and persecution, often by their own government.
The refugees from Ethiopia are depicted as “[…] a mass of fleeing individuals primarily interested in safely and quickly reaching neighboring countries”.
After the demise of the military regime and the coming in to power of the EPRDF, the situation changed fundamentally. Most of the reasons that have forced Ethiopian to flee en-mass have faded.
Indeed, there is still a high level of migration. However, motives to migrate have changed over time. Now, Ethiopian migrants are motivated byeconomic motives.
The above mentioned academic paper of MGSoG) states that:

"International migration flows out of Ethiopia are relatively small. The World Bank cites an emigration rate of 0.6 percent of the population in 2005, which amounts to a stock of 445,926 persons."
Despite these improvements, the post-1991 era had its own new challenges.
With the Constitutional recognition of the right to free movement and the unprecedented access to global information, Ethiopians citizens continued  to  travel  to  other  countries to  get  higher  education  opportunities,  get  jobs and  other opportunities in foreign countries opportunities.

The main factor of migration has become seeking job opportunities and low level development in developing countries and the presumed availability of conducive atmosphere and opportunities in thedeveloped world.
Ethiopian migrants use both legal and illegal channels. The sad thing is however even those who use legal channels, such as DV Lottery Visa or work visa in middle-east, oftenlack the requisite preparedness to succeed in the destination country. Studies have shown that Ethiopian migrants generally waste1-3 years of their productive age in neighboring countries (such as Kenya, Djibouti, or Somalia) before immigrating to the west.
In fact, it can be argued that even legal migration negatively affects migrants, their family and also the wider public. Migration drains educated man power of the source country.

It is also observed that citizen’s contribution for their country,  while  they  are  outside  of  their  home land,  is  limited  compared  to  their  contribution while living in their home country.
Nonetheless, stopping the movement of people from place to place is difficult and also not desirable. Moreover, there are already millions of Ethiopians in foreign countries.
Therefore, the prudent approach is to the matter is a two-sided one. Those are: Mitigate the negative aspects of the migration and create an arrangementtoengage Ethiopian Diaspora communities'role in technological and knowledge transfer, institutional and human development and technical assistance and investment.  
With regard to the first, the government has been working to curb illegal human trafficking networks and improve the preparedness of those who travel on work visa arrangements to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.

Since 2012, the government has been taking strict measures to minimize and protect migrant domestic workers abroad especially in the Middle East. A National Council against Human Trafficking, chaired at Deputy Prime Minister Level, to encourage awareness of the dangers of human trafficking, has been set up and also launched a National Movement against Human Trafficking to reinforce its effort to curb this awful practice.
In conjunction with that, a National Taskforce had been set up with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the National Intelligence and Security Service and the Federal Police to find ways to stop illegal migration by Ethiopian nationals and safeguard the interests and rights of Ethiopians working abroad.
Similarly, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has taken stricter measures.The Ministry closed down a total of thirty three agencies for involvement in illegal trafficking of domestic workers this year. It has also banned travel for unregistered domestic workers to the Emirates.

With regard to the second, the government has been consistently working to create an inviting environment for an active participation of the Ethiopian Diaspora in the national development process such as, in human capital, transfer of knowledge, technology, skills and expertise as well as other benefits that can be generated from a cooperation between Government and the Diaspora in financial, cultural and political areas.
The Government has done a great deal to firmly establish involvement of the Diaspora community in the country’s affairs, ranging from keeping the Diaspora community abroad properly informed on developments in the country’s economic, social and political environment, to working proactively to make the Diaspora active stakeholders in the country’s renaissance.

It had also formulated a Diaspora policy and particular mechanisms for engaging the Diaspora in these processes, with a clear objective of:
"Building a strong relationship between Diaspora and their country of origin and  encouraging  and  facilitating  conducive  environment  for  participation  of Diaspora on ongoing peace and democratization building process to benefit their county  and  to  benefit  from  their  engagement  and  to  preserve  their  rights  and interests abroad are the main objectives of the Policy."
Among the main goals and directions of the diaspora policy:
•    Formulating  a  system  of  registration  of  members  of the Ethiopian Diaspora
•    Issuing  consular  identity  cards  for  those  who  have  no  resident permit  abroad;  in  order  to  reach  out  to  them  in  times  of  need  and promote their participation in development activities.
•    Encouraging efforts to conclude labor agreements with the countries where there is a huge number of Ethiopian Diaspora.
•    Federal,  and  regional'  investment  offices  and  stakeholders would  be  encouraged  to  provide  all  round  services  at  one place, support members of Diaspora that will come up with project  proposals,  and  want  to  participate  on  various  areas of investment.
•    The  Ethiopian  Diaspora  shall  be  promoted  to  involve  and share their experiences in import-export, tour organizations, market  intelligence  areas,  brokerages  and  salesmanship activities.
•    Special  promotion,  and  credit  services  package  shall  be prepared  for  members  of  the  Diaspora  who  wish  to participate  in  identifying,  producing  and  distributing commodities  especially  traditional  handcraft  products  that can be marked in countries where large number of Diaspora reside.
•    Package programs shall  be  prepared  to  encourage visiting foreign  families  who  adopt  Ethiopian  children  andyoungsters to  visit  Ethiopian  historical  and  natural  tourist sites and thereby promote our tourism resources.
•    Employment opportunities will be provided for the Diaspora based on  their  request  to  serve  in  governmental  institutions,  education and  health  sectors  etc. with  their  profession  and  experiences on a temporary  or  permanent  basis  in  accordance  with  government regulations.
•    Professionals  who  have  special  skills  and indicate interest  to  work in  research and  consultancy  that  the  government  gives  special focus on will be encouraged.
•    On the  job  training  programs  in  governmental  and  non-governmental  institutions  for  young Diaspora students  attending their higher education overseas will be facilitated.
•    A mechanism will be put in place where Ethiopian Diaspora in the Middle  East  and  neighboring  countries will  attend  their  higher education through  distance  learning;  community  schools  shall  be strengthened and expanded.
•    Donated  materials  obtained from  the  Diaspora in  the  process  of knowledge and technology transfer shall be facilitated to enter the country without delay and serve their purpose.
•    Cultural  centers  will  be  established  in  foreign  countries  where many  Ethiopian  community  associations  exist  to  encourage Ethiopian  Diaspora  to  develop  skills  and  knowledge  on  their country’s languages, cultures and history.
•    A program to be named “Know Ethiopia Program-KEP”, learning Ethiopian  languages  and  cultural  participation would  be designed to  help  youth  Diaspora develop  strong  attachment  towards  their country of origin.
•    Mechanisms will be in place to allow Ethiopians with permanent resident permit in other countries but living in Ethiopia to take part in elections at any nearest possible polling station.
•    Diaspora  goodwill  donations  free  from  any  religious  and  political attachments  will be  mobilized  and  their  proper  utilization  will be  realized.......and a system aimed at broadening their voluntary contributions will be established.
This political commitment and the institutionalization of Diaspora policies have resulted in significant changes so far.
In the economic sphere in particular, where participation is most visible and most substantial, Diaspora engagement is very encouraging.  As of the beginning of 2014, nearly 3000 members of the Diaspora community are involved in investment in different sectors
The amount of capital involved amounts to close to 23 billion birr. This substantial investment portfolio not only makes its own contribution to the overall economic growth of the country, it also, and as importantly, has created more than 125 thousand jobs in the country. 
The contribution of the Ethiopian Diaspora to the economy, however, is not limited to investment and job creation. Between July 2011 and March 2014 alone, Ethiopia received more than 5.6 billion US dollars in the form of remittances from Ethiopians living abroad.
Considering the significant current account imbalance of the country and the huge infrastructure projects being constructed under the Growth and Transformation Plan, these remittance receipts are indeed important. Equally, the amount of foreign money transfers is expected to increase in the near future.
Among specific examples is the engagement of the Ethiopian diaspora of Tigrai origin. As it was disclosed in the recent Tigrai diaspora festival by the Regional State President, AbayWoldu:
"The engagement of investors and business people from the Diaspora in agriculture, industry, construction, hotels and tourism showed steady growth, and now amounted to 1.7 billion birr. He told the meeting that the engagement of the Diaspora at the regional level in some 255 development projects had so far created more than 5, 000 jobs."
However, there is more to be done to enhance the role of the Ethiopian diaspora.
The next Ethiopian year, 2007, which is labeled as the “Ethiopian Diaspora Year” should be used in a concerted manner to move beyond the successes achieved so far and attain a more effective mobilization of the Diaspora in different socio-economic and political matters.