In one of my previous commentaries, I indicated the fact that most Ethiopians have just started to decisively check the advances TPLF is making. They are getting more organized and work in unison with the national defense force. For them, it is not all about saving their government from collapse; they simply do not afford to have another TPLF-led governance system or a quazi- or proxy one. Not least important is that over 95% of the Ethiopian population are faithful believers. They thus have a shared basis of understanding about the significance of self-defense, peace, unity, and justice. This understanding is the social glue that intersects all the ethnic groups despite the existence of real differences in other dimensions. All these plus the latest decisions made by the ruling Prosperity Party really scares and corners TPLF and its entourage.
On Monday the 21st of November 2021, PM Dr Abiy has addressed Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia on the current state of affairs. Among other points, he indicated that he has decided to lead the struggle from the battlefield. Analysts and commentators including the media are having discursive interpretations of this decision. Some brand this as breaking news while others consider it as antithetical to the deeds of a person who has just recently won the prestigious Nobel Prize. Discussions of these sort are inevitable and are healthy. I would like to raise two points though.
One, Ethiopian history tells us that in times of war, leaders normally stay in the battlefield. It is ingrained in Ethiopian culture that leaders are supposed to be there to, among other things, mobilize resources and make timely and strategic decisions. This can boost the moral and psychology of the military and the general public. As a result, and as Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces, Dr Abiy has decided to operate from the frontline. Other leaders in other nations also do make regular visits and contacts with the end point; of course, there are some leaders who prefer to hide in their bunkers.
Two, trying to ridicule and shame the PM by referring to his Nobel award is irrational and out of context. The award was bestowed on the incumbent for his significant efforts to create a peaceful deal with Eritrea. The award is not a contract for work to be done in the future. Moreover, the Ethiopian government and civil society leaders have begged the TPLF, for three consecutive years, to break a peaceful deal, albeit unsuccessfully. Technically, it is the war initiator, the TPLF, who must be blamed and not the one who has that natural right and instinct to defend themselves. Up until today, the PM and his government including the military are on the defense mode. That is the major reason why TPLF was able to have a free ride from Alamata all the way to the vicinity of Shewarobit.
The Ethiopian Diaspora in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America are also supporting this struggle in several fronts. Impressive fund-raising campaigns are undergoing in nearly all major countries. To counter fake news and disinformation, social media campaigns are being conducted although Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter appear to indiscriminately block the accounts of many individuals and media organizations. Moreover, yesterday only, #NoMore rallies were staged in over two dozen countries, and more are yet to come soon. All these Diaspora engagements are significant and timely and should be acknowledged by all peace-loving citizens and governments.
To avoid confusion and then sustain these meaningful contributions, some strategic thinking and planning is however needed. Although everyone can have a general understanding of the rationale behind and the purpose of such Diaspora engagements, a more intentional and strategic consideration of issues is needed for effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability.
This piece aspires to contribute toward that end. It first outlines the purpose for Diaspora engagements of all sorts. This can create a shared basis of understanding among all the stakeholders. Second, it identifies possible challenges and relevant strategies to overcome them. In such an effort, I draw on conceptions from sociological institutional theories, particularly of the phenomenological version (Meyer, 1997, 2010). Specifically, such concepts of institutional theory as decoupling, expansive structuration, otherhood, and scientization and rationalization are used to explain the challenges and strategies for an all-inclusive and sustainable Diaspora contribution. The bottomline is that the following features can characterize strategic and sustainable Diaspora engagements.
Purpose or Cause
What should be the final goal of Diaspora engagements? Partly due to 1) the fragmented nature of engagements across continents and countries, and 2) differences in political views, there does not appear to exist a clearly articulated and communicated goal for Diaspora engagements. This lack of a clear purpose can create unnecessary confusion and suspicion, which can become a hurdle at some point. Having a clearly articulated and shared purpose can fuel and sustain engagements.
As several years of concerted efforts are needed before Ethiopia once again gracefully stands on its feet, we need to have a clear vision for Diaspora engagements. My proposal is: To contribute our share to see Ethiopia emerge from its social, economic, and political challenges victorious and abounded. To realize the vision, we can have the following core objectives:
- To challenge misguided North American and European foreign policies and international relations linked to Ethiopia
- To disseminate timely and credible information about Ethiopia
- To raise emergency and regular/permanent funds to support the millions of displaced Ethiopians
Realizing such an ambitious vision and meeting the objectives can feel right now a practical rarity. We do not yet have coordinated efforts and most of the activities appear to be conducted on emergency basis. There is thus a decoupling between our vision and ambition on the one hand and our implementation capacity and readiness on the other. This is absolutely normal and healthy; even resourceful countries and international organizations have this same challenge. What is needed at this stage is to understand the gap between our intentions and capacities. This realization can force us to identify innovative and effective strategies.
One effective strategy to overcome the perceived decoupling is creating specialized taskforces or committees for coordinating activities linked to foreign policy and international relations, information campaign, and fundraising. Each major activity can have a dedicated taskforce or a committee and each committee can have sub-committees if needed. This structuration has several advantages. One, unlike what is happening now, committee members will not be overburdened by many activities, as they specialize on a single task. They will be able to dedicate their precious time, efforts, and resources to get it done. Two, it can create opportunities to engage the Diaspora according to their interest, experience, and capability. Three, the two advantages can lead to a third one, activities can be conducted efficiently, effectively, and sustainably. Absolutely important is to locate all these expanses of structures within a single global or regional or national leadership who oversees the entire Diaspora engagement.
There are instances where expansive structuration cannot sufficiently support meeting the objectives. When it comes to tasks linked to foreign policy and international relations, we definitely need support from African brothers and sisters and other nationals who believe in the rule of law, justice, and national sovereignty. The rallies staged recently are good examples of this type of coordination. To leave maximum impact on politicians in the US, Canada, Europe and elsewhere, we can mobilize Africans and other nationals. We can build formal partnerships with community leaders of various nationals. That will create an excellent opportunity to rally for not only Ethiopia but for the entire continent, Africa. The spirit of pan Africanism could be invoked to energize this. Others such as Americans and Europeans who believe in the fight for freedom and human rights are also needed for maximum impact. The alliance should not be limited to staging rallies; it should be used as a card to affect elections as well. This sort of strategic alliance with others can effectively scare politicians such as those in the White House, State Department, Brussels, and elsewhere from making reckless foreign policies and from bullying sovereign nations.
Scientization and Rationalization
Since the second half of the 20th Century, the authority of science is invoked to legitimize policies and strategies. Governments and organizations appear to rely on evidence-based decision making. The methodic collection of data and information, its analysis, and dissemination are revered so much in policy making circles. The implication is that winning the hearts and minds of Western politicians is possible mainly through the production and skillful dissemination of information and knowledge about Ethiopia.
All the abovementioned activities of the Ethiopian Diaspora can become effective primarily through turning ourselves into expert communities. All the decisions we make and the strategies we envisage need to emerge from data and information. Our letters and reports as well as communiques need to demonstrate their evidence bases. That is why founding committees or taskforces for the various activities is suggested to be conducted based on skill, interest, and experience. An activist, for instance, may not enjoy writing technical reports or developing policy ideas. A writer may not be a good fundraiser. It is thus extremely important that committee leadership and membership consider capacity, interest, and if possible experience of individuals.
Scientizing and rationalizing our works can save us from unwanted traps. For example, there are some people out there who appear to add racial slurs to the conflict of interest powerful countries and organizations have with Ethiopia. This is risky on many grounds. One, media organizations, Western governments and international development organizations do not represent all white people. We need to make a clear distinction between people and the organizations which claim to represent them. We need to target on individual leaders and their offices. Two, there are many white people who critically oppose the foreign policies of their governments. Three, there are several black people in some organizations and government offices who mastermind reckless and oppressive foreign policies. Playing race is thus a tried and tired approach both in science and international politics.
That is why scientizing and rationalizing our engagements becomes like a life saver. Fortunately, the Ethiopian Diaspora is among some of the highly educated and skilled communities both in North America and Europe. We can establish specialized taskforces for scientizing and rationalizing our engagements linked to foreign policy and international relations, information campaign, and meaningful and sustainable fundraising. If this is impractical, we can think of having an independent advisory committee for each region such as North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Their role could be to collect data and information, analyze them, identify policy ideas, translate them into actionable plans, and then share them with all the committee memberships. These kinds of expert committee are needed especially for works linked to foreign policy and information campaigns.
TPLF will soon hit the abyss. The dauting task for the Ethiopian government and the Diaspora is to return life to normalcy. Rehabilitating the millions of displaced Ethiopians is a monumental task. Jumpstarting the hard-hit economy is even more trying. On top of all these, it is likely that more sanctions might be imposed by Western governments and even by international development organizations. All these justify the significance of strengthening and sustaining Diaspora engagements in many fronts.
Coordination, coherence, and predictability are crucial for real impact. Ideally, a coordinating body can be established for each continent. Each coordinating body can form specialized committees or taskforces for tasks linked to foreign policy and international relations, information warfare, and fundraising. If this is impractical, a partnership can be created among already existing initiatives or committees. The least one could expect now is to have such coordinating bodies established in each state (the US) or province (Canada), and country. Whatever level of coordination chosen, Diaspora engagements need to adopt evidence-based decision making. Such basic principles of governance as cooperation and understanding, accountability (integrity, transparency, and independent oversight), and inclusiveness and participatory approaches need to be adopted. These can build the motivation and confidence of Diaspora Ethiopians to contribute meaningfully and sustainably.
Meyer, J. W. (2010). World society, institutional theories, and the actor. Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 1-20.
Meyer, J. W., Boli, J., Thomas, G. M., & Ramirez, F. O. (1997). World society and the nation-state. American Journal of Sociology, 103(1), 44-181.