Saturday, November 27, 2010

Misplaced Priorities of the Ethiopian Diaspora

By: Samuel M. Gebru
November 28, 2010

Author’s Note: This article was inspired by the conversations I had with members of my family over the past two days. During the Thanksgiving weekend, we discussed much about keeping the culture of our native homeland Ethiopia and ethnic group while living in the United States. I have added much to this article, particularly in my conclusion on using the Ethiopian Global Initiative’s mission statement as a possible action plan, but the basis was from our conversations.

According to the United Nations Development Program, Ethiopia lost over 75% of its skilled workforce between 1980 and 1991. These were the years of the civil war, when Ethiopia was governed by Marxist ideologies. Before the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, most Ethiopians in the United States were either students or businessmen. There was hardly an immigrant community of any strong number.

Since our Marxist days, Ethiopians have left to many other countries in search of improving their lives and leaving the political, economic and social issues that continue to constrain Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians have been victim to countless traumatic events. What used to be a community of temporary students and businessmen became a community of immigrants and refugees.

As the Ethiopian diaspora increased from war-to-war, revolution-to-revolution, so did social and economic concerns. Ethiopian adults, both educated and uneducated, found it very difficult to find meaningful employment in their adopted homelands. Many Ethiopian Medical Doctors, for instance, had to retake courses to satisfy American requirements. Ethiopians who were teachers in their homelands became parking lot attendants for American sporting events. It was back to zero for many in the Ethiopian diaspora.

The unanswered problem was the social aspect. Without a doubt, Ethiopians face a cultural shock when coming to the United States. Because the community lacks the resources to address those cultural shocks, the economic problems become widespread. While Ethiopian adults were too busy focusing on making ends meet for their immediate families, new expectations of supporting their extended families in Ethiopia grew. The end result is a lack of cultural connection between Ethiopian parents and children.

Faced with two jobs, trying to go to school and learn English and perhaps a vocation while also trying to navigate an entirely new country and culture, Ethiopian parents did not pass on the Ethiopian identity to their children. In a similar article I wrote on July 22, 2010 on my personal blog, We Do Not Know, I asked:

Who do we blame for our lack of knowledge? Can it be the parents? Fine, some blame can go to our parents who seldom teach us anything on Ethiopia—but how much can one expect from people that are struggling to raise us? When you live in a country whose culture and language you have not mastered, it is hard to focus on anything else but getting by. Perhaps it is our community that we should blame. I would reply: what community? Ethiopians seem more divided than united in the diaspora. So there is no community from the onset to blame!

The first responsibility of raising and educating a child goes to a parent. If parents do not actively promote Ethiopian culture to their children, then there will be a knowledge gap. The identity is lost when young Ethiopians are not taught about the big multicultural mosaic known as Ethiopia. Not knowing about their culture is a very troubling reality for many young Ethiopians in the diaspora. Ethiopians should be most proud of their identity; Ethiopia is the only African country to never be colonized, the first country to accept Christianity, a country proclaimed the land of justice by the Islamic Prophet Mohammed, one of the oldest continuously surviving countries and the touted cradle of mankind.

The unique identity of the Ethiopians is not being taught or told in adopted homelands such as the United States. Young Ethiopians should be the first in line to be taught about their identity; before promoting it to non-Ethiopians, Ethiopians should be made aware. So, if the parents are too busy and are struggling night and day to make ends meet for their children, who can teach the young Ethiopians of their history, culture and language?

Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles, California is often cited
as an example of meaningful community
Ethiopians in the diaspora need to draw lessons from other immigrant communities in the United States. The Chinese, Israeli, Mexican and Greek communities have been able to establish themselves in meaningful communities that are free from politics, religion and ethnicity. These communities are united and all share the mutual concern of preserving their native identities in the United States.

The result is phenomenal. Chinatown has become a thing of urban living for many cities throughout the world. The Israeli/Jewish community has become one of the biggest and most politically important communities in the United States through their strong unity and advocacy for their rights. Mexicans and Greeks import their own products to the U.S. to boost commerce, open cultural centers and use their Churches as points of community.

Currently, there are many Ethiopian community organizations established throughout the diaspora that all share the same mission statement. In practice, however, much is to be desired. Nonetheless, the organizations that do strive to bring their divided communities together are never supported enough to accomplish their goals on a big scale. In this case, the result is almost tragic. For instance, we Ethiopians do not have a central place in Washington, D.C. or Boston or Houston to call home; a place that is apolitical, indifferent to one’s ethnic and religious affiliations. The tragedy extends itself when we are faced with major problems, such as death.

The recent and unfortunate death of Ali Mohammed of Washington, D.C., and the outcry of the Ethiopian community that followed, showed me that there is a long way before we are able to deal with problems facing our community. Whether it is defending for our rights or promoting our identity, we face a serious problem with responding to these issues unless we create meaningful community organizations. These organizations should be able to bring all of us in, ethnically and religiously—Tigrayans, Amharas, Oromos, Gambella, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Muslim, Jewish, etc. And if they don’t, then they are not truly commUNITY organizations.

Young Ethiopians should advocate for themselves. They should advocate at community meetings and within their churches, demanding to be taught their languages. Amharic is Ethiopia’s official language—we should all learn it. We should also branch out and learn our ethnic group’s language too; and if our ethnic group speaks Amharic as its primary language then we should learn another ethnic Ethiopian language. Language is one of the most important ways to become more culturally competent; language makes it possible to learn more about another culture. Realistically, many Ethiopian youth who don’t know their language travel back to Ethiopia and are as good as deaf.

Advocating for ourselves moves beyond learning their language. The Ethiopian identity extends to our religion, music, traditions and values. This identity is endangered in many of our diaspora communities simply because we as a whole let it happen. Like the Greek and Chinese, we should invest in community centers and “Little Ethiopias” throughout the world that would serve as places where we can keep our culture alive. Parents who do not have the time, resources or knowledge to help their children fully understand the Ethiopian identity could then send their children to these community centers.

We must further this advocacy to include the entire community. Ethiopians must also advocate, as a community, for their rights. We cannot and should not be a reactionary society; it is not Ethiopian culture to be reactive. The Ethiopian identity teaches us that the bravest and most heroic Ethiopians were proactive. When the U.S. Congress meets to debate healthcare reform or immigration reform, Ethiopians should stand as a community and not as individuals to inform the Congress of their opinions. Sadly, the Congressional Caucus on Ethiopia and Ethiopian Americans is not used for these purposes. While they are there to serve as our microphone on Capitol Hill, we either ignore it or misuse it.

Its time for a major change in our thinking. Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that caused the problem.” Our current thinking is of separation and self-interest. In order to continue the Ethiopian identity, we must proactively promote it by teaching each other and, in turn, teaching the rest of the world. Our priorities are misplaced. We have focused too much about what happens in Ethiopia while we forgot about how our communities are living abroad. Surely this is not a call to abandon everything in the native homeland—to do this would be unthinkable!

The next steps are to build bridges with one another and share ideas and solutions. Since the blame game is neither effective nor efficient, we cannot point fingers at this group or that group. The most important thing now is to be proactive and think about tomorrow and the challenges the Ethiopian diaspora will face then.

In the June 2010 conference of the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative, now Ethiopian Global Initiative (EGI), much was discussed about the disillusion of Ethiopian youth in the diaspora, particularly the United States. Encounters with the Justice System and teen pregnancy were discussed as two very noticeable ways that the Ethiopian youth are being negatively impacted. Having strong communities that are able to keep the youth out of trouble and in positive atmospheres is what we need. Two prominent examples of this are seen with Young Diplomats in Toronto and the Debre Selam Kidest Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Mentorship Program in Washington, D.C.

My next step is to challenge you, as the reader, to act. The 2011 EGI Global Summit host university will be announced shortly and that will be a prime venue to discuss solutions to problems that the Ethiopian diaspora faces. Throughout the summit, participants will discuss how best to combine their social and intellectual capital to launch community-based projects that promote the Ethiopian identity, economic prosperity and civic engagement. Participants will also have the opportunity to learn more and get involved in sustainable projects that aim to transform Ethiopia.

Coming together in a central hub, as our new logo depicts, is the goal of EGI. To have multiple projects going on throughout the world all with various ideas and characteristics is EGI’s purpose. EGI’s mission to bridge previously divided communities together through projects that will undoubtedly change our thinking will unite all these projects.

The next step is to act.

Samuel M. Gebru is the President of the Ethiopian Global Initiative. To get involved with the work of EGI email and visit

Friday, November 26, 2010

Your Ideas for New Projects

From an Ethiopian Big Brother Big Sister program to building Ethiopian community centers throughout the world to funding educational projects in Ethiopia, we at the Ethiopian Global Initiative have been given many ideas on new projects from our friends and donors.

In 2011, we will be launching new short and long-term projects designed to promote Ethiopian community engagement in the diaspora and also to implement sustainable projects in Ethiopia. As a natural stakeholder in the work of the Initiative, your ideas are important to us.

Please take the time to participate on our facebook discussion ( giving us your feedback on what kind of projects we should do in Ethiopia and abroad. You can also participate on our blog post ( to share our ideas.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Message of Thanks

Dear Friend,

Tomorrow, people throughout the United States will be celebrating a holiday that dates back to the founding years of this country. Thanksgiving is a time to show appreciation for one another and to be grateful for the precious gifts of life.

While celebrating, I want you to remain aware of the many doors you have open as a human being to influence the world. A collective identity is one of the many results of globalization, and it is important that we understand that we belong to a global world. 

I am thankful for the support and generosity that you have shown to the Ethiopian Global Initiative (EGI). Whatever you may be—a student, a professional, a webmaster, an educator, a serviceman—your continued support will be very instrumental as we move on towards new goals and heights in 2011.

Whether it is a donation or an in kind service, I am calling on you to act; let your voice be heard in transforming Ethiopia and promoting the interests of Ethiopians throughout the world. EGI aims to be a central home, an identity, for innovative solutions for Ethiopia but we cannot do it without your support and involvement. 

Be sure to follow EGI at and like EGI on Get involved today by emailing or calling us at +1-617-528-9434. 


Samuel Gebru

Friday, November 19, 2010

New Leadership for Ethiopia

By: Samuel M. Gebru

After returning from my third trip to Ethiopia in 2004, I was encouraged by the growth and development in Ethiopia but equally saddened by the severity of poverty throughout the country. It felt like for every one step made forward, two were made backwards. It was not until December 2004 when watching the Oprah Winfrey Show’s special program on the work of Dr. Catherine Hamlin of the Fistula Hospitals of Ethiopia that I decided to get involved in making a difference in my native land.

Its now nearly six years since learning about Dr. Catherine Hamlin and the wonderful work at the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals of Ethiopia. This network of six hospitals, with its flagship in Addis Ababa, serves as the world’s exclusive center of fistula repair surgeries.

With six years of experience in community organizing, I have come to quickly learn that Ethiopia has an abundance of untapped leadership within the country and its diaspora, waiting to be unleashed. For a country like Ethiopia, a country that is foolishly labeled as being part of the “third world” as if there are multiple worlds we live in, developing a strong generation of leaders is tantamount to nation building. After the Ethiopian civil war, Ethiopia had to rebuild itself. Largely, the country remains in its rebuilding phase and has a long way to go.

While strides in access to education and health have been made, there is a lack of a strong emphasis of leadership skills and critical thinking in Ethiopia. African countries, rightfully so, tend to focus much on developing the technical side of academics and unfortunately that means that core entrepreneurial qualities are being left out. A nation twice the size of the U.S. State of Texas and Africa’s second most populous country, Ethiopia has just as many problems as opportunities.

Through working at the Ethiopian Global Initiative and other Ethiopia-related endeavors, I have learned much from my peers: young Ethiopians who are poised to become the next generation of leaders. Much negativity has been said about Ethiopian youth; from not knowing enough to meddling in affairs that don’t regard them, Ethiopian youth are discouraged from getting involved in the political, social and economic discourse of their native country.

Young Ethiopians around the world are expressing their interest in getting involved in charting a new course for Ethiopia. This is a revolution; I’m convinced of it. On my recent trip in 2008 to Ethiopia I jokingly mentioned to some government officials that although the previous Ethiopian revolutions were fought with firearms, my generation’s revolution would be that of ideas and solutions, a revolution fought with pens and papers.

There needs to be much more of an emphasis on Ethiopian youth leadership, and the proper development and retention of that leadership from generation to generation. In a matter of one or two decades, Ethiopia’s current political, social and economic leaders will all be left for the history books and if the young Ethiopians of today are not prepared enough to chart the new course for Ethiopia, we will spend years, if not decades, trying to sort out a mess that could have been easily prevented.

From the public to the private sector, older Ethiopians should be promoting genuine leadership from the youth. Government in Ethiopia on all levels should be working with youth, particularly on policy pertaining education, employment, health and youth affairs. On the university and college campuses, Ethiopian students should be encouraged to be thoughtful and critical of the status quo and challenge one another to map a course for new solutions. In the economy, youth should be encouraged by all to create jobs and markets instead of waiting for the government to assign them positions. With a very high unemployment rate, both the public and private sectors should implement creative ideas for job creation.

Coursing a new leadership for Ethiopia will take time. Ethiopia is a work in progress, and with the right amount of initiative and support, youth should continue to ensure that the progress of the past becomes the successes of the future. The young Ethiopians that are being outsourced daily to foreign countries should be kept in Ethiopia and given positions of leadership to creatively chart a new future for Ethiopia.

Combining the social and intellectual capital of the country’s young generation will prove very useful particularly with economic prosperity. All it takes is the commitment to action and not words.

The author is the President of the Ethiopian Global Initiative, an innovative international organization that aims to be the hub of solutions to transform Ethiopia by combining the social and intellectual capital of students and young professionals. To get involved with the work of EGI please email and follow @ethgi on twitter.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Meet USCSE's Steering Committee

U.S. College Students for Ethiopia (USCSE), a project of the Ethiopian Global Initiative, formed its Steering Committee this weekend. The following members will be instrumental in launching the project in 2011. 

Ms. Yordanos Eyoel, 2010 a graduate of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, will lead as Project Manager. The Steering Committee is composed of members of various backgrounds and interests. 

Ms. Bethel D. Adefres
Student, B.A., Neuroscience
Wellesley College

Ms. Tsion D. Adefres
Student, B.A., Chemistry
Bryn Mawr College

Mr. Evan J. Anderson
Student, B.A., International Relations
American University

Ms. Rebecca Beauregard
Ethiopia Volunteer
United States Peace Corps

Ms. Yordanos Eyoel
M.P.P., Business and Government Policy
Harvard University, 2010

Ms. Nardos Ghebregziabher
Student, B.A, Economics, International Studies
University of Denver

Mr. Daniel Holobowicz
B.A., International Studies
University of North Texas, 2010

Mr. Bruck K. Kiros
Student, B.A., Economics, Black Studies
Amherst College

Ms. Danielle Nispel
Student, B.A., Political Science
American University

To join the Steering Committee, or for more information, please email

Thursday, November 4, 2010

EGI Announces New Logo


EGI Announces New Logo

Cambridge, Massachusetts, November 4, 2010 – The Ethiopian Global Initiative (EGI), an international nonprofit organization of students and young professionals committed to the transformation of Ethiopia, revealed its new logo this morning.

The need for a new logo with a simple color scheme and distinct look was evident to leaders at EGI when they decided to design a new logo earlier this year. The new logo presents a new brand image for EGI, a reflection of the organization’s aspiration to be the home for innovative global leaders.

“The Ethiopian Global Initiative aims to become a global hub of solutions for Ethiopia and its new brand image represents exactly that, the long-term goals of the organization,” said President Samuel Gebru at the logo’s launch.

The Ethiopian Global Initiative’s logo is designed to engage a new generation of innovative and dynamic student and young professional leaders. The color red was chosen as a symbol because of its integral part of the Ethiopian identity, the third color in the Ethiopian tricolor flag. The traditional Ethiopian “gojo” hut is used to represent a basic shelter for all humanity and for housing innovative and transformative ideas that will benefit Ethiopia’s development.

About the Ethiopian Global Initiative
The Ethiopian Global Initiative is an international nonprofit organization that combines and captures the social and intellectual capital of students and professionals for the transformation of Ethiopia through a new generation of socially responsible leaders. Working throughout the world, the Initiative serves as a catalyst for community-based projects to promote civic engagement and economic prosperity.

Contact: or +1-617-528-9434


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Celebrating Pan-Africanism through Emperor Haile Selassie

Ethiopian Global Initiative
November 2, 2010

On this day, November 2, 80 years ago in 1930, Haile Selassie was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia at the Cathedral of Saint George in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s last Emperor, Haile Selassie, was born on July 23, 1892. He is generally regarded as the father of African unity and the face of the Pan-African movement. Emperor Haile Selassie reigned for 43 years and 314 days and was one of the world’s most well regarded leaders during his era. Loved by some, hated by others, Emperor Haile Selassie’s unflagging commitment to Africa’s independence movement and to strengthening the African diaspora should be recognized by all Ethiopians, Africans and people of African descent worldwide.

It has been 118 years since Teferi Mekonnen, His Majesty’s given name, was born in Eastern Ethiopia. He died on August 27, 1975 in unknown circumstances after being put under house arrest by the military-run Government of Ethiopia that reigned from 1974 until 1991. After the Emperor’s corpse was buried under his bathroom, his remains were excavated in 1991 when Northern rebels toppled Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam’s Government. In 2000, a formal funeral was given to Emperor Haile Selassie presided by the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, although the current Government of Ethiopia was reluctant to recognize the Emperor’s formal burial as a State Funeral.

The work of Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta and many others was inspired by the leadership and statesmanship exhibited by the “Lion of Judah.” Emperor Haile Selassie is also responsible for expanding the foreign bases of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and promoted literacy and advancement within Ethiopia and the African continent. As a founding father of the Organization of African Unity, now African Union, he was a resounding pillar to the sovereignty of the continent.

The Ethiopian Global Initiative is going to work with the Crown Council of Ethiopia to organize a yearlong celebration of the legacy of Emperor Haile Selassie from July 23, 2011 until July 23, 2012, culminating in a celebration in Addis Ababa in honor of what would have been his 120th Birthday. EGI wants to celebrate the life and achievements of the Emperor as it relates to the Pan-African movement that he helped engineer. It is imperative that we work in collaboration with the Crown Council of Ethiopia and other Ethiopian cultural, youth and civic organizations both within Ethiopia and abroad so that the Emperor’s birthday celebration may be inclusive and appropriate.

One important way EGI will celebrate the legacy of Emperor Haile Selassie is by undertaking a global “Haile Selassie 120th Birthday Day of Service” that will include Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians giving back to their local communities. Whether it is cleaning a park, reading to children or cooking food for the homeless, the “Haile Selassie 120th Birthday Day of Service” would strive to celebrate the work of the Emperor. The service events would be held on July 23, 2011 simultaneously throughout the world. Participants would be able to post their pictures, photos and blog articles to a central website that would strive to showcase the legacy of the Emperor on the African diaspora. The “Haile Selassie 120th Birthday Day of Service” will launch a yearlong celebration of the Emperor’s life and achievements.

To get involved please email: or call +1-617-528-9434.

Important Information

© 2010 Ethiopian Global Initiative, Inc. Material may be republished with credit to this blog and/or the original author. The views and comments expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of the Ethiopian Global Initiative, Inc.