OP:ED: ETHIOPIA DIASPORA TRUST FUND: A GREAT IDEA IN NEED OF A RESET
ock B. Taddese (PhD), For Addis Standard
Addis Abeba, January 04/2018 – In the sweltering heat of a Washington DC summer day, thousands flocked to catch a glimpse of, hear from, and on the off chance, meet and embrace the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed. This level of stardom is unparalleled in Ethiopian politics, probably since the time of Emperor Haile Selassie I himself. The rest of the cast was no less stellar: ‘Lemma, Lemma..’ they chanted, after the President of the Oromia Region, Lemma Megersa. The self-effacing politician had risen to public endearment when he faced down the so-called ‘deep state’ and its core interests on live TV, a year or so ago – like it was the most normal thing to do. In the historic, directly televised joint press conference from the leaders of the four constituent parties of the EPRDF, Lemma seized every opportunity to lay bare and degrade the party’s constitutive ideology, the manifest lopsidedness of the power divide, and all the ills that these had wrought. It was a scene to savor. Viewers were treated to a full on, and dare I say, perfect display of evasive political lingo and doublespeak, as the leaders professed a shared vision for a new dawn. In reality, one side kept at tearing down the foundations of the deeply entrenched and whole encompassing system, whilst the other scrambled to salvage what it could. The tables had turned, ‘Team Lemma’ had finally arrived – out of the woods and onto the big stage.
Washington DC was the first stop on a series of diaspora outreach campaigns by the new leadership. Amidst the euphoria, the new PM reiterated his appeal to everyone to join hands and support development efforts back home. The ‘One dollar a day’ slogan he had inducted in parliament some months back was echoed by artist and activist Tamagn Beyene on stage. The response was deafening, the emotion gripping. You couldn’t hope for a better timing, nor occasion.
Six months on however, the PM cut a frustrated figure as he lamented the disappointingly small number of people who had made contributions: “On the basis that there are around 3 million Ethiopian diaspora, we asked for a dollar a day, but so far, only 2,800 have contributed (around 800,000 dollars in all). Not backed by actions, aspirations are no better than a daydream.”
At the time of writing, which is only a couple of weeks after this renewed call from the PM, the contributions have doubled and continue to rise – 1.6 million dollars and counting. No, the PM has not lost his luster.
Still, the whole conception of the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund (EDTF), albeit a timely idea, is in much need of a revision – a ‘reset’, to be exact. To this end, a review and critique of the structure of, and approaches employed by EDTF to date, based on two strands of relevant literature: the evidence from diaspora engagement efforts elsewhere, and perspectives on why and how people give to philanthropic causes, is due. There is rich evidence in both cases to inform an effective re-design of EDTF and to shape the wider diaspora engagement agenda.
The Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund
The set-up of EDTF constitutes a Board of Directors to oversee the operations of the Fund in-country, a Global Advisory Council to mobilize global support and advise on strategic directions, a Secretariat that includes the Executive Director and key staff to manage the planning for and allocation of funds, and implementing agencies who will be recruited based on a proposal submission process. These are ultimately accountable to the PM’s Office. So far, the Global Council has been established, featuring prominent figures from different walks of life: academia, business, human rights activists, professionals, notable and personalities, among others. Some critical voices have argued that the membership of the council has been biased towards US residents and the male gender; save this, the governance set-up and approaches of EDTF have not drawn much attention.
At the same time, there are some key assumptions that underlie this initiative, both explicit and implicit. The big one here is the reference to the ‘3 million strong’ Ethiopian diaspora and the projections made on this crude count. Next comes the high sense of faith in the euphoric support expressed for the new leadership – and its potential to translate into actual support. Lastly, there is a sense of underestimation of the process of setting up and running a philanthropic organization. The following statement on the Advisory Board’s Frequently Asked Questions page betrays the latter sentiment:
“Will any of the funds be used for administrative purposes?