STUDY: Ethiopian Diaspora’s poltical opinion polariation affects developemnt

By Tedla T.(AnaGi Researchers)– Political opinion polarization is the taking of diverging sides due to certain political opinion by individuals or groups. Dixita and Weibullc (2007) state “today, we witness political polarization in many parts of the world on issues of discrimination, multiculturalism, religion, immigration, human rights, terrorism, civil war, and nuclear armament. How can we explain such increasing polarization of opinion even when both sides are broadly agreed on the objective of the policy and are observing the same evidence? One could simply appeal to biases in perception and reasoning, but it would be desirable to understand whether increased polarization is compatible with standard theories of statistical inference.” They further explain that political polarization entails quite serious risks; political debates get bitter, and the very existence of a civil society may be threatened. The polarity trend in most developing countries like Ethiopia is political bipolarity while developed nations would be multi polar. In addition to the local population of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Diaspora is highly polarized in two big camps: pro and anti government. In the light of the multipronged roles that the Diaspora can play in the overall and cross sectional development of the country, this short analysis would use an interview and literary review methodologies to assess the effects of political polarisation on Foreign Direct Investment and national development. A total of randomly selected eighteen (18) interviewees (Key informants and migrant Ethiopians) residing in five different continents were interviewed via Skype and electronic mailing systems from 01 to 20 November 2010.

From the books

Political Polarization

Beginning in the early 1990s media and political interpreters of American politics began to promulgate a polarization narrative (Fiorina and Abrams, 2007) .Studies indicate that these days elites and mass political opinion are polarized not only on social policy but also on broader issues of governance and political power.Behailu Shiferaw did an essay on the issue of opinion polarisation in Ethiopia in 2008.He analysed political polarities in different sectors in Ethiopia. He says bipolarity, for an interviewee, editor in chief of a magazine, results from the culture of appreciating or attacking parties or their leaders rather than the things they do. Behailu quotes his interviewee as saying “If we appreciate specific actions, policies or strategies, and not the doer or the drafter of the strategies, then we criticize and appreciate actions or processes regardless of who actually is involved in them. That makes us support and criticize a certain thing depending on evidences and not mere hatred or emotion or our prior view of the individual party or person.” He continues, “In Ethiopian politics, the government is always right. The public (state) media were hailing the ruling party for its consistency just days before the party itself admitted decadence and splitting rooted within the party.”

There is also another point which needs to be clear for the media professionals, especially those private media who claim to be freer than their counterparts in public media. For many journalists in the private press, neutrality is not to side with the government. Siding with the opposition and publishing nonsense against the ruling party and the government is neutrality, Behailu attests. He also quotes Dr. Merera, saying the country was not benefiting from its intellectuals to the extent it could have benefited. “The intellectuals,” he says, “are in the ‘buffer zone’. They do not contribute their professional share working with the government in fear of the public stigma and nor do they do anything with the opposition because they will soon suffer the government labelling and reprisal. So they sit without doing anything. That is the only safe zone in the country.”

The role of the Diaspora, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)

Liesl Riddle, a scholar of Diaspora studies at George Washington University in Washington, in her recent report said Ethiopia leads sub-Saharan Africa in opening its economy to investment by emigrants (Kurata, 2009). The term “Diaspora” historically has referred to the dispersion of Jews, but in recent years it has come to include the dispersion of any group of people to areas outside their traditional homeland. “Ethiopia is growing its economy in large measure due to the constant pressure that the Ethiopian Diaspora puts on the government. The Ethiopian government has recently opened an investment promotion agency. … It is a one-stop shop for the Ethiopian investor. You don’t have to go to dozens of offices here and there to get your business established. It is a clearer, more transparent type of system,” she said. With about 2 million to 3 million people migrating to richer countries annually, the potential influence of Diaspora communities on business growth in developing countries is immense, World Bank economist Lev Freinkman wrote in 2002. Seven years later, his view has turned out to be prophetic. Foreign Direct Investment, in its classic definition, as defined by (, 2005) is a company from one country making a physical investment into building a factory in another country. The direct investment in buildings, machinery and equipment is in contrast with making a portfolio investment, which is considered an indirect investment. According to Access Capital Services, an Ethiopian financial advisory company, the 1.5 million Ethiopians who are living in other countries are estimated to send about $1 billion in remittances to the eastern-African country annually. Access Capital has worked with another Ethiopian financial company, Precise Consult International, to attract Diaspora investment through annual Ethiopian business conferences in New York or Washington since 2006.

As to Kurata (2009), Riddle, who spoke at the 2008 conference, said “there is creative tension between the Ethiopian government and the Diaspora community that has led to favourable economic changes in Ethiopia, such as clearer tax and investment policies and less bureaucratic red tape. A great success story of cooperation between the Ethiopian government and the Diaspora is the creation of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECA), according to Riddle. The brainchild of Eleni Gabre-Mahdin, an Ethiopian economist who was educated in the United States and worked for the World Bank, the Exchange links farmers to a computerized national market, which is connected to international markets.” Newland and Patrick (2004) explain that Diaspora engagement in countries of origin is so varied as to defy generalization. From disaster relief to business development, from exporting machinery to importing ideas, from instigating war to searching out paths to peace, many Diaspora groups and individuals are playing significant roles in their countries of origin.

Other ways to invest

Kurata posits “Many members of Ethiopia’s and other African Diaspora have the capital and desire to invest in their homelands but are unable to travel there because of obligations and responsibilities in their new home nations. To attract investment from such people, the Ethiopian government has created a Diaspora bond. Other countries in Africa, including Liberia, Kenya and Ghana, also are at various stages of issuing bonds. A Diaspora bond is a certificate of debt issued by the government of a developing country to its own migrants with a promise to repay the investment plus interest at the time of maturity. The funds raised by Diaspora bonds are used to finance development projects. World Bank economist Dilip Ratha estimates that African countries can raise between $5 billion and $10 billion a year by issuing Diaspora bonds. He adds that an additional $1 billion to $3 billion could be raised by reducing the cost of international remittances from migrants. Western Union Company, the world’s largest cash-transfer company, has been encouraging Diaspora investment in Africa.” Chacko & Price (2009) on the other hand claim that the investment by the Ethiopian Diaspora in the past decade has been meager “In Addis Ababa, where most Ethiopian Diaspora activity tends to be concentrated, Diaspora investment in the past decade has accounted for only about 10 percent of total investments (Ethiopian Investment Agency). While there was an initial emphasis on immigrants engaging in the development of businesses and other enterprises in Ethiopia, the discontinuation of special privileges for Diaspora investors in conjunction with the global economic downturn has led to a decline in investments by Ethiopians living abroad.”

Liberia’s experience

Basing on Riddle Kurata describes Liberia as good case scenario and success story “Liberia, which also has a large Diaspora community in the United States, is courting investment from its migrants through the creation of the Liberian Diaspora Advisory Board. In July 2009, the Liberian ambassador to the United States, Nathaniel Barnes, announced that the board will help the Liberian government shape its development policies. The ambassador said Liberian migrants send about $90 million to Liberia annually. The board will be “infinitely more effective than the unilateral and isolated, although significant, contributions of … individuals and groups within the Diaspora,” the ambassador said. Riddle said the advisory board may deter corruption. In her survey of Liberian migrants’ attitudes toward investment in their country of origin, she said, she heard people say repeatedly, “We’re interested in investing. We have money. We have know-how. But we’re not going to go in until corruption abates in the country.””

Ethiopian Diaspora’s political opinion polarization: A short empiricism

Various scholars attest that the trend or scale of polarization is a product of observational and regression research. A closer scrutiny, observation and review of Ethiopian political scenario demonstrate the existence of bipolar political opinions: government supporters and ‘pro democratic’ or opposition pole. To analyze the level and circumstances of political opinion polarization within the Ethiopian Diaspora there basic variables were initially assessed: Sources and drivers of opinion Polarization, preference to go and participate in investment and development back home and reasons for not deciding to invest or take a role.

Sources and drivers of Opinion Polarization

Fourteen of the 18 key respondents believe that the Ethiopian Diaspora’s mass opinion polarization is a result of elite political opinion polarization while two said was due to the media and the other two said was their community/ethnic associations and collective consciousness.

“ I think if there is any group or influence that opinionated me to have a very divergent position are the leaders of the political party that I am a member and support’’ Ademe, 42, Ethiopian residing in Australia.

Another Ethiopian living in South Africa attests that his political polarization towards the opposition or anti-government camp has come due to media and popularly held views.

“Most of my political and social opinions are drawn from the media and influenced by views that are mainly held by the agenda setters. I would apply and do things that the media advises to do and society practices hence my political opinions’’ Laeke, 27, Ethiopian residing in South Africa.

The findings affirm that Ethiopian political elites have been able to influence views and opinions of Ethiopians. Fiorina and Abrams (2007) verify elite polarization would gradually produce popular polarization. In today’s Ethiopia that is politically polarized in two poles, opposition parties urge the Diaspora to stay away from any form of affiliation in Ethiopia or with the Ethiopian government while the government relentlessly works to attract more and more of the Ethiopian Diaspora to return and get involved in various sectors, this also includes a co-opting and assimilatory tactics by the latter. Disagreements in policies and constitutional articles with the government and its continuously repressive and repellent measures persist to broaden the bipolarization.

Would you like to go and participate in the investment and development sectors back home?

The majority of the interviewee ,eleven of them responded saying that they are not interested to either go back to Ethiopia for any reason or engage in any developmental or FDI related activities citing various reasons. The remaining seven stated that they either already have an ongoing investment in Ethiopia or are willing to go back and invest their money, knowledge and time. These two groups are results of the existing political polarization within the Ethiopian Diaspora.
“Ethiopia is under a very repressive regime; political, religious and socio-economic rights are extinct. I see thousands of Ethiopian fleeing every month to this part of the world. So how do you expect me to return to that country while millions are craving to go out? I don’t want to return and do anything”Yemam, 37, Ethiopian residing in Yemen.

Contrary to the wider response of the interviewees that they don’t want to return and be involved in any capacity, there were also respondents who said that they wanted to return back and invest.

“I first went to Ethiopia for the millennium in 2000 (07 E.C.).What I saw then really fascinated me plus the incentives given by the government were stimulating, hence I decided to invest in my country. Ethiopia is changing and partly it is the returning Diaspora that is contributing to this change’’ Shimeles, 56, United States of America.

Chacko & Price (2009) state that as a consequence of this policy (Ethiopian Government’s promotional policies ), between 1992 and mid-2009, over 1,800 Ethiopians living abroad were issued investment licenses by the Ethiopian Investment Agency, more than a third of whom (39%) were residents or citizens of the United States. A substantial proportion of this group was based in the Washington Metropolitan Area. The bulk of investments were in real estate development (59%), and manufacturing (18%). Other significant investment areas of the Diaspora during this period included hotels/restaurants, construction, health services, education and agriculture. Between 2002 and 2006, the Ethiopian government actively encouraged the Diaspora to become engaged in economic development by allowing easier movement of capital, goods and persons into the country, and offering its expatriates economic incentives to return or invest in Ethiopia. However, in 2006 most of these special privileges were suspended.

Reasons for deciding not to invest or take a role

The current Ethiopian government is dominated by the Tigray ethnic group. Globally as well as in the Washington metropolitan area, the Ethiopian Diaspora is composed primarily of ethnic Amharas. Widening ethnic schisms between these two groups and the political mobilization of Amharas in the United States against the Ethiopian government were seen as potential threats to the state. The real and imagined challenges to existing state and ethnic structures may have led the Tigray-led Ethiopian government to rescind earlier policies aimed at promoting Diaspora engagement ( Chacko & Price, 2009).
As to the above excerpt since recently the Ethiopian government annulled most of the promotional incentives it gave to the Diaspora due to ethnic originated reasons. Correspondingly, for some of the Diaspora interviewees their basic reason not to invest in Ethiopia was ‘ethnicization’ of business and politics.

“Ethiopia is today a nation that is ruled by one ethnic group and business is a favorably done with and by this ethnic group, I wouldn’t be going back and investing a penny in Ethiopia unless this unfair ethnic based politics and business trend is totally uprooted from Ethiopia.’’ Marta, 28, England.

The remaining reasons stated for not returning and investing in Ethiopia were fear of social exclusion from the community they live in (in the Diaspora), fear of political retribution from the incumbent in Ethiopia and residency status related issues. Eleven of the eighteen interviewees also said that they wouldn’t alter their decisions even if given guarantees and invectives to return and invest in the current socio-political and economic scenario in Ethiopia.

Contrary to the Ethiopian case, according to Liesl Riddle’s 2010 presentation entitled Diaspora Investment in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities, the case of the Liberian Diaspora on the return and FDI of the Diaspora, people in the Liberian Diaspora who do not invest in Liberia lose social status (standing) in the Diaspora community if they do not invest in Liberia. Investment in Liberia is considered to be a valued activity in the Liberian Diaspora.

Wrap Up

Mostly public opinion is measured through a random sample survey or description or analysis of the public role of public opinion. This is a general descriptive analysis of the Ethiopian Diaspora political opinion polarization. The study lacks complexity and depth as it uses interview, hermeneutics and observation as the only methodologies and that the representativeness of the samples might also be a limitation. The first objective of this write up was to find out the major sources of political opinion polarizer, respectively it was found out that elite political influence, media and community/ethnic associations and collective consciousness were the major ones. The majority of the interviewees said they don’t want to return and involve in any activity in Ethiopia while the remaining few were either in some form of investment or willing to return. Political opinion, fear of social exclusion from the community they live in (in the Diaspora), fear of political retribution from the incumbent in Ethiopia and residency status related issues were the major reasons for deciding not to return or invest in their home country. A hermeneutic analysis of Ethiopian Diaspora media, both online and broadcast also provided a similar finding. These media carried messages that either advocated boycotting return, investment or direct money transfers, leveraging mass polarization. Therefore, the political opinion polarisation of the Ethiopian Diaspora has a negative impact on FDI and national development of the country.With the ambition of successfully undertaking the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) 2010-15 the Ethiopian government recently outlined that it needs over a trillion birr to fully realize the Plan. The Ethiopian Diaspora is one of the target groups segmented by the government to fill that gap, however, in such a politically polarized opinion scenario, achieving the Plan is obligated to doubt. This writer recommends an immediate cross sectional socio-political discussion for national renaissance, equality, democracy, justice and prosperity throughout Ethiopia in so doing narrowing the political opinion polarization.


  • Avinash K. Dixita and Jörgen W. Weibullc ,2007,Political Polarization, Department of Economics, Princeton University, Princeton, Department of Economics, Stockholm School of Economics
  • Behailu Shiferaw, 2008, Consequences of Bipolar Attitudes to the Ethiopian Democratization Process, Faculty of Journalism and Communication, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
  • Elizabeth Chacko & Marie Price, 2009, The Role of the Diaspora in Development: The case of Ethiopian and Bolivian immigrants in the USA, Department of Geography, George Washington University, Washington
  • Kathleen Newland and ErinPatrick, 2004, the role of Diaspora in private sector development, Migration Information Source
  • Liesl Riddle, 2010, Diaspora Investment in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities, the George Washington University, USA
  • Morris P. Fiorina Samuel J. Abrams, 2007, Political Polarization in the American Public, USA
  • Philp Kurata, 2009, African Migrants Invest in Their Home Countries, USA

December 2010
AnaGi Researchers

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