25 July 2018

Ethiopia: Barrier-Busting Leader Recruits Ethiopian Diaspora in U.S.

Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Twitter
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Washington, DC — Ethiopia's energetic, headline-making prime minister, will visit the United States this week "with the sole purpose of engaging #Ethiopia's large Diaspora community," according to a Tweet early today from Fitsum Arega, his chief of staff.

Dr Abiy Ahmed – Africa's youngest head of government at age 41 – has astonished everyone with his breath-taking initiatives: making peace with neighboring Eritrea after 10 years of war plus 20 years of hostilities; helping mend a three-decade split in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; backing an ambitious health and development agenda; and calling for multi-party democracy in a country that has never had it. And that's only since he took office on 2 April.

The Prime Minister is scheduled to visit Washington D.C. on 28 July, followed by one-day trips to Los Angeles and Minneapolis. There has been no announcement of meetings with U.S. government officials.

A website created for the tour says the focus on the Diaspora "reinforces the concern the PM has already shown with regard to the welfare and dignity of Ethiopians around the globe."

Visitors are encouraged to submit questions for the prime minister to answer.

Healing a 27-Year ecclesiastical divide

The Ethiopian government says Abiy will take part in a ceremony in Washington to formalize an accord ending a 27-year long rift between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Ethiopia and in the United States.

A meeting with members of the church's U.S. synod, including Patriarch Abuna Markorios, is "the first order of business" for Abiy – "to underscore the importance of this accord," the ytip website says.

Engaging diverse Ethiopian American groups

Preparations have been underway since early May, when a committee composed of civic groups and representatives from Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs began coordination planning with local subcommittees in the United States. The cities on Abiy's schedule "were selected as convenient centers to those commuting from across the United States," the website says.

The prime minister will seek support for his newly announced  Diaspora Trust Fund, designed to "boost savings and investment, as well as support collective national initiatives."

The theme for the trip - Tear Down Barriers and Build Bridges – is an effort to reach across deep political and ethnic divisions among Ethiopians in the United States, reflecting divisions in Ethiopia itself. The committees planning the visit include "disparate religious, political, ethnic views and beliefs - previously not known to have worked together as a cohesive unit to achieve a common goal," the website says.

"They have joined in order to contribute freely; without reservation or limitation. Followers of all persuasions and beliefs are still welcome to join this cause, with either supporting or opposing views."

Reporting the planned visit to Minneapolis, the StarTribune quoted city leaders appealing to the Ethiopian leader to "help end conflict"  between Oromo and Somali communities. The paper said Minnesota has the largest populations of Somalis and Oromos in the United States.

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