The Diaspora Campaign Needs Adjustments

Jeff Pearce
11 min readMay 14, 2023

How to Cause “Good Trouble in Ethiopia,” Part 2

There used to be an old sitcom on Western television in the 1970s called M*A*S*H, about a medical unit during the Korean War, and when the show was good, it was hilarious, and when it was terrible, it was excruciatingly not hilarious and maudlin (yeah, I know, I’m old). Anyway, back in its better days, there was an episode where the medical unit was under attack, and the character named Frank Burns — usually the butt of jokes — panics and says, “We’ve got do something! Anything!”

To which the show’s smartass hero, Hawkeye, replies, “I agree with Frank — I think we should do anything.”

I read over the Borkena article which is supposed to answer questions about the campaign, and I got to say… Sorry, but it feels like whoever’s organizing this has thrown up their hands to “do anything.”

Now please don’t get me wrong, and I want to make this absolutely clear: I agree wholeheartedly with the intentions of this effort and all of its goals. But with the deepest respect for the organizers — who, for all I know, are folks I’ve worked with and with whom I’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the past — I think your campaign is deeply flawed, and it’s bound to fail.

Please prove me wrong with the results. I’d love to be wrong on this one. But I don’t think I will be. Here’s how I see it. And how I believe it can be done better.

In walking you through my arguments, I’ll follow the structure more or less of the original article. Right in its third sentence, it states: “Second, its aim is not a regime change but an effort to pressure the PM to respect the nation’s constitutional order.”

I have a big problem with all of this.

Consider that only a couple of paragraphs later, the article reminds us: “Ethiopians at home have no voice in opposing the PM’s illegal and criminal actions. Those who dare report the government’s criminal actions are hunted not only in Ethiopia but also abroad and brought back to Ethiopia and thrown in jail. Some are tortured and even killed.”

So, you’re entitled to ask: “Holy shit! Why aren’t you asking for regime change?!”

Given that you are in open opposition to the Abiy regime, why on Earth would you not raise the stakes and at the very least, use any economic clout to force his resignation (and that of his Cabinet)?

You wrote later: “Our conditions are reasonable and no government that pretends to honor and protect the rule of law will find them difficult to meet.”

But the operative word there is pretends. It’s not a question of how reasonable you are — the fact is that he isn’t reasonable. He cannot be trusted to keep his word or to change his behavior.

You’ve already acknowledged that this is a gentleman who doesn’t respect the rule of law, but you somehow think the economic pressure will discipline him and make him behave? You are challenging his authority to govern and not just the way he governs.

This is a man that your own article reminds us is building a fucking palace and allowing the repression of Amhara. His government made up a farcical lie over Interpol. He is not going to veer from his course and already considers you the enemy.

Moreover, you want the PM to “respect the nation’s constitutional order.” The TPLF’s shambling Frankenstein monster of a constitution, with all its hidden grenades of ethnic spite and hatred, is what got the country into this mess in the first place.

For the love of Christ and Allah and any other deity you care for, push for getting rid of this disgraceful, toxic document of lies and hatred once and for all.

And if you counter with the absurd reply that “Well, that’s off the table, they’ll never do it,” then what is the point of all this? Why put in the effort without bringing an end to this misery?

Do you honestly believe this guy is going to change under pressure? You are pitting yourselves against him, and he’s already had one spokesperson give a condescending lecture over social media that you should stay out of his business.

So, raise the stakes for what you hope to accomplish. Either go big or go home.

The Remittance Thing

I support this, but if anyone cares what I think (and of course, you don’t have to), you need to give folks far more specifics on how this can be done. I saw for myself in person the financial and psychological power the diaspora had after scores of folks accepted the invitation of the Great Ethiopian Homecoming (funny how the PM needed you all then).

I’m not an economist, but a nice person already pointed out to me the other day over Twitter that part of the campaign would involve trying to secure conditions on the International Monetary Fund’s or World Bank’s loan of $5 billion. Well, sorry, but a) I doubt the diaspora has the political clout and connections to secure such specific promises; keep in mind, even the TPLF, with its creepy, sinister network only got so far in achieving economic punishments; and b) the IMF/WB will do what it wants to do — their bottom line is not yours.

The IMF/WB really serves the geopolitical goals of the West, and it sure as hell is not interested in helping developing nations succeed and be weaned off the gigantic teat of financial dependence. Ever. Yes, these bankers want stability, but they’re not there to help Africans. They’re the damn heroin dealers who want to keep Africa a junkie.

“In addition, we are encouraging the diaspora to stop visiting Ethiopia unless for family emergency purposes.”

I respect this tactic up to a point. I taught journalism briefly in Myanmar almost two decades ago while the “Don’t Visit Myanmar” campaign was underway, and tourism was next to nil. I visited the ruins of beautiful Bagan and had it virtually to myself. This tactic can be very effective. But

I think you’re denying yourself a tremendous weapon in suggesting folks stay away. As Abiy’s regime grows ever more repressive (and we all know it will), the Internet will once again get routinely cut. But diaspora folks who travel back and forth can serve as additional sets of eyes and ears on what is really happening.

Because gawd knows we can’t rely on the mainstream media to do its job properly, let alone give a shit. Not yet anyway.

More committed individuals can get information in and out, like video that can’t be easily uploaded when the Internet’s down or specifics about upcoming home-grown protests that will need social media publicity and coverage. They can help expose crimes and neglect.

And if you’re concerned about the money being brought in, there are various ways to divert those funds and minimize them getting into government coffers. Socially Responsible Tourism has been around for a while now — use its methods. Instead of staying at a big hotel, stay with family members. Travel to spots off the standard “greatest hit” list if you can and put money directly into villagers’ hands. Research tour companies to see whether they give back to their communities. Go to Afar, for instance, and spare a day or two volunteering with those helping IDPs. You’ll be doing good while also learning how these people have suffered.

I do think there might come a day when you can call for a complete “stay away” campaign but right now you’ll get little media interest, and you need to coordinate it better so that it doesn’t lead to folks in the country resenting your initiative.

Time and again, “our side” failed in the war because we didn’t get our shit together over communications. I made no secret then and I’ll say it again, loud and clear, that the government was chiefly responsible for that, and we were too dependent on following its lead. It was almost completely incompetent over communications and shot itself in the foot over and over. Well, now it’s your target, not your ally, so you have a chance to do this stuff so much better, with more coordination and professionalism.

The Sanctions Thing

Sanctions don’t work. At the very least, their effectiveness is limited. I cited the example of Myanmar above. Sure, no one could deny walking around Yangon in 2005 and seeing how the capital was a shambles, falling apart in slow motion. But you know what the regime did? It dialed Beijing (and sometimes India), and it said, “Hey, guys, come on down! Do business with us.” And they did.

Because China doesn’t care. Which is exactly why you’ve got great investment of China in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. Beijing, for better or worse, is not going to lecture you about human rights or how you conduct your government, it just wants your nice natural resources and contracts, thank you very much.

At the height of sanctions against apartheid South Africa, the bigoted white bastards simply called Tel Aviv and asked, “Hey, guys, can you please sell us some weapons?” And presto! Israel did.

Sanctions don’t really work. And as we all pointed out when the TPLF pushed for them, they can hurt the ordinary people in the country more than a government.

But I have better arguments for not bothering to try to get sanctions imposed on Ethiopia.

You wrote: “Our focus will be US and EU lawmakers, US and EU policy makers, US and EU taxpayers, and IMF/WB officials.

I hope you realize that you are running for help from the very people who spat in your face and condemned you with lies for two years. Let’s remember who the hell we were dealing with back then.

We had scumbag House of Representatives people and Senators in Congress. We had self-righteous Irish politicians who didn’t have a clue what was really going on in Wollo or Afar. We had — and still have — a Secretary General of the UN who backs a sleazy war criminal in charge of the WHO and who threw two whistleblowers under the bus when the TPLF stole my digital audio recorder and outed them. We had sanctimonious creeps in the Canadian Parliament and all those in the Biden administration.

You honestly think any of these guys want to help you? They don’t want to help you. Never forget, they think you’re “the jungle.”

Yes, you’re quite right, the situation has drastically changed. They haven’t.

I also think in practical and philosophical terms that sanctions are a non-starter because you are in effect surrendering part of your sovereignty to someone else.

You are depending heavily on others to have the resolve and conscience that you want to bring to this measure. You are looking for them to steer the nation by remote control instead of working from within the nation to bring change.

This doesn’t mean I reject economic pressure tactics completely, but I think the organizers’ approach is deeply flawed. So what else can be done?

I would encourage you to talk about targeted product and company boycotts, which at least stand a chance to get Western media attention because news operations shamelessly love to talk about brands and products.

And as much as it pains me to write this, I think your “stay home, stay away” campaign — in the future, not immediately now — should be tied in with a one-month or two-month boycott of Ethiopian Airlines.

I love Ethiopian Airlines. It’s fantastic, and I have nothing but respect for their wonderful staff. I love flying with them. I don’t want their great flight attendants and pilots to financially suffer, and I hate that it comes to this. But imagine the power if you learn the best peak month for seat sales for the airline, and people en masse say No. And they’re stuck with empty planes.

There’s an image for your campaign. There’s something that will get attention.

A year and a half ago or so, the TPLF creeps showed up at airports and tried to intimidate travelers and shouted, “Boycott!” but that was always doomed to fail because they didn’t have the numbers. You do.

You have the economic power here. Use it.

Let the People Do Their Thing

All the goals listed in the article are laudable, and to a certain extent, it makes a persuasive case for why the international community might or should care about Ethiopia. But what’s forgotten is that the IC’s interests are not yours. Their goals are not the same as those of citizens in Ethiopia, nor are they even the same as diaspora citizens who want to help bring about change to help their relatives and see the country thrive.

Given how often the U.S. and the West have embraced African despots for decades, I am not convinced you can win over your target audiences on the moral and economic case alone. Despots have proved reliably “stable” and dependable for the U.S… until they’re not, and then they’re cut loose, there’s chaos, and CNN and The Economist go in and mutter, Tsk, tsk, those Africans just can’t govern themselves, what a shame.

Which brings me to the biggest piece I notice missing in this article on the campaign. I don’t see anything that speaks to initiatives for the diaspora to help on-the-ground protest movements or democratic initiatives within the country, that suggests you’ll better coordinate with people there.

I pointed out in previous articles how what is really needed is a grassroots mass civil rights campaign, and you need to encourage that, nurture that, publicize that and coordinate with it. Because until you do, the government can keep falling back on its tired saw that “Outside agitators are trying to destabilize the country.”

Only through better coordination with efforts within Ethiopia will you legitimize this campaign. And your efforts will legitimize and lift them up as well.

Now, for all we know, maybe you’re doing that under the table right now and just haven’t said it out loud. But if so, you need to say so.

The efforts within Ethiopia have to do more than get better organized but look like they’re better organized. Otherwise, they’ll get written off by outside actors such as media and diplomatic legations, and morale gets eroded.

A single massive protest for the church is impressive, but that’s an event, not a campaign. You don’t march one afternoon and think your job is done. One march or protest must be a step on a path of growing momentum.

You have interim goals and long-term goals. You tactically deploy individuals who rouse your supporters, others who only deal with reporters, still others who only deal with diaspora, and ones who keep intelligence lines open to other groups and regions, and so on.

Sounds like an army? It is an army. A peaceful, non-violent army, working for change. And right now you have volunteers inside Ethiopia and out in the diaspora, you have regional forces, but you have no true “people’s civil rights army.” Start building one. Please.

Ultimately, the crucial factor — just as it was with the war — is communications, and again, apologies, but all I see on this front is a presumption that you’ll get the support, and the media will naturally come with. That’s not the way news coverage or public relations work.

You have to build that, too. And right now, you’re in a precarious, vulnerable spot where you’d probably take coverage from anyone anywhere when I can almost guarantee that the same big brand outlets that let us all down in 2021 and 2022 — Al Jazeera, The Economist, Associated Press, and so on — will do it again.

If you want things to be different — do them differently.

Food for thought.

I wish you well with the campaign, and I will certainly keep trying to offer support as best I can for the cause. But again, I really do hope you’ll make adjustments.



Jeff Pearce

Writer person. Books - Prevail, The Karma Booth, Gangs in Canada; in June 2021, Winged Bull, a bio of Henry Layard, the Victorian era’s Indiana Jones.