By Maru Gubena
As can be recalled, even though Ethiopian students were in Europe and the United States earlier, the history of the Ethiopian Diaspora began with the upheaval of the bloody 1974 Ethiopian revolution. This can be characterized as the beginning of the darkest years in the history of Ethiopia itself and its people. Over time, internal strife among individuals and groups seeking power continued and became a permanent source of political instability and a bottleneck to the formation of civil societies and the rule of law, including processes of democratization; the fragile economy continued to deteriorate considerably; the number of Ethiopians suffering from poverty and disease increased substantially; and the Ethiopian Diaspora grew to a remarkable level. It has grown not just in numbers but also in socio-economic potential and influence, which extends to both national and international bodies and to influence on both peace and war, through the roles those in the Diaspora play as scientists and academics and in discussions with diplomats.
Regrettably and disappointingly, however, and despite our considerable expansion in numbers, the increasingly percentage who have a high level of education, the economic resources we have been able to earn and are still earning – and despite the respect we have gained from our countries of asylum or immigration as honest, peaceful and hardworking people – the Ethiopian Diaspora lives in a manner comparable to rural or semi-urban Africans who work in industries located in a country ruled by a totalitarian regime where workers are not allowed to establish their own labour unions. Yes, even while living in the so called land of the free and in the face of needs that are enormous and urgent, to this day the Ethiopian Diaspora lacks professional organizations and institutions of its own that are capable of operating internationally from their own buildings, with office spaces and trained personnel where socio-economic and political strategies to further the well-being of the many-sided interests of the Ethiopia Diaspora and the complex issues facing our county can be discussed, developed, formulated and carried out. The Ethiopian Diaspora does not have such vitally important and respected organizations and institutions, although they would be conducive to reviving our morale and the lost feelings of patriotism, love and respect that our ancestors had for their country and for each other. They are also needed to help to restore or develop a culture of working and living together in a responsible way, so that we can directly influence and be an indispensable part of the forces of socio-economic and political change in our country, playing a substantial role in defending each member of our community in times of unexpected difficulties. That is, our current situation is not because we lack the necessary knowledge, professional skills and economic resources, but rather due to the tragic division and disunity that began at the time of the cruel period known as the Red Terror. The forces of division and disunity that came into being during the early years of the Ethiopian revolution were gradually expanded and became rife in the hearts and minds of a huge section of Ethiopian society, both at home and abroad, after the failed struggle waged by the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party – the EPRP – in an attempt to crush and overthrow the fascistic enemy – the military regime known as the Dergue (Committee).
While stressing with full conviction the urgent need to establish such organizations and institutions, I am absolutely not saying that we should attempt to dominate the societies in which we live, as some feel the western Jews have done. Nor am I saying that the Ethiopian Diaspora requires hundreds of office buildings with tens of thousands of employees in Vienna, Paris, Amsterdam, London and many major cities of the US. What I am simply suggesting is that given the slim prospects most, if not all, Ethiopians living abroad have of returning home, and given the increasing numbers of the Ethiopian Diaspora due both to new arrivals from Ethiopia and to children born into the Diaspora, the creation of means and tools to help in strengthening the bonds we have with our people back home and the culture into which we have been born is indispensable in establishing organizations and institutions to meet this need – at a minimum, one in Washington DC and one in London, with the necessary financial resources and personnel who are trained in diplomatic and other educational skills – can be a source of pride to all Ethiopians, and a source of hope for the future especially for those defenseless Ethiopians who have not had an opportunity to arm themselves with modern education. Above all, the establishment of professional organizations and institutions of our own will not only decrease the extent of our dependence on devoted volunteer compatriots for day-to-day activities and responsibilities, and serve as a focus – a source of education, a meeting point and an adjudicator for community members in conflict – but also can serve the Ethiopian Diaspora in particular as an indispensable bridge with our people at home. This will be instrumental in accelerating the collapse of the unelected enemy of Ethiopia, and can be employed as a power base to challenge in courts of law those who are responsible for changing the entire face of our country, for killing many innocent Ethiopian citizens, and for the unlawful and repeated incarceration of elected leaders and human rights activists.
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The above portion of text has been excerpted from a longer paper of about 15 pages, published in early spring, 2006, under the title Lessons for Ethiopians from the Downfall of US-Supported Dictators: An Urgent Need for Mature Mechanisms. The issues discussed are still current, educational and fresh. In particular, as you undoubtedly know, the need to establish an Ethiopian Diaspora House is currently under intense discussion within the Ethiopia Diaspora community. This short text was written to loudly ring the bells, stressing the urgent need to organize members of the Ethiopian community under a single umbrella and in an institution that belongs to each of us, as well as to the Ethiopian community as a whole.