The Diaspora as a teacher. By Yilma Bekele

August 6th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

There are a lot of Ethiopians outside of their homeland. I have not seen a reliable statistics to tell us the real number, but there is no hiding from the fact that we have become a Nation that looks to outside to solve many of our pressing needs. Coffee, hides and lately cereals have been touted as the main export of our country since time immemorial. I have a feeling that is not correct anymore. Today human beings are the chief export of our country.

Like any commodity there are several ways people are exported. Coffee is exported raw or washed, classified into different grades or packaged various ways. It is the same with people. Some have higher education while a few are illiterate. The fortunate fly out while others walk or swim. Then there are those young so-called orphans sold out to the highest bidder.

Is the export of people good or bad? At first glance the natural reaction is to say there is nothing good about uprooting people from their natural habitat. It robs society of its precious resources. Missing the young and energetic is not a small matter to society. They are the future building blocks. There is also the problem of ‘brain drain’. Those that are blessed with that illusive and much wanted ‘fertile brain’ are always the first plucked by the rich West.

When it comes to our country export of people is a double-edged sword. It robs us of the services of our educated experts while at the same time the income they generate outside is returned back as remittances. The Diaspora has become the premier generator of wealth. Without remittances from the Diaspora our country would be more destitute if such thing is at all possible.

Why is the Diaspora so resourceful and so committed to helping its homeland is a good question? That is what I want to explore in this piece. That we are a special people is not an idle question. It is true and verifiable. Go to any big city all over the planet and you will see what I mean. There is an Ethiopian enclave wherever you go. We create a country inside a country. That is due to factors rooted in our history. We are suspicious of outsiders and it has been inoculated in us that we are the best. Whether true or not is not the issue. That we believe it is a fact is reflected in our behavior. We make sure we live in close proximity; we dine on Injera and wot day in and day out while pretending we can’t stand each other is part of our psychological makeup.

We are new at this game of outside migration. Before the fall of the Emperor the number of Ethiopians outside of their homeland was not significant at all. Higher education was the main reason for leaving the homeland. The vast majority returned home. The emergence of the Derg opened the floodgates. The TPLF minority junta made it into a business. It does not show any sign of slowing down. My question is it possible to make the Diaspora experience into a teachable experience?

I believe so. The Diaspora experience is a rich lesson that can be transferred into a positive asset to help our country and people. The vast majority leave their country empty handed with a one-way ticket out. It is definitely a frightening experience not knowing what lies ahead around the corner. Our lesson in independent living starts the first day away from home. By now it is clear that we are resourceful people and no amount of hurdle is a hindrance to the Abesha spirit residing in our DNA.

Do you ever wonder why we are so successful as immigrants but can qualify as a poster child for dysfunctional behavior when at home? I am not hating but it is difficult to escape that fact of life. We shine like a neon light as a Diaspora anywhere on planet Earth. No question about that.

The most crucial thing we learn is how to prioritize our needs. The first thing we secure is food and shelter. Be it a refugee center, a Red Cross-camp or the bare floor of a cousins apartment any place is acceptable until the next day. It usually takes a few days to get our orientation back and absorb knowledge from the early settlers. Then, we are up and running.

Our existence as the Diaspora is a varied as our Ethiopia. There is no profession we are not familiar with. It all depends on age, level of education, sex, and pure whim. One thing for sure is that we learn fast to be masters of our universe. As I said we choose many roads but we maintain certain things in common. We learn to value privacy. We learn fast that Independent living is not free. Some work, a few work and go to school while others concentrate on education. There is nothing like free choice.

We find out about budgeting and what it means to live within your means. The rent or mortgage has to be paid, utility cannot be skipped, insurance is a must and grocery is not an option. We learn how to plan to buy a house, a car or take a vacation. It is hard work but the reward is beyond imagination. There is nothing like standing on your own. We don’t stop there. The moment we feel secure we move heaven and earth to help each other. Brothers, sisters long lost relatives and even neighbors line up asking for a hand. Abeshas are generous people.

Do you see my problem here? How come the same resourceful people that roam the planet and succeed beyond expectations stink to high heaven in that real estate called Ethiopia? Is it possible those thousands of years of isolated living high up on our mountains have fortified our individualism? Do we function better alone rather than in-group setting? Is that why we are good at distance running but never succeed in soccer? Individually we excel whether in education, sports or business but put us in a venture that requires cooperation and working together and you know we are inviting trouble.

The life as a Diaspora is proof that we are up to the task when challenged and survival depends on ingenuity, clear-cut goals and personal rewards for job well done. That is what we can teach our people. As a Diaspora we have learned dreams and reality are two different animals. We deal with facts. Here are the lessons that I think we can share with our people.

Life is about setting priority.
We secure food and shelter first.
We learn how to live within our means.
We decide between education, work or both and don’t look back.
We learn respect for others so they respect us back.
We celebrate diversity and learn how to coexist with others.
We learn not to shift responsibility or play the blame game.
We discover how being an Ethiopian is a big deal and observe how much it is ingrained into us.
We learn not to insult, demean or hate others.
We learn the value of success and the meaning of sharing.

Don’t they all look so simple and easy? Apparently that is not the case. Our country is a perfect example of how to learn from negative experience. Don’t you wish our leaders had gone thru this growing process? They will learn to secure food and shelter first. They will not rent a house for five hundred dollars and install a thousand dollars security system. They will not buy an SUV while a little Toyota is what their budget allows. They will not marginalize a section of their population instead of inviting all to live under one big tent. They will learn how to save for a rainy day instead of scrambling to plug the leak as it pours. Most important of all they will learn not to look down at others because of some perceived inadequacy. They will learn to value and respect others not based their lineage, education, wealth or power but simply because they are human beings like us. When we start from that premise everything fits in place.

At a time when millions of our Somali brothers and sisters are facing hell on earth, millions of Ethiopians are surviving with less than one hundred calories a day don’t you think it is about time we reevaluate our current dysfunctional behavior? There is nothing wrong at reassessing our philosophy and outlook on life. It is never too late to change. We can start by being nice to each other, by listening to each other and looking at situations in a positive manner. This game of cultivating hate and magnifying differences is a dead end street. The lessons we are learning as a Diaspora has made us a better Ethiopian and decent human being. We never choose to settle away from our precious home but the experience has only enriched us and made us into a more tolerant and well-rounded person. Although we miss our home and people we have managed to contribute the lions share of helping our country.

Now if only those in charge will use the billions we send home to prioritize and spend the bounty in a meaningful manner. Now if only they will allocate resources to feed, shelter and educate our people in a rational manner. Now if only they spend our remittances on agriculture, technology and sustainable development. Now if only they will learn to respect us, bring us together and involve us in our affairs. The bottom line is we are not responsible for the behaviors of others but surely we can start by changing our selves and showing others how much cooperation is much superior than celebrating conflict. Remember Ezana, Tewodros, Abba Jifar, Tona, Ali Mirah, Worawo, Ginocho and other honorable ancestors are looking down at us, what do we tell them?

  1. ኣብርሕኣም
    | #1

    ምነው አንት አንደሚታስብው እንደምትመግነው በሆነ አለማችሂን አገራችን ቲሩ መልክ ይኖራችው ነበር:: ገታ ዪባክህ

  2. Sheger
    | #2

    Dear Yilima,, may be we should be free of the out side first. In your speaking. Not that we can live alone.

    | #3

    I like what i read Yilma but after all i began to see your values and i said wait a minute, he is misleading me.You wrote about our unity and then you have a bias of other minority ETHIOPIANS like Tplf or maybe Tigrains you call them junta made it in to business,so what?When Hailesselassie was on power and the economy was good there were people who envy on others success and they found a method to destroy them.MENGISTUs derg is a good example of jealous groups against better income ETHIOPIANS

  4. ABE
    | #4

    Now is Sunday Morning where I am.Yilma’s piece sounds like and reads like a good Sunday morning homily.I mean it is reflective,thoughtful and and elevating.Yilma meditates on a vital issue.What are we Ehiopians so successful outside and such an unmitigated failure inside our country?
    The simply answer to this question,you might say,is that the native intelligence,ingenuity and industriousness of our people have not been served well by a good political system.
    The kindness,humanity,courtesy,hospitality and respect that we tend to display to a higher degree in our intimate individual behaviors are just individual.You might add that these enviable cultural values have not found durable institutional manifestations mediating our social and political beings.We have not acquired such humanistic political culture yet.But still one might ask,why haven’t we? What prevented us from doing so? Why is it that we have been able to carve out a benign political system not just reflecting our telligence and ingenuity but also conducive to the further nurturing of these qualities as expressed in our ability to acquire a freer and developed state of existence?

  5. amazing
    | #5

    Well done Yilma! However lately, we need to learn how to be inclusive. Take for example the OLF and ONLF members resent the mainstream ethiopians in the Diaspora. The mainstream is also to blame in not making effort to be inclusive. The others have political agenda, OLF especially while hating Amara they are actually hating the whole ethiopian ethnic groups making it difficult for unity and support system of our Oromo brothers and sisters. So in diaspora we need to work on coming together in all ethnic groups and not be tools for TPLF regime to continue to divide us.

  6. Sam
    | #6

    Yilma wrote we [the diaspora] are a special people is not an idle question. It is true and verifiable. What do he meant in saying we are especial? Are we especial compared to other Ethiopians who are living in their own country? Or we are especial compared to anybody who populated the world? This self congragulation sounds so much bizzare. What is the message Yilma tried to impart? I do not get it. He further penned of those of us who are in the West “some have a higher education while a few are illetrate.” A few? I might have lived in another planet for ther last two decades guys. If the Republican pundit not long ago who suggested not to import taxi drivers from Ethiopia might have gotten a heart attack if he had read this fairytale. Any society who fails to look into itself objectively is prone to failure incessantly. I am not saying the diaspora community has no a worthy value. I am saying what Yilma gave as evidence for us being especial would not be considered worthy of writing about. What Yilma wrote simply is “TERET.”

  7. BIYE
    | #7

    The main problem of Ethiopians is opportunism. There are always people among the bureaucracy and the intelligentia who are greedy and who live to fill their bellies, even at the expense of their close relatives, people would sell their conscience for money, position and power.

    It was these class of people who gave ligitimacy and a human face to the derg. The same could be said about those who are collaborating with Tigre People Liberation Front,TPLF. TPLF is a tiny ethno-fascist group which would not have survived for so long had it not been for the support of opportunists.

    For example, look at the TPLF judiciary; these people who make laws , write laws for TPLF know that what they do is against their conscience yet they keep doing the wrong thing criminalising innocent people, throwing people in jail when they have done no wrong,
    they are simpley sitting there to prop up TPLF and to fill their bellies.

    It is the same scenario in all government establishments. TPLF have set up a system in its own image to serve itself in systematically dismantling and looting Ethiopia, and the people who are hired by the TPLF do what they do knowingly, deliberately and intentionally.

  8. Sheger
    | #8

    Abe, we are dealing with the after math of Europian colonization of Africa and it’s war against Ethiopia which was almost not colonized. They came with war so there is no good thinking of them for the most part no matter who they are today. And we lay on the bed of confusion about the world in general not to say some Ethiopians or most Ethiopians
    Don’t have a collective intelligence about the modern world and don’t need it’s affairs, but some time dealing with the same people how ever but not always. So what we need to do is choosing who we want to work with and help the world to change in a good way so we all live peacefully. We are not the only problematic nation, we even might be thank full not knowing some. But as you said we know good, the rest is how to apply it in time and matter. We are Ethiopians but we should and nobody should never forget that we all live on one planet and we come from one source
    And that GOD.

  9. Sheger
    | #9

    I think we should call it and is Eruopian colonization of the world.

  10. Sheger
    | #10

    What ever broth that up on us. Could their be some reason? I think there are plenty, like snow winter, life like ants, collect when it is plesent and rest in dead stat. Don’t think it funny. Cause it ain’t. Is it? They can get tayerd of eating
    Potetos and fish just like the Japanise skip their brake fast from the fish. No brakfast in Japan. Who wants to eat fish
    Three times a day? No body. If you ask me ones a week is some how problematic. May be that is why we don’t have
    A sea. I didn’t do that though. It is theTPLF who did that. Separating Eritiria and Asab and so on.

  11. Sheger
    | #11

    And I am not thank full of that at all.

  12. Sheger
    | #12

    Correction on the last comment.
    I ,meant to say, ” not that I am thankful of all of that” or any of that.

  13. Dawi
    | #13

    You know – there are books written about “IMMIGRANT –SPECIFIC” genotype that explains about people who leave their homelands. They say there is something in their brain that is bold and seeks achievements of all sorts.
    Such gene types walked the furthest and did the unusual thousands of years ago. They are the pioneers for most things.

    Such groups come for all parts of the world including Ethiopia. The genetic makeup is present in 98% of Americans who came here in the last 3 centuries. Here in America where “anything goes rule of American Capitalism”, Hippomanic nature works the best, they say.

    So Yelma is talking about Ethiopians who have the “Hypomatic edge” in Diaspora.

  14. aha!
    | #14

    You are absolutely right when you describe the attitude of the people that left Ethiopia abroad for education during the Emperor Hailesellassie’s regime came back to Ethiopia, eventhough most of them prefer to sit in an administrative positions, rather than in the field of their expertise and naturally do not function in an integrated approach, each has his/her own approach to work independently in ones own experties, or if one does not play a leading role it has not part in it to work in a collaborative fashions like Engineers and scientist do in the North American countries.

    During the Derg regime leaving the country was so hard, they had to track through the desert, if they can survive and pass the border, they made to the refugee camps and the only indictrination during the Derg regime was to get awareness in the marxist-Lenninst ideology. As far as individuals, there was screening on political and other reasons. But all Ethiopians that left the country may have two things in common against the Derg, Its miltary dictatotorship, its totalitarian policy and human right violations, they were not segrgated into ethnic enclaves and political parties and liberation movements in armed struggle both aligned with ethnic agenda, rather than national agenda during the Derg regime.

    While the Derg regime was indocrinating the masses against the Emperor Haile selassi’es regime to adopt communism initiated by the student movents with Marxist and/or Maosit ideolgy, foreign to Ethiopia, the derg regime while engaged with urban guerrilla warefare with EPRP and haf-guerrilla and Half conventional war with TPLF and EPLF, sprearheading the student movement with Marxist inclination leaning to the agenda of oppression of Nations and nationalities, which upon defeated the Derg regime simultaneous to the faal of USSR, the backbone for the Derg regime.

    What prevailed after that was ethnic and secessionist politics and or policies with underlying totaliarianism of the derg regime, which is inscribed in the constitution in Articles 46, 39 (1), 8, etc. has seved as the operating system of the current regime and the indoctrination of the new genration as well as the old to make them look into their ethnicity first and their ethiopiawinet second, with due respect to their cizenship to Ethiopia to those migrated and those in Ethiopia, to make them align to political parties with ethnic agenda, rather to parities with national agenda. Unlike during the Derg era, the individuals are dispersed into differnet camps, where unity over the common goals for national agenda becomes far fetched to overcome a regime with ethnic and seccessionist policies and/or policies with underlying totalitarianism with ethnic rather than fedrated States and seccessionism to form a democratic government by the people, for the people and of the peple.

    What I am trying to point out the cause effect explanations lies in the constitutional frame and how the politicians align themselves against Ethiopian Nationalism and Ethiopian National Intersets and seeking the freedom and liberty of individuals first from autocratic, ethnoc cratic /ethnic dictatorship with underlying totalianism and ethnic federalism, rather than federated states of the original provinces.

  15. aha!
    | #15

    Addendum: To the last sentence in the third paragraph, add, ” set up ethnic federalism and secessionism, with underlying totaliarianism.

    Biye is right, provided he looks at it from the framework of the constition, rather than opportunism, beause TPLF can not do it by itself without the direct support of the constitution directly by the teletafi and imlicetely by the loyalist oppostion parties.

  16. aha!
    | #16

    Correction: In the last paragraph replace the last phrase with “and adopt State federalism instead of ethnic federalism and abandon secessionism and fight for Ethiopian Naitionalism and its national interests. In other words abandon ethnic rights and seccessionist rights in favor of individual rights”.

  17. aha!
    | #17

    Addendum: Last but not least. There is a need for a change of ones political outlook as Ethiopian first ones ethnicity second, with due respect to ones citizenship to Ethiopia, either way.

  18. aha!
    | #18

    I also agree the brain drain of the elite work force for political and/or economic reasons, which was unthinkable during Emeror Hailesellasies regime, and export of youth labour force for economic reasons mostly, I presume, all sending remittances as budget support to the famillies day to day lives inflicted with inflation/stagflation. To the contrary the TPLF/eprdf regime has its life support from the Western donors in the form of budget support with their peoples tax money. Where does the government come in to get the blame interms of remittances, other than to earn foreign exchange reserves. How do the remittances play a role in terms of human development, economic development and cultural development to the credit of the diaspora elites, rather than life support for their own relatives, even if the scenario for development is not feasible under the current TPLF/eprdf regime, which did not fare well with the long term aid fund they have at hand for those kinds of developments, have not reduced poverty and mitigate drought and starvation. Yet I do not understand where you are heading with these naratives.

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