Pessimism and Ethiopian Politics in the Diaspora

By Seble Teweldebirhan

Addis Ababa, October 28, 2012 ( – Ethiopians have continuously chosen and sometimes forced by circumstances to leave their country and reside in different parts of the world. The dispiriting politics that failed to improve and tolerate opposite views, extreme poverty and the desire to enjoy better standard of living in other parts of the world and so many other causes made Ethiopians frontrunners when it comes to immigration.

Decades later, one way or another, this massive Diaspora has a significant role to play in the Ethiopian social, political and economic setup. While the social and economic aspects are independent agendas, the politics from abroad is the focus of this article. The Diaspora has been playing a considerable part in the inside politics of Ethiopia by establishing opposition parties, support the existing parties by finance and expertise, shape debate agendas and give influential opinions and suggestions in both the ruling party and the opposition side.

As much as this contribution deserves appreciation, nowadays there seems to be a general opinion that some parts of opposition in the Diaspora is becoming frequently pessimistic about Ethiopia and refuse to recognize facts and the realities of the country on the ground. Regardless of infinite problems and complications inside the homeland, the opposition in the Diaspora is now accused by some parts of the community here in the country of unjustified antagonism without concrete alternative suggestions or comprehensible strategy for the situation.

Ethiopia’s regions

Since many of opposition leaders, journalists, intellectuals and several other opinion leaders reside especially in western nations, it is a fact that the inside politics is likely to be influenced by their attitude and perception. In fact, for the last several decades, this has been the case for Ethiopia. The military regime Derg spent its entire time fighting with rebel and opposition groups from inside the country, who one way or another were supported and financed by Ethiopians abroad.

For the last two decades, several opposition parties of the current regime emerged in western nations. Parties were established in several European and North American countries. Even those established inside the country are largely financed and shaped by the views of the opposition in the Diaspora. Usually most opposition party leaders and their members end up in those nations influencing the Ethiopian politics from the outside. Especially after the current regime constantly failed to tolerate resistance and narrowed the spectrum of the opposition with several stiff laws and policies, for many opponents the western nations are safe zones where they can express their antagonism with no limits. The claim of this article is there should be a limit since endangering the stability and security of the country and working against the national interest of the nation just because there is no fear of immediate punishment should be at least morally unacceptable.

Recently, Ethiopia went through several significant changes. One of the main surprises of the Ethiopian politics this year was the death of long-time leader Meles Zenawi. While for the most part his death created worries and insecurities for many in the country (for both who supported and opposed his rule), the opponents from abroad did not help to calm the public down. Instead, through social media, blogs, Facebook and other outlets, they forwarded numerous predictions saying that post Meles Ethiopia will be characterized by bloodshed. Especially after the Ethiopian Muslims take on demonstrations claiming the government should stop interfering in their religious affairs, the opinions coming from abroad presented most opponents as opportunists who wait to use the unfortunate situations of the country for their own advantages.

Those who lived in the western world too long to realize the current situations in Ethiopia or lived too short to rightly perceive how democracy and respect come about in their new environment suddenly became experts and suggest revolutions and, in some cases, civil war. Some, who hold grudge against the ruling party (hopefully not with the Ethiopian people) for whatever reason, dare to take their revenge by comments and opinions that will endanger the youth and the nation in general. Others, without deep assessment of the situation in Ethiopia (with an economy that wouldn’t last and support citizens for a few days if the country stops functioning, diversity and so many other factors), by just taking Egypt and Tunisia as an example, intentionally ignoring Syria and Libya blindly push a movement that must at least arise from the inside and not from abroad.

The surprise is, in most cases, the idea for a revolution, conflict and a civil war comes from individuals who ran away from the country because some government body threatened them over the phone or text message, or they thought security forces are following them. It is obvious that the violent consequence of revolution or any other conflict is far from what they can handle. Opponents who think that spending a few years in Kaliti prison is the best price they could pay to improve the nation mostly try to dictate about a conflict for the Ethiopian youth to make change happen.

Now, this article should not be perceived that things in Ethiopia do not need change. Certainly, the country is way behind on several fundamental issues including democracy and respect for human rights. For those of us living in the country this does not really need a yelling from abroad or international human rights institutions: living inside Ethiopia is a better proof than any data or assessment we can get from outside organs. The country is far from anything one can call free or fair. I would also like to state that when I say the Diaspora, I am talking about the few who appear to have radical ideas especially in the elctronic media, and not the majority who are probably much more sensible and going on with their daily lives as usual.

Having said that, it is a good thing for the nation to have as many people as possible who advocate democracy and respect for human rights in a rational and sensible manner. However, shouting the mere need for a change and trying to impose emotions and distractive means for the achievement of change does not make a convincing opponent or political activist.

As a culture, the opposition both inside the country and abroad takes the logo ‘change’ and never really think or plan through how that would become a reality. For decades, in whatever little chance the opposition got to address the general public, they failed to convince the public on the alternatives. Mostly they seem to succeed in misleading the majority in the Diaspora and Ethiopians with access to other outlets.

It is a surprise, those who were respected for their balanced analysis and logical opinions on the ruling party, suddenly changed and lost their qualities when they become fugitives. It is possible to name names under this article. However, I assume that many of my readers are familiar with some prior respected personalities, intellectuals and journalists who swiftly went on to wish the nation fall apart and its youth take arms all over again. While they live in nations where change happened mostly through peaceful means and tolerance with no bloodshed or destruction of the country, the reason for their longing to see Ethiopians in war with each other is indeed bewildering.

The only place where one can openly witness Ethiopians being publicly disrespectful, bitter, insulting and intolerant of any differing ideas is by checking out the opposition Diaspora and their outlets. The most disgusting name naming, insults, labeling, narrow ethnicity, defamation, religious intolerance and other expressions that are far from any democratic principles or respect in general are now becoming the defining characters of the opposition politics in the Diaspora. It is unfortunate to learn that these distractive attitudes and negative energy are not only from the ordinary opposition Diaspora who might not know better about how to play on the opposite side, but also from the highly respected, educated and once promising future leaders. The most tedious media outlets of Ethiopia, ETV and its counter parts, are doing a much better job in relative terms since they at least mostly use politically correct terms to discredit and disrespect their opponents.

We must ask: is it really because the opposition in the Diaspora have given up on peaceful transition of power and democracy in the country, or are they looking for a shortcut to power at the expense of the current Ethiopian youth? Or, may be as some suggest, are they using the politics to reflect their personal frustration and failer to achieve whatever goal they had set in life?

It is foreseeable that many of opposition leaders and opponents against the government will not be in the country if a civil war, conflict or a revolution arises (as they continuously wish), since they are too important to risk their personal safety. Indeed, that is not expected from personalities who run away from prison sentence and the mistreatment by security officers. Therefore, the only tangible assessment of their continuous dictation and prediction for conflict and bloodshed in the country is that they might hope that when it is all over, there will be a place for them in a new born nation that will obviously start from scratch.

For any rational person, it is too early in Ethiopian context to give up on democracy, respect for human rights and peaceful transition of power. The country dared to even use these terms only for the last two decades. The decades might have been painful and long for those who had to suffer by the unfulfilled promises of the constitution and the current regime in general. It is also expected to have divergent and, in some cases, extreme opinions and conflicts here and there since the country is still experimenting with change at snail’s pace.

It is also notable that EPRDF is not making the living environment here at home easier. In many cases, one has to walk a tight rope to do or say anything seen political. This can be very frustrating, especially to those who have seen much better abroad. However, it is impossible to deny that the long walk towards the concepts of democracy and good governance has at least begun.

Democracy and respect for human rights is a process. It will obviously require commitment from several consecutive generations. The history of many nations who relatively reached a better level shows that there is a painful price to pay and endless scarifies to give in order to achieve respect for human rights. It has never been something countries achieve overnight and that will never be the case in the future. That is because these two things, human rights and democracy, are not mere laws that will be implemented and forced upon a society. They involve change in culture, attitude and life style. They also require fundamental changes in consciousness and perceptions of the majority including those of the leaders who are also part and reflection of how the society understands democracy and human rights.

It takes time, especially in countries like Ethiopia, to take on democratic attitude and start valuing the individual through respect for human rights. Unlike what some from the Diaspora might assume, that attitude does come from mere change of geography on their side. We see many proof in the Diaspora that democratic attitudes do not come by assimilating oneself with the citizens of western nations. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have so many distractions from opposition leaders in the Diaspora who dictate intolerance and conflict to achieve democracy.

Why are some of the opposition in the Diaspora extremely pessimistic towards the country? What does it mean to wish bloodshed on ones brothers and sisters? Why is that some in the Diaspora believe there is no way for peaceful transition of power? Why can’t they believe in peaceful resistances (like civil disobedience), instead of taking arm to fight? And most importantly, if change is all they aspire in their lives, why don’t they stay at home and sacrifice a bit so that their children will have a better nation and a brighter future?

In African context, belonging to an opposition and may be a rebel group might not be necessarily a life call for the individual and it is evidently a profitable business. Those who belong to oppositions have a better acceptance by western nations. Recognizing the unpredictability of African politics, western nations choose to be kind to opposition groups who might become the leaders or at least influential figures. It is obviously in their nation’s best interest, if one day they wish to wipe out certain government may be by helping rebel groups, to keep oppositions groups on their side and put them in power. As a result, scholarships and proper shelters are easily accessible for those who belong to opposition groups.

For some, once abroad establishing a political party or having one in the first place is notably like a treasure. There are so many Ethiopians abroad, who mostly out of good faith to see a better future for their nation and believing in the promises, participate and finance these parties. In the past many active political parties have reportedly collecting millions from Ethiopians abroad only to end up fighting with each other in the most disgracing manner and working against the best interests of the nation. No reports are available so far about the audit and what really happens to all the money they collect in the name of their parties. Therefore, it is reasonable to doubt the intention of the opposition in the Diaspora especially when their request becomes irrational and frustrating.

Certainly, there are many who are committed to their cause and play by the rules and principles they preach. However, especially recent events prove that, the energy we are receiving from the opposition Diaspora is negative and discouraging, underlining that alternatives for the current troubles of the country are far from sight and the opposition is mainly based on mere abhorrence and retribution.

In general, it is my opinion that those who have a defined cause to oppose the current regime and believe in respect for human rights and democracy, certainly live by those principles. It should never be a part time job, and it shouldn’t be a mere contest since the consequences of their words and their action is way too serious to play with it. Once in the action, it is a must never to run away and keep fighting against powers that a lot stronger. They also have to learn to play by the rules of the very essence they fight for, which are democracy, tolerance of differing opinions and respect for all human beings. Even when they know the fight might cost their life without achieving their desired goals, I assume these leaders would believe on the next generation to keep their cause alive and make it happen.

Otherwise, as a view it is absolutely OK and acceptable to live a personal life abroad. It is most certainly expected one to worry about one’s nation, but it is also important to make sure if one is capable of dictating on such a serious matter for a nation that is fragile and struggling to make it to the next day. The current approach by some parts of the opposition in the Diaspora, intellectuals and journalists of always predicting the worst, hate speeches and terrorizing posts on social media and other outlets and blind opposition to anyone are all most certainly irresponsible, disloyal and uncalled for by Ethiopians who are patient and aspire for a logical and well-thought means to improve the status of democracy and human rights in the country.

Seble Teweldebirhan is Addis Ababa based Reporter for She can be reached by sending email through this form

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