13 April 2018

Ethiopia: Diaspora's Economic Involvement - a Boon to Domestic Efforts

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(file photo).

In his inaugural speech Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed boldly vowed that all doors will remain open to embolden active participation of Ethiopian diaspora across different spheres while calling on them to return to homeland with financial and expertise investments.

The Premier's invitation resonated to all Ethiopian Diasporas living across the world whose number is believed to stand more than two million with the majority slice residing in North America, Middle East and Europe.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognizing the immense untapped potentials of the diaspora to socio-economic development of their country, came up with various policies and institutional arrangements to create platforms where the Diasporas can engage in.

The Diaspora's economic Contribution usually comes as remittance, investment and other supports, says Meles Alem, Spokesperson of the Ministry. Explaining further, Meles states "The amount of remittance, which was only 141 million USD in 2003, has shown impressive increase in 2017, 4.6 billion dollar. Its GDP share also hits over 5 percent. Even in the last three years remittance revenue exceeds that of the export or foreign trade."

Regarding investment, Meles underscores that despite slight improvements, Diasporas involvement falls short compared to their numbers.

"More than 4000 members of the diaspora have shown interest and been supported to be engaged in various investment sectors of which manufacturing and other sectors in the last three years." the Spokesperson adds.

He also raises the heartfelt support of the Diasporas in flagship projects like that of The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The Ethiopian Diaspora so far purchased 1.3 billion Birr bond. The Middle East residing Diasporas have contributed the largest amount of money, 610 million birr followed by their fellow brothers in Africa and America, an amount of 224 and 196 million Ethiopian Birr respectively, as per the Spokesperson.

Meles also says that with financial support for the GERD, which necessarily does not only refer the bond issue, the contribution of the Ethiopian Diasporas transcends to public relation works advocating about the GERD's transferring knowledge and skills. For instance, Meles adds: "Ethiopia Engineers, Economists, International Water Law experts and other professionals have established association called 'Ethiopian International Support for Abay' to provide knowledge based contribution for the dam."

Abraham Seyoum is the Director of the Ethiopian Diaspora Association established in 2012. The association serves as bridge between the Diasporas and the Ethiopian government for the protection of their rights and interests. The Association also provides timely information regarding policies and strategies which Ethiopia pursues for the Ethiopians abroad.

He indicates that about 10 to 20 Diasporas visit his office daily to get help on issues like investment license and land which he considers it to be a promising figure. "Steps taken by the government to grant an ID card for the Diasporas, already have citizenship of country they are living in with few restrictions unlike other countries treatment of dual citizenship, was a big contribution. The government's decision to dedicate a 'National Diaspora Day' is also another significant step in mobilizing Diasporas to domestic economic activities," he adds.

But for the Director the issue is not about the increasing number of Diasporas coming to invest, it is a way the government treats them to exploit what is in their hand. "Let alone the Ethiopians Diaspora, eyes of investors from all corners of the world are fixed at Ethiopia. We have visiting Diasporas who want to invest in construction, hotel, tourism and others." he stressed.

According to Abraham, the Ethiopian government goes a long way to make a policy. There are also several incentives to encourage the Diasporas to investment like that of credit and tax exempted entry of raw materials. But there are still problems in the implementation of the policies. Likewise the Ethiopians at home, the Diasporas also face bad governance and bureaucracies. These hurdles should be addressed so that the Diasporas realize their dream of supporting their countries.

The role of the Diaspora in boosting socio-economic development of their country of origin is invaluable. The efforts undertaken by the government are rewarding as the Diaspora involvement in the country's development effort increases.

Therefore, as to Abraham, addressing the bureaucratic bottlenecks the Diasporas face would further allow them to make greater contribution.

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