“Government should eliminate black market to benefit more from diaspora remittance” -Idris Mohammad


The number of Ethiopians and Ethiopian origins that live in various parts of the world has reached more than 5 million. These people have lived for decades and have reached two to three generations. This number of people is as much as the population of many countries in the world.

To the best of their ability, the Ethiopian diaspora community has been contributing finance, knowledge as well as political support to their nation in different ways. Yet, as compared to their number and compared also with the activities of the diaspora communities of other countries that have fewer or equal diaspora populations, the Ethiopian diaspora needs to do a lot in the future, according to Idris Mohammad, President of the Ethiopian Diaspora Association.

During his stay with The recently, he has explained the salient contributions of the association since its establishment, the activities of the association since the onset of the reform process at home, as well the association’s plans. Have a nice read!

Would you please introduce us to your association briefly?

Ethiopian Diaspora association was established 15 years ago. In these 15 years, the association has established regional diaspora associations. These regional associations are accountable to the EDA and deal with issues of the diaspora in regions. The EDA has laid the foundation for this.

The Ethiopian Diaspora population has now reached about 5 million, according to information from IOM. Over 1 million live in the US, about 1 million in Europe, more than 2 million in the Middle East and various African countries. Diaspora is a permanent residence abroad or is a second, third generation. In addition, there are over 200 thousand bête Israelis which we consider as diaspora brothers and sisters. So if you calculate this, Ethiopia’s citizens abroad are about 5 million, which is equal to the population of some regional states.

The association doesn’t boast of having the capacity to serve all these numbers of the population. We do our best to remind them of their identity through the associations, communities in the respective areas of residence. The active embassies in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin …are also working actively on citizenship diplomacy regardless of their political stance, religion, ethnicity.

This is one of the outcomes of the change. It is only a beginning, but not a matter of perfection. What many people misunderstand Dr Abiy is because they need to change right now. Change is gradual. The conflicts that we see here and there are the same problems that Nelson Mandela encountered as he assumed the presidency. The expectation of native South Africans was very high. But what Madiba did is to treat every South African equally. He focused on building effective justice and institutional system. When we bring this to our country, Abiy came out from the previous system. We cannot deny this. He struggled within the system. He could have sustained the system. So the diaspora should understand that Abiy wants to bring about just change. We also believe this. 98 per cent of the diaspora endorses the change.

Never in the history of an African leader have we made a warm welcome to PM Abiy. Only Indian Americans have welcomed their PM this way. Ethiopians from America, Canada, Mexico Europe travelled to Minnesota and LA to welcome Abiy. This shows that all Ethiopians have accepted the change.

Even after the outbreak of the war in the north Abiy still has the acceptance of the vast majority. We can prove this when the call was made for one million diasporas to come home, many of them have accepted and come home. Had it not been for the shortage of air transportation even more could have come? This has proved the support of the diaspora. On top of that, the diaspora has made unlimited support in terms of money. That does not mean that there are no disgruntled members of the community.

The political upsurge at home has a direct effect on the diaspora. Yet Dr Abiy still enjoys popularity as a genuine leader among many Diasporas. He is the only leader democratically elected. This has to be respected, for the five years. The diaspora believes that we must give him a chance. Of ours, ether is some who have shifted their support. But it is possible. The majority of the diaspora was not interested in politics. They are now interested in politics, peace, etc.

Today and forever, what we agree on is, there is no difference in the issue of GERD. Whether in Tigray, Oromia, etc, our solidarity is still intact. No diaspora raised a problem on GERD.

Previously the diaspora affairs were handled by one directorate-general in MoFA. We requested the government to establish a ministry or agency for the diaspora. The government quickly responded to the request three years ago. The relevant department cannot continue at a level of directorate general because the diaspora has reached some 5 million. EDA cannot handle all these and cannot be fair either. We are an association but not a government agency. Immediately the government formed the Ethiopian Diaspora Agency with its budget with more than 60 staff members. The agency resumed the works that the association started like capacity building, education, health, knowledge transfer, etc.

During the last homecoming challenge for 1 million Diasporas, our welcoming was zero tolerant. The agency has done a lot in touring the diaspora to different places that are war-torn, devastated. We also contributed in cash up to 1 billion. Now with a group of the diaspora, we are visiting an elder’s care center in Meki. We went to Assosa, GERD, Dessie, Kombolcha, Shewa Robit through which we have shown our solidarity.

This is the first incident for the government to seriously take the capacity of the diaspora. There are a lot of things we are not satisfied with. But we give priority to national issues. To this end, we have formed a group. In the beginning, it was formed by 20 associations. By now it has reached 40. This will help us to fight during cases like HR 6600. We can campaign through various means to prevent our country from being a victim of fake news. It is going to be like an Ethiopian lobby group. Our oath is to support a legitimately elected Ethiopian government in any threat, domestic or abroad. Despite our differences, we will support our government.

Is the diaspora getting the treatment it expected?

Not yet. But we need to save our country first. This is not a time to put demands on our nation. We are not asking what my country can do for me. We are asking what I can do for my country. When my grandfather fought in .., and my father fought in Karamara he did his best to build a nation for me. And I will stand by the side of the government that shouldered a nation with all its troubles so that I can hand over a better country for the future generation. If we start to complain it will be opening a door for those who want to disintegrate our country.

What are the major achievements of our association in the last 15 years?

Since the celebration of the Ethiopian millennium (2007/8) the diaspora has played a big role in the expansion of the service industry. In addition, we have also played a big role in capacity building with universities. The diaspora has also contributed to the operation of glaucoma patients that are in ten thousand. It was coordinated by a teacher named Yassin in Saudi Arabia. We have also contributed to various industries.

The remittance from the diaspora has also increased highly for instance the annual remittance was 1.5 billion USD. But since the onset of the reform, the remittance has already hit 4.5 billion USD. This is only the official amount of remittance. But it doesn’t include the amount that people send informally. At this moment it is believed to have reached about 5.5 billion USD.

But compared with other countries having a fewer or equal population with us it is very small. For instance, Egypt’s annual remittance from the diaspora is up to 20 billion USD. Nigeria and Ghana also receive in double digits. Even Somalia has reached double-digit. So we have to ask why 5 million diaspora fails to send double-digit? There must be something wrong with our financial system. The fairness of the system and our market should be checked.

For instance during the last two months following the government’s call for the diaspora to change their currency through the bank, a lot of change was observed. Our campaign was also successful. The majority of the diaspora had shut the black market.

But the diaspora cannot always do this. So the government and security should do the job in a more coordinated manner. The government should license bureau de change to narrow the gap between the bank and the black market. Our neighboring countries have bureau de change. The difference with the bank is a few cents.

These bureau de changes are privately owned, licensed by the government. They change forex with minimum margin. The bureau then submits the forex to the National Bank with little profit. In general, the government should eliminate the black market. Otherwise, we will always remain at the 5.5 billion USD. The rest will be devoured by the black market.

Other countries like Korea, India and the Philippines have helped their country with remittance. The diaspora remittance can be considered as a budget. The government can also allocate or plan it as a budget for education, roads etc. Now the diaspora is contributing more than the export revenue.

What is your association working towards enabling the diaspora Ethiopia to learn about their history, culture and language, among others?

We have various events like the North America Ethiopians Football games, Ethiopians in Europe Football associations, among others are our cultural shows. We also have a plan to start similar shows in Israel. There is a Dubai annual festival too.

Another important event that is not given due attention by the incumbent is the Ethiopian Diaspora month or diaspora day. In the past, it used to take place every year from 20 December to the end of January. This will help us to maintain our cultural language… etc. So we urge the government to resume the festival.

Thank you very much!

Thank you

The March 5/2022

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