Perspectives from the Ethiopian Diaspora beyond the policy frame

This exclusive Fortune interview was conducted by FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, LUCY KASSA, at the end of the Diaspora meetings included in the celebration of the first National Diaspora Day in Addis Abeba. Interviewees were Tamrat Bekele, a pioneer Ethiopian returnee and investor, who is General Manager of International Clinical Laboratories (ICL); and Dereje Abebe an investor, and CEO of Terra Global, a company at the initial stage of establishing a local wind energy company.

This exclusive Fortune interview was conducted by FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, LUCY KASSA, at the end of the Diaspora meetings included in the celebration of the first National Diaspora Day in Addis Abeba. Interviewees were Tamrat Bekele, a pioneer Ethiopian returnee and investor, who is General Manager of International Clinical Laboratories (ICL); and Dereje Abebe an investor, and CEO of Terra Global, a company at the initial stage of establishing a local wind energy company.

Tamrat Bekele was born on 1967 in Addis Abeba at Shola, Megenagna and he attended St. Joseph’s primary school up to 10th Grade. At 16, he went to the United States and continued his high school at Cono Christian School in Iowa State. On completing high school, he went to Coe College in the same state, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in General Biological Sciences. His career started after he was employed as a laboratory technician in Virginia in a company named Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings, commonly known LabCorp, a North Carolina headquartered company with 36 subsidiary laboratories in the United States.

Tamrat’s lab, “ICL opened its doors in 2004 with the great aim of providing quality laboratory service all over Ethiopia. Based on this target ICL is now expanding its quality service throughout Addis Ababa and the different regions (Bahir Dar, Mekelle, Hawassa, Adama, Gondar, Jimma and Harar).”

ICL comprises the main lab, located in Kera around Bulgaria Mazoria and about eight Patient Service Centres (PSC’s) and one Satellite Laboratory, serving more than 240 healthcare centers throughout the country.

“ICL is the first and the only laboratory in Africa accredited by Joint commision International – USA on 2004 and 2007 G.C.”

Dereje Abebe spent over 13 years working at Oracle Corporation, a Silicon Valley technology giant providing the world’s largest enterprise IT Hardware and Software solutions. Dereje holds an MBA in International Business Management from the Fisher Graduate School of Management at Middlebury Institute of International Studies and a BA from California State University at San Diego. He also has several other Masters degrees and a Certificate in Wind Energy Development from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). A Certified International Project Manager (CIPM) and Honorary Board Member of the American Academy of Project Management Institute in the United States, he co-founded Terra Global Energy Developers LLC, along with Ethiopian Americans, with a mission to focus on the development of the abundant renewable resources of Africa, including wind and solar energy. With the acceptance of the business plan and encouragement by the Ethiopian Government, Terra Global signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP) to conduct a feasibility study for the installation of a 400MW wind power generation capacity near Debre Birhan, Ethiopia in 2012.  Using this wind energy development project as a vehicle, Dereje and his team are working on establishment of a robust, indigenous wind industrial base in Ethiopia to produce wind turbines and engage in wind park development, and wind park operations and maintenance.

Fortune: Some complain about the term ‘Diaspora’, referring to a dictionary meaning as ‘a movement of people from any nation away from their country’, while others reject it as a term referring to Jewish people outside of Israel.  How do you find the term Diaspora as applied to you?

Tamrat: In this context, I guess it’s the term used to identify individuals who are presently trying to come back to their country – who have probably moved for whatever reasons, and are coming back to their homeland. That’s the best word to identify the Diaspora – that is its meaning. But the main point is really wanting to come back and having the desire to come back.

Dereje: The word Diaspora for me means people dispersed to some other locations that are not native to them. Now, whether we like it or not,  it is an internationally recognised word – so as such it is being used here and is accepted as being a word that signifies people who have been out of their country for various reasons and are now coming back to contribute and be part of economic activities – so it’s OK

Q: But in the Ethiopian situation it seems that it has a different meaning, in a way that gives a sense that once a ‘Diaspora’ always a ‘Diaspora’ despite the change in the conditions mentioned above. Tamirat is a typical example of this. When will you stop being referred to as ‘Diaspora’?  

Tamrat: You know, to be honest with you, that is a very good question. I cannot remain a ‘Diaspora’ forever.  I‘ve been back now – this is my 11th year, I actually am an Ethiopian citizen –But the term refers to any individual who has been out for any period of time, and now they’re back for whatever reason, that term, applies, the Diaspora term – that’s why.

I think the main reason is that those individuals who are back, somehow, have some kind of a link back. As for me, yes I’ve been back 11 years, but I still have my family – some of my family are still in the US. I go back and forth, three/four times a year. And with the going back and forth, learning new things, being exposed to new things – It is the link – I think that makes the standing of the Diaspora peculiar to the others.

Q: Regarding the feedback from Ethiopians at home, the policy and attached incentives is having the reverse impact by way of encouraging Ethiopians living in the country to plan to leave the country and come back at some point and enjoy the privileges. Exemplar of the discourse is the poem by Meron Gentnet ‘Ante Lik Neberk’. So do you think there is this tendency of the policy implementation as a zero sum game, bringing back the earlier Diaspora while creating a new batch?

Tamrat: Well, I don’t think the Diaspora should have special privileges over the local individuals, [Ethiopians at home] I really don’t believe that. But the Diaspora has accumulated actually, a lot of experience that really helps. Once one acquires knowledge and experience, it   encourages them to come back and make an impact on the country. But that said, you have to remember that these individuals are coming back from a very comfortable life.  There are a lot of individuals who probably want to come back and make a difference here, but they probably make a six-figure salary. Giving up a six-figure salary to come back and to live in a country where, education for your kids, healthcare, the basic needs – are questionable. Those are incentives to attract them to come back because remember they are giving up huge, huge things to come back.

Let me give you an example. Somebody who is living in a big house in Addis, nice work and all those things, if you ask him to get up and go to the remotest part of this country, without giving him any incentive, do  you think he will move?  No, he will not move. He is comfortable in Addis.

If you compare Addis to any parts outside Addis, you know, the lifestyles, it’s way back.

I come across people living in Addis who raise same argument that is raised in the question. And I ask them would you get up, and give this up and go to the remotest place in this country, without any incentive, housing compensation, travel compensation, and the like? I would be shocked if there is anybody that says I will do that. Even the country’s law has incentives for local relocation especially to remote areas where the service and infrastructure is at a low quality.  Even the country has special laws to cover such relocations called ‘Bereha Abel’. Why? Because it’s an incentive for people to move – for the inconvenience. Trust me, moving back to Ethiopia, to a certain extent, is an inconvenience, but it is our home. And we have to give up something because we really want to make an impact.

Dereje: I know about the negative connotations, and perceptions, associated with the Diaspora and the special attention being given to them. We are part of the community; we hear about it and I understand, for somebody who lives here, and may not be given these privileges.  I also understand that there is the bad ‘Diaspora’, the ‘bad apples’, which would take these privileges, abuse them to their advantage, and disappear. That also gives proof to those who think these Diaspora related schemes are undeserved.

On the other hand, why is the government doing this? This is not done just in Ethiopia or invented in Ethiopia today. The Indians have succeeded in attracting their Diaspora, And that, is what I think the Government of Ethiopia is trying to do. To bring in the Diaspora so that this kind of experience, technology transfer, local capacity building, in areas of their experience and profession. Look, we’d like to have foreign investment, direct investment from any foreigner and extend various incentive schemes to attract them. But those are people that would come maximize profit and at anytime may leave looking for a greener pasture. But when you bring in your own, your Diaspora, you can rest assured that they’re here for good. They’re not here just for profit and quick gain. They’re here because it’s home.

So, you can look at it this way, the doubt around the policy appropriateness will fade away over time because the impact it brings will be visible and conclusive. But it is up to the ‘Diaspora’ to fruitfully utilise the scheme for the desired common good.  There is already a good beginning. There are a number of us that worked on the Diaspora celebration so, that recognition says something because they have contributed pretty good and positively and have made huge impact in the country. I see the incentives as minimum conditions, housing transport [private cars] to maintain what people have been accustomed to and not a special privilege. You’re not really making a whole lot of privilege but just making sure that these guys can live here and contribute. I see it that way and not, making a big special privilege.

On the other hand, you’ve had the question; does this encourage other people to go out?

Well, you know, people leave their country for various reasons. But if people think they can go out for certain years and come back as ‘Diaspora’ and do things, that’s a false assumption, because, the people that are coming back, if they don’t have the knowledge, experience, the skills, the finances to make impact… But we need to separate that from this illegal outflow of people, through the borders and going to do some menial job and not being educated; not coming back, with meaningful experience. That is not what it means – what needs to happen – but those who go and get some experience and come back and make meaningful impact in the country.

Q: There is another perception of the people, that the ‘Diaspora’ is coming focused on the special schemes and privileges. Demands dominated the discussions in the Diaspora week. Questions related to basic necessities like priority in getting condominium houses were heard. Besides these popular observations and incidents, recently conducted academic research on the Diaspora potential to return and contribute indicated that the majority of those who have a promising career abroad and concrete potential to bring an impact actually do not want to come back. And that those with higher willingness to come are not doing  professional work and not fully integrated into the system there, what is your view on this?

Tamrat: Well I hope the research can also tell you why many come and go back. Most people come here, but why do they go back?  The biggest thing I’ve seen in the last 11 years, being here, is that the individuals that really go back are those individuals who really come out excited. They come and they see and they say, “Oh, I need to do this, I need to come in and do this”, so there is not a lot of planning, not a lot of well thought out business ideas.

If you are not very well prepared, it is a very, difficult place. But one has to say I have to build this, this is home.  If we all start running away, then who is going to stay? So we have to sacrifice, we have to give up and do what we can.

It was never easy, trust me. In the 11 years that I’ve been here, so many times I’ve said, this is it. Forget it. You feel like giving up everything and going back but one of the things I did, I remember when I moved back, the first thing I did was to have a discussion with my wife, and I said, if we move back, we’re going to have to do it for good. We have to cut all the attachments, at least property wise.  You have to make it difficult for you to get back, so we sold our house. We felt like if we did not sell our house, if we come back to Ethiopia, at the smallest problem we would jump and get back.  And I’ve seen a lot of people do that. You know, they come here, two months, three months; they’re on the plane back.  You really have to do your background research. You really have to know what you’re doing. You have to be engaged and it takes time.

Q: So you mean a lot of people with concrete potentials to contribute came here but they gave up and went back?

Tamrat: Absolutely, absolutely. I think that for every one of the people that stays, maybe four or five go back, from what I can see. I have a lot of friends, I go back and encourage them, I say, come, please. They come back but they are not really well-prepared. Two, three months later, they’re on the plane back. You have to know what you’re getting into. It’s not an easy place. Trust me; it’s not an easy place if you’ve not really prepared yourself.  Desire and excitement by itself, is not going to cover the things, so you have to be well-prepared.

Dereje: I completely agree with that assessment. Africa, in general – we travel throughout Africa with our business, the degree might be different from area to area, but Africa is not an easy place to do business because of the way things are done. It’s a little bit difficult. Of course we speak Amharic, we are local, we know the community, we know the environment that we operate in, and again,  as was mentioned, excitement and willingness and interest, to go back home alone, is not going to cut it.  We have to do the research, we’ve been doing it, with the frequent travel that we do here, and we learned a lot. We learned through experience.

Q: The Ethiopian National Diaspora Policy’s priority areas as stated in the document is enhancing the Diaspora’s contribution especially in areas of investment, remittances and knowledge transfer. Much has been done in the investment facilitation and it has to an extent borne fruit, but the knowledge transfer issue seems to be diffused and forgotten in the process. It has become the missing link in implementing the policy in a comprehensive manner. What is your take on this statement? 

Tamrat: Basically on the healthcare side, there’s more knowledge sharing. We, [ICL], alongside the business, we have been engaged in that for a long time. One of the things we do for knowledge sharing, since we opened our facility, is for university graduates to come, and practice for free. This we believe will bridge the gap in our education system which is highly theoretical based.

But in the healthcare system again there is this one stand alone scheme for knowledge sharing.  There is a USAID/CDC funded project called Twinning in Ethiopia, where they bring Ethiopian experts from outside – US and Europe mainly, to come in and work in certain institutions to basically help in this area; they basically pay their salaries, and everything, they bring them for a year – two years at a time; they basically share knowledge and experience.  Twinning has been active now for 6-7 years. It is not a government sponsored programme though.

It’s ongoing, yes. And it could be much better, but as I mentioned earlier, conditions are not yet quite right for a lot of people. You come in – you have to find housing for 2,000 dollars a month, if conditions are set up by the government to be appropriate for these people, we can find a lot of people to come and share their knowledge for free. There is so much untapped knowledge that we have on the outside- and I think we have to really tap that.

The Diaspora can really help; look what happens to ECX [Ethiopian Commodities Exchange] model. The entire top executive was from the Diaspora. They served for some years, and now even though they are gone the culture is there.

Q: What do you think the government should do towards filling the gap in the area of knowledge transfer?

Tamrat:  Just put in the conditions right- and when I say conditions, it’s not monetary conditions. First you have to find the right kinds of people and identify priority areas. I am pretty sure if they go out there and put a website, they will find tons of people submitting their CVs, I am pretty sure most of them do not want money. They can come for six months to one year. Some of them will even cover their expenses. Really it’s a huge untapped – goldmine. It’s like an oil reserve that we never touched.

Dereje: Well in terms of the knowledge transfer, I heard somebody say something very interesting. They said, there is not much encouragement here. People would like to take their summer vacation come here and teach. Come and engage in the bureaucracy to give on the job training. And somebody suggested, give me one birr for every year that I work here in the country. I don’t need any money. Give me one birr, but when I come here, facilitate or hire me, so I’m legal.  So hire me, and I can work in the bureaucracy. At least I can show you how things are done. These are things that we know – how things are done somewhere else. But there’s a huge bottleneck.

I believe that every investment that the Diaspora brings in should have impact in local capacity creation, should have impact on knowledge transfer, and also should have impact on creating a local, indigenous industry. So let me give you an example, using my project.

The Debre Birhan University  project that we’re working on, has those three pillars that, yes it’s an investment, yes it’s going to create jobs, yes it’s going to provide an energy to the nation, but also it is partnered with the Debre Birhan University. So, you bring a project – one project but it has four or five or six impacts here in the country. This is part of the nation building that we are talking about. Every project will have impacts.

In general I believe the government has to give equal attention to knowledge transfer and facilitate it as a stand-alone. There are these policies but when it comes to implementing them, making them practical, there are still ways to go. So if the government takes proactive measures to get things moving, in this way there are millions – thousands of Diaspora people that are interested in coming in and contributing for their country. These are policies that they need to really make them practical.

Q: Now we are moving to the second phase of our interview. I will ask you to do a quick assessment of actual engagement or investment, using indicators adopted from the World Bank’s standard called Doing Business Index. I will tell you the indicator and I want you to rank it in on a one to five scale, from minimum to maximum rankings.

How do you rate starting business?

Tamrat:  Starting business (11 years ago), I would give it Four – I did not have a lot of problems. I actually managed setting up my company while I was still in the US. I hired a lawyer, and the lawyer, through power of attorney did it all in a short time.

Q: How do you rate the process obtaining a construction permit?

Tamrat: I have not had land to consider asking for a permit, since it is related I give it zero. We were promised land in 1998 and today – nothing. One of the most successful Diaspora businesses in the country, we have probably made more impact on the quality of the healthcare system than any other institution in the country, not only in Addis but in the country.

Everybody you talk to says – you guys need to get land immediately. We need to build our own. The building we are in is the third building, so far rented in this country. It’s not easy, I mean – you rent and when the term is up- they not only double they go four five times, we cannot serve the public and pay that kind of funds, otherwise we will be a company just for the elite and we cannot do that. So we had to move from place to place. And this is our last year and I know for a fact what kind of lease they will be asking us, so most likely we will be moving to our fourth place. We have been talking to the municipality, from the mayor’s office they have been instructed to work with us. And it is like my friend said, “The policy is there, the goodwill is there, it’s just when it comes down, the gate’s stuck”

Q: How about electricity, power supply?

Tamrat: I will give it a Four. Electricity- we are okay with electricity, the healthcare sector is given a special priority when it comes to electricity.

Q: How do you rate access to credit?

Tamrat: I give it a Zero. We have not had any credit service. In the country I have not found any bank giving credit for healthcare institutions – nobody who is willing to loan you. We [ICL] have assets worth over 50/60 million birr, but we cannot get one million birr loan.

Q: Why is that?

Tamrat: There is some unwritten policy; nobody gives loans using medical equipment as collateral, so it is much easier for me to borrow money from the US government, which I originally did and now I’ve finished paying it off after nine years. And now I am working on securing a loan from another foreign equity company. It is much easier for me get credit from them and expand, than getting loans from our own local institutions.

Q: How about the tax system?

Tamrat: No problem in the tax system – I give it Four.

Q: How do you rate procedures of Customs?  

Tamrat: Pheeeeew Zero – it is probably by far the worst institution in the country. It is an institution that still functioning in the 19th Century, while we are in the 21st. It is just nowhere close to really understanding what really goes on in the country. The way the laws are written. In Ethiopia the laws are written to tell you what to do or what is not allowed, instead of saying don’t do this. If for example if you import tyres, the law specifically has to say you can bring this tyre. It has to also mention the type of tyre. If it is not mentioned you cannot import that tyre.  But It is much easier to say don’t bring this type of tyre and everything else you can bring. So what it allows is for misinterpretation of the law. I have seen it. You can bring a table, but you cannot bring short tables. That means you can bring anything except short tables. But the law has to tell you exactly what is allowed. Corruption follows openings for interpretation.

Q: What is your recommendation to change all these barriers in Customs?

Tamirat: To reform Customs in this country one has to completely demolish it, and start new. That’s the easiest way. I am going on the record saying that. I have dealt with Customs for the last 11 years, and it is much easier to start new. That is the only recommendation I can think of.

Q: I know much of the specific questions might not apply to you, as your investment project is in its initial stage, but I will give you the chance to say what you think and rate whenever it applies to you?

Dereje: Currently our condition/situation is a little bit different. We are under contract with the government. We are building energy. In that case it is a build and transfer project and so there are all sorts of assistance from the government to facilitate the smooth conduct of the project.

In terms of the investment office, with which we have interfaced, I would rate it as Four out of Five, and we are yet to go through property registration processes.

I want to say something about Customs though. Being a surrogate, to the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, while still having great support from government agencies, we had serious problems with Customs.  And so in a way the Corporation also plays a role in facilitating things.

We had engineers from the US and the UK at a rate of 200 dollars per day for their stay here, in addition to all the expenses we had to cover. So it was very critical that we get the equipment out, get these guys in the field get them to do what they need to do and get back since we are being charged 200 dollars per day for their stay here.  We planned to have the Customs cleared in a week and flew the experts in. We got our equipment out only after three weeks. All these weeks they had been sitting idle, doing nothing. So all this was delay was after letters from both the Corporation and Ministry of Energy indicating that it was a government project.

And now listening to Tamirat I realised that, it is an intrinsic thing for Customs.  We faced project delay, extra expenses – unplanned and undeserved headaches just because an agency delegated to facilitate doing business is not doing what it is supposed to do, or maybe the people that are doing the job do not understand the urgency, the need and the impact that these little transfers would have.

Q: So you give Zero for the Customs?

Dereje: Of course, no question about that. We are saying this not to penalise anybody, but to alert them to improve.

They should know that when they improve the country’s business goes faster and the impact to that is tasked to facilitate business. And if you ask me, the people are not doing that today. –

Q: What do you see as a solution?

Tamrat: I think I heard the Prime Minister on TV saying the electric company needed thousands of people and they hired thousands of people, the Customs agency needed thousands of people and they hired new fresh graduates from colleges. These people came running to the system and it turned out to be the same. Again I see the need for improvement. Let the Diaspora help, allow the Diaspora to help, in the sense of knowledge transfer. There are a number of people who have specialties in these streamlining processes, making these processes into electronic based processes for example. There are a lot of IT specialists that can come and help – well versed in business process re-engineering. I think what is lacking is the knowledge while the fresh graduates are there it is just overhauling the process.

Trickling down the rules and regulations. The rules and regulations are there and sometimes the rules and regulations are created on the fly – somebody says this is how it is done and that is not based on something.  Denbe newe Memeria newe [they say it is a directive but there really is nothing], puts everything in the air. So people need to know what is written in the book. There are the rules and the regulations, and those things needs to be applied.

Corruption is the other thing that the government needs to fight. In every office, people are used to these kinds of shady dealings.  They are going to keep your stuff pending to the point where you get frustrated and you give money to get it done. We, the ‘Diaspora’, there are number of them who can and are willing to come and donate their time-help if the engagement forum is facilitated just to share their experience, know-how and give actual hands-on training on the job.

Q: How do you evaluate contract protection, the contract you have with the government?

Tamrat: When it comes to private contract dealings, I believe there are gaps and loopholes. The contracts law from the 50’s and 60’s definitely cannot accommodate the stage the country is at now. It needs an overhaul, to be effective for today’s environment. I have not been personally affected but it is a widely discussed issue among friends and colleagues. The ‘Diaspora’ can suffer most because they are not aware of the gaps, lack of experience.

Q: We will move to your adjustment process in terms of social integration and service quality.  What prices did you pay when you decided to come invest and live here in terms of convenience and social engagements, like school for children and exposure and opportunities which are usually mentioned as decisive factors for people to move and live outside of the country?  Any sacrifices you feel like you paid?

Tamrat: It is not more for me, it is for my kids, my family especially my kids, do pay the price. I am into it so my sacrifices are not much. But education and healthcare are not really there. I had to send my son to do his 11th and 12th Grade in the US because of the standard of education here. I have to sacrifice giving up my son that was the age where you as a parent need to be close and attached to your child but I had to choose the school system and send him away.

Q: Do you think such factors the social and convenience determinants affected your decision to come or not?

Tamrat: Yes

Q: How about the allegation that Ethiopia is still known for lack of freedom and democracy and so on. Do you think that plays a part in the decision making process?

Tamrat:  If you come here to engage in politics, maybe. But for me since I am here to do business and help and serve, it does not.

The health system is improving, but the education system in terms of quality is actually going in the opposite direction, something must be done.

As an Ethiopian I would love to see my kids raised in Ethiopia, to see them go to Ethiopian Universities and graduate from there,

Q: How was your adjustment process?

Tamrat: I just did it one day at a time, dealt with the issues as they arose. When my daughter gets sick I had to take her back get her treatment and once she is okay, came back. And about education I had to send them when they were big enough, at least to manage them.

You have to adjust, so we have to attract these people from the Diaspora space, with incentives to come back and say, this is your home country. Give up a little, in the long run it will be a big reward.  Give up a little – but that little – you need a car, you need housing.

I want to come back, I have some idea, and some place to move back, but, oh there’s no school there for my kids. We face the same problem when we come back. The level of schools is not the same.

I left this country when I was 16 years old, when I was just going to 11th Grade. Guess what? My kid just turned 16 and he’s going to 11th Grade and that’s in the US because there is no school good enough and I’ll be honest with you. There is no school good enough and I want him to have a good education, so I had to send him. So the movement, because of education, that is still there. That is a sacrifice – I had to give up.

My daughter is diabetic. Every year I have to go back to really take care of her. That’s a sacrifice I have to do, I have to give up. It’s so easy there – a phone call away, doctors are a phone call away. One day she got sick here, I took her to a hospital… when we got there, they had no idea what to do.  They admitted her 10 o’clock at night till seven o’clock in the morning, not a single doctor came to this child. I had to go online, read and educate myself, and took care of my daughter at that place.

Q: And you I know you are at the planning stage – how are you preparing yourself for the adjustment process?

Dereje:  We are here, and we will continue to be here. There is a commitment and preparedness to face the challenges. Because we believe in contributing to the nation-building and also benefit from the business opportunity, it is not all charity, we are doing business. We will provide technology transfer. We will take part in enhancing the energy sector.

With the family, services and overall inconveniences because of the different lifestyle we are adjusted to, it is nothing insurmountable. It is possible to live and we can live here. Things are looking on the brighter side. But when it comes to health and education those are areas very difficult to forego. They are cornerstones of one’s life. One has to make sure that his/her child is competitive enough to the coming of knowledge economy which will be highly competitive in the global setting. We should be able to create competitive educational standards, so that our kids will be able to compete globally. We no more live in this ‘island’ Ethiopia. Focus on tertiary level education is crucial.

But is it livable, functional, and can we contribute to bring that about YES. But you need to be prepared.

Q: Do you think this affects the decision of Ethiopians in the Diaspora to come back?

Dereje: To a certain degree. But the ‘Diaspora’ who decided and committed to come know about these things and they are here to stay.

Q: The Diaspora meetings and Diaspora Day celebration in the regional and federal level in the past weeks, what do you think will be the outputs? Do you think it is worth the time and funds spent by the government?

Dereje: It gives direction on how to go ahead, to sit face to face with government bodies to extent of presenting individual cases and challenges despite government’s focus on the GTPII plans. The Diaspora- Diaspora engagement and discussion also really helped.

Regarding the expenses, I call it a facilitation cost, and looking at the bigger picture I believe, I don’t know what the expenses are but I think it is justified to spend on the issue.

Q: The same question for you

Tamrat: There is so much untapped human wealth in Ethiopians living in the Diaspora – it is knowledge not cash capital. If you can attract and bring them back to be part of this growth plan I cannot imagine what will be and you’ve got to do everything you can. The cost is just a minimum cost – like having a lunch? It is nothing but the impact at the end of the day is enormous.

Q: So it has a meaning in increasing the engagement of ‘Diasporas’ in the country?

You have to engage the Diaspora and in one of the meetings Dr Tedros came and said in Amharic, man manen yegabizal/”we want you guys to come.” It is your country, you have to come and if you do not come and engage and help us steer through at the right pace who would? Not the foreign investors. Foreign investors are here to make money and that is it. They have one aim they come here to make money, not development. The ‘Diaspora’ has two aims of course; they want to make money and also want to make an impact in the country. So there is a big difference of attracting the untapped wealth and you have to do everything to attract that.

Q: What other things do you recommend to the government to increase the Diaspora’s engagement?

Tamrat: I really believe they have to engage those of us who have been here at the same time, to really see what we have experienced – the headaches – to make sure the other ones will not follow the same thing. I mean all of us mention Customs as a headache over a ten-year period; it is one institution I have never seen improved. If they can engage us, let’s say look from your experience outside and here, how do you see this? What should Customs do better? Because like I said we are exposed. I go back and see. You know when I was in the US, the machine was down, I can have a spare part within two hours in my lab. If I can have it in three weeks I would be lucky in Ethiopia. Why in this day? Ethiopian Airlines flies everywhere, but we cannot even use that advantage. We have everything but not using it.



Published on Aug 31,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 800]



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