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Official Washington has strategic relationships in East Africa — relationships built on economic and security interests. But many people who live in the D.C. area are tied to countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia by something more personal. They’re part of the large diaspora communities that now call the Washington area home. We explore how these personal and political relationships are evolving and how they shape the face of the Washington.
- Menna Demessie Professor, Political Science, University of California Washington Center; Senior Policy Analyst, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
- Jonathan Berman Author, "Success in Africa: CEO Insights from a Continent on the Rise" (Bibliomotion, 2013)
- Getachew Metaferia Professor of Political Science, Morgan State; author "Ethiopia and the United States: History, Diplomacy, and Analysis" (Algora Publishing)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, Happy New Year and welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Few regions of the world are tied as closely to Washington at personal and political levels as the Horn of Africa. The greater Washington area is home to massive communities whose roots stretch to places like Ethiopia and Eritrea, communities who have become an integral part of the cultural and economic fabric of the D.C. region.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut, on the other side of the globe, in some of these countries, is evolving as fast as a crowded city block on the U Street corridor. And political relationships that official Washington maintains in the Horn of Africa are becoming a bigger and bigger part of U.S. diplomatic and security strategies. Joining us this hour to explore what these evolving tides mean both here in D.C. and in the Horn of Africa itself, is Menna Demessie. She is a political scientist and professor at the University of California Washington Center, and senior policy analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMenna Demessie, welcome.
DR. MENNA DEMESSIEThank you.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Getachew Metaferia. He is a professor at Mortan State University and the author of "Ethiopia and the United States: History, Diplomacy and Analysis." Getachew Metaferia, thank you for joining us.
DR. GETACHEW METAFERIAThank you, Kojo. Happy New Year.
NNAMDIHappy New Year to you. Jonathan Berman joins us in studio. He's a senior fellow at Columbia University's Vale Center, senior advisor to Dahlberg, a strategic advisory firm focused on frontier markets with 10 offices worldwide. He's also the author of "Success in Africa: CEO Insights from a Continent on the Rise." Jonathan Berman, thank you for joining us. Happy New Year to you.
MR. JONATHAN BERMANHappy New Year to you. It's an honor.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation. Give us a holler at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet at kojoshow. Do you think American companies and American policymakers are too often guilty of viewing African countries as charity and not as investments? Why? Or why not? 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Menna, I'll start with you. A few weeks ago, Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia entered into an official sister-city agreement with Washington D.C.
NNAMDIBut these two cities, these two parts of the world have been connected at a fairly deep and personal level for a long time. The Washington area is home to a huge Ethiopian community that's estimated as many as 100,000. When a lot of people hear those kinds of numbers or when they drive down Ninth Street, Northwest, they want to know how and when did this start. Can you walk us through some of the roots of this community and the Ethiopian Diaspora community here in particular?
DEMESSIESure. First, and thank you and Happy New Year to you, too.
DEMESSIEIt's a pleasure to be here and have this discussion, not just because we're sort of on the brink of the sort of reflection of 50 years since the inception of the Africa Union. There's so many -- it's such a critical moment in U.S.-Africa relations, but more specifically the relationships that the Ethiopian immigrant population, specifically here in the D.C. metro area, has developed over the years is quite telling in many ways, not merely because of the sort of geographical proximity, although that's quite significant.
DEMESSIEYou know, when you think about even things like these subcommittee hearings on the Hill, anything related to, you know Ethiopian -- U.S.-Ethiopian affairs, you know, you'll see people from all over the city there. Ethiopians for many years, since their earliest arrivals in the 50's on till now, regardless of their socioeconomic status, have always had a heightened awareness and concern for the political empowerment of their communities here, but also in their home country. It's something that makes them distinctive. It's something that continues to play a relevant role in their...
NNAMDII've got to tell you, any time on this broadcast we mention Africa or, in particular, anyplace in the Horn of Africa, the phones light up and the majority of callers tend to be Ethiopian. I go back to when I started in broadcasting in the early 70s, when Haile Selassie was still in power in Ethiopia, and most of the Ethiopians and the Eritreans here in the Washington area were students in those days. And there used to be huge demonstrations against the government of Haile Selassie during that time. Since that time, the community has evolved and become even more diverse.
DEMESSIERight. And just, up until now, we see just a few weeks ago this sort of sister-city agreement between Addis Ababa and Washington D.C. And, you know, while it's a start, it's really symbolic of the involvement of the Ethiopian immigrant community and the rising role that the Diaspora is playing and influencing U.S. relations back in Ethiopia.
METAFERIAYes. Ethiopians have been coming to this area since the 1970s because of the infamous raid terror in Ethiopia, where at least 100 people a day were killed in Addis Ababa itself. So because of that situation a lot of Ethiopians started to come here, and, prior to that, because of the Universities here -- Howard University -- and because of the fact that Washington D.C. is an international city -- the embassies and the World Bank and all of this, basically were attractive enough for Ethiopians to come to this part of the world. And they have really contributed to the economic and social life of Washington D.C.
NNAMDIMenna, you did not grow up here in Washington. You grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. How would you describe the relationship that your family maintained with this part of the world when you were growing up?
DEMESSIEYeah, it's ironic. Many people sort of ask me where I'm from and I say, you know, Well, I'm from Cleveland. And they're like, No, where are you really from? And I say, Ethiopian American, but still, you know, a proud Clevelander. And, you know, when you look at census statistics, you see the rising populations in the Midwest states, but still significant populations of Ethiopian and other African immigrants reside in metropolitan cities like D.C.
DEMESSIEI had my earliest beginnings in sort of interacting with the community here in D.C. through a nonprofit organization called the Society of Ethiopians established in the Diaspora. No coincidence, it's headquartered here in D.C. But it has nothing to do with politics, but more so in encouraging Ethiopian youth empowerment and civic responsibility. And every year we have an annual award ceremony. It's like our version of the Academy Awards.
DEMESSIEBut what you learn is that not just the first and second generations, but their progeny are starting to play a more significant role in communities, but also in the wider political -- American polity.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Does your family have roots in both the Horn of Africa and the Washington region? How would you describe the relationship that you maintain with that part of the world? Before I get to the economics of all of this, Getachew, could you talk a little bit about how it is that people like Menna, whose parents are from that part of the world, but who grew up here. Some of their parents came here as early as the 50s, maybe the 70s. Their children are now adults -- young adults, one might notion.
NNAMDIBut they're here. and they're removed from the political conflict at the root of the Diaspora that caused them to come here. How come they're still so interested and involved in that conflict?
METAFERIAFirst of all, the parents of these children are basically very much tied to Ethiopia. They are the first immigrants -- the first-generation immigrants. In most first cases of first-generation immigrants basically they do have ties to the motherland. As one said of Ethiopians, We have one leg in the United States and another leg in Ethiopia. So there is this shared identity. And because of that students also grow up -- kids also grow up in identifying with Ethiopia. And basically they are heavily rooted in that kind of culture. So Ethiopia is not out of their mind.
NNAMDIWell, in Washington D.C., to talk about economics, Menna, you talked about how people not only laid down roots here, but there's a vibrant Ethiopian-Eritrean economic community in this region. To what degree are people outside of that community, do you think, aware of the diversity that exists within that community?
DEMESSIEI mean I think there -- I think various communities are sort of aware of the emerging impact of Ethiopia and other African-immigrant communities in the U.S. I think what's lacking is sort of a sort of synergy or organized sort of effort to kind of see the continent in a more organized fashion. That being said, there are many people, both individual and collectively, that are doing amazing things in Ethiopia.
DEMESSIEFrom the political perspective, you know, a lot of my personal research -- and I'm not talking in the capacity as sort of senior policy analyst for the CBCF, but as a political scientist -- you see this sort of spike in 2000 of congressional caucuses in the U.S. House of Representatives that begin to sort of see certain black ethnic communities beyond race; that is, race and ethnicity. And Ethiopia becomes one of those countries. In the early 2000s there was an Ethiopian-American congressional caucus, which still exists. You know, lots of work to put on the agenda there.
DEMESSIEBut, you know, it's interesting that a Japanese-American, Mike Honda, a congressman from California, is sort of the one who founded that caucus. But he's also very much in touch with the community here, because he wants to but I would say also because he has to in many ways. The community here is well aware of the rising potential they have to influence U.S.-Africa policy on things like economic development, HIV-Aids, even counterterrorism and how to go about that in a healthy and strategic way.
DEMESSIEAnd so I think there's a lot of opportunity and we're sort of sitting at the crossroads of how the Diaspora will begin to assess its sort of political position and position in, you know, D.C. to make a more viable impact on the continent.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, that's the voice of Menna Demessie. She's a political scientist and professor at the University of California Washington Center and senior policy analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. She joins us in studio, along with Getachew Metaferia, professor at Morgan State University and author of "Ethiopia and the United States: History, Diplomacy, and Analysis."
NNAMDIJonathan Berman is a senior fellow at Columbia University's Vale Center and senior advisor to Dahlberg, a strategic advisory firm focused on frontier markets, with 10 offices worldwide. He's the author of "Success in Africa: CEO Insights from a Continent on the Rise." Jonathan, let's look at this from an economic perspective. You've written that so many Americans grow up being told that there are starving children in Africa and that they need to eat their plates clean because of that. So it's hard for some to get past that perception.
NNAMDIBut you made the case that countries throughout the continent and in the Horn of Africa are ready to rise. And that, as such, President Obama's trip to Africa earlier this year was, quoting here, "worth every penny." How so?
BERMANSo the president's trip to Africa was worth every penny because Africa is a place no longer of net drain from the U.S., if it ever was. Africa is a place of opportunity and growth. And, if you go by category, by category of exports, you'll find few regions of the world where America is exporting more: you know, double-digit growth in aircraft parts, in engineering parts, in heavy manufacturing. Where else does the U.S. see that kind of growth opportunity? I think the only reason that question was raised in the first place is because of our preconceptions of Africa.
NNAMDIAmong the business people you interact frequently with, how have those perceptions changed over time?
BERMANNot as far nor as fast as you might have imagined. You know, I started my career not in Africa, but in Asia, where I found that American companies were very fast to recognize the opportunity -- maybe even too fast. In places like the PRC, in Indonesia, I would say in India today there's a retrenchment of early, early first movers. And yet in Africa you see almost the opposite. U.S. companies are a little slow to respond. And if you ask African executives, they sometimes wonder about it. We are the ones who invented the frontier. Why aren't we a little more aggressive in Africa?
NNAMDIWhere do we see this economic potential that you talk about most clearly in the Horn of Africa or in east Africa?
BERMANYou know, I think it varies a little bit by year by year. I am tempted to give an answer that's true for right now. But where I think it's easier and far more useful to think about it in terms of where the trend line is, I think you see it growing in places where there is effective regulation that's not overly burdensome. You see an emerging private sector that is allowed to emerge effectively. And you see significant smart investments in infrastructure, including social infrastructure.
BERMANI mean, if you can turn the lights on and turn the lights on in people's minds, those are the two biggest drivers towards change in Africa.
NNAMDIAllow me to quote a little bit from your blog last summer. You said, Africa ranks second behind emerging Asia as the fastest growing region of the world. The IMF forecasts that Sub-Saharan Africa will grow at a rate of 5.4 percent this year, about 50 percent faster than Latin America and infinitely more than Europe, which is currently expected to grow not at all or even contract. Also, Africa's growth is not from a small base. Africa today is a $2 trillion economy. And of course we're talking about many individual nations, but I suspect those figures surprise some people.
BERMANYeah, I think it does. And let me just say that I think one additional asset that Africa has is the one you were just discussing with Menna and Getachew, and that is its Diaspora. You know, the U.S. has benefitted from waves of immigration that bring knowledge, waves of skills that then move back out with the tide back to their home country when they grow. You've seen that repeatedly. It's across Asia and we're now beginning to see it in Africa. Tides of knowledge and skill and expertise and networks coming back into the continent from the Diaspora community here.
NNAMDIAnd I think that's what going to the telephones Toikumo in Washington, D.C. wants to talk about. Put on your headphones, please, Getachew and you're on the air, Toikumo. Go ahead, please.
TOIKUMOHappy New Year, Kojo.
NNAMDIHappy New Year to you, my friend.
TOIKUMOHappy New Year to your guests. I'm very proud to call this station. I'm from Africa myself, Nigeria. I say -- you know, I spent about 20 years in Chicago. I just moved to the D.C. area. A lot of Africans are here in the U.S.A. for two reasons, mostly economic and political asylum. Because we have so many African Sudans today who are very shortsighted, that are selfish and don't really cater to the needs of the people. The moment we have enlightened African leaders who look out for the interests of the people, I bet you over 90 percent of African immigrants would be back in Africa in a heartbeat.
NNAMDIWell, that's what we're going to be talking about after this short break, not only those who are likely to return in a heartbeat, but those who are returning even as we speak and those who are here who are nevertheless having an influence on what's going on in their home country. So Toikumo, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. The number is 800-433-8850 if you'd like to call. If you'd like to join the conversation by email you can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDI...in particular. We're talking with Jonathan Berman, senior fellow at Columbia University's Vail Center and senior advisor to Dahlberg which is a strategic advisory firm focused on frontier markets. It has ten offices worldwide. Jonathan Berman is the author of "Success in Africa: CEO Insights From a Continent on the Rise." Also joining us in studio is Menna Demessie. She is a political scientist and professor at the University of California Washington Center. She's also senior policy analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
NNAMDIAnd Getachew Metaferia is a professor at Morgan State University and the author of "Ethiopia and the United States: History, Diplomacy and Analysis." When we took that short break we were talking about the effect that the Diaspora community has on what's going on, the growth in places like Ethiopia. Can you talk a little bit about that, Getachew?
METAFERIAYes. The economic potential is there in Africa but the problem is that there is corruption in all of this that is basically deterring also people to go and visit in Africa. For example, Transparency International talks about the corruption situation in Ethiopia and says that Ethiopia ranks as 113th country out 176 countries in the world.
METAFERIAHaving said that, I would also like to comment on what the previous caller said. People were gravitated to come to the United States initially because of the political situation. They are running away from dictators and totalitarian regimes. And they basically wanted to have some kind of peace in the United States. And secondly, economic situation also eventually became an important factor that attracted them from African countries. So there was a push factor from Africa, the political situation and then the economic situation also basically making a push factor.
METAFERIAAnd the availability of the democratic environment, democratic situation and fortunately for economic growth and development basically attracts them to the United States. And that is still prevailing.
NNAMDIIt still prevails but it also means that the more people who are here, the more they are in a position to send remittances back home. Menna, at a more personal scale, how would you measure the economic impact of remittances in a city like Addis, the money flowing back to a place like Ethiopia from immigrant communities and cities like Washington?
DEMESSIEYes. Remittances play a critical role and, you know, first off, you know, the African union has sort of declared that the African Diaspora sort of the sixth region of Africa. And that suggests the awareness on the part of government leaders back home that the Diaspora can play -- the African Diaspora, a critical role in development on the continent. In Ethiopia, of course, there's sort of a multiplier effect.
DEMESSIEEthiopia's known to the U.S. not just because of the sort of bilateral relations spanning over 100 years but, you know, more recently in efforts to counterterrorism there's been -- in the Horn there's been sort of a synergy there that focuses on eliminating terrorism, but also tackling issues like poverty and hunger. And so the issues going on in Ethiopia are not new. However, things like democratization and the opportunity to ensure that political development grows alongside economic development continues to be something that the Diaspora can play a critical role in.
DEMESSIEAt this point, in terms of remittances, I don't think my family in particular can send any more clothes and music back. My cousins are now telling me what the, you know, new music is in the U.S. So, you know, what we are doing and what many people are doing, sending books homes. People are going back both individually and collectively to open cafes and build new schools and hospitals. What'll be critical in terms of the remittances is how these formalized structures that the African union is sort of talking about will -- how that will sort of get to its target population, which are the people that live in Ethiopia.
DEMESSIEAt the same time that there's a lot of fascination and excitement about the potential for development, there are still serious critical issues like income inequality and the rising prices of basic things like taif and buna (sp?) coffee, you know, one of Ethiopia's largest exports. And you would hope that the people in that country would be able to afford it just as much as the Diaspora would. And so these are things that the Africa Diaspora can play a significant role in, in diversifying where they invest their money and also thinking about helping not just their family, but the communities that their families reside in back home.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of hunger and poverty, which you mentioned, in a few days -- maybe in about 12 days, a couple of producers and I from this show will be traveling to Ethiopia on the auspices of the international organization Care to take a look specifically -- precisely at those issues. And we'll be talking about that when we come back. But if you'd like to join this conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Here is John in Silver Spring, Md. John, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi there. Thank you for taking my call.
NNAMDIYes, you're welcome.
JOHNCan you hear me okay?
NNAMDIYep, we hear you.
JOHNOh great. My question has to do with what people call home. As people grow roots here in the D.C. area, people from Ethiopia, and does the connection with the home country Ethiopia, stay strong or is it -- do you see it changing overtime? And especially with the second generation who grow up here, how do you see that affecting the relationship and the flow of resources?
NNAMDIWell, from everything that Menna Demessie has had to say here so far, the connection doesn't seem to be weakening even as generations are born here.
DEMESSIENo, not at all. In fact, I mean, there's some distinctions to be made, right. Those of us who were born and raised here have so much of a -- we see Africa through the eyes of our parents. And so to that degree, you know, any kind of effort on our part should also be coupled by an understanding that the people, our counterparts in Ethiopia, you know, know the destiny and fate of their country even more than we do. And so we should not sort of come over with our sort of western notions of democracy and say, okay well this is the way you improve your life.
DEMESSIEBut that being said there are, look, clear -- going back to what Dr. Getachew was mentioning, the will of the people is critical in Ethiopia and in Eritrea in terms of the destiny and fate of those people. But those of us who reside here have quite strong ties. And in many cases they surpass any sort of ethnic division within the country that might -- may still play and does still play a critical role in the political will of the people.
NNAMDII wanted to get back to the diversity I mentioned earlier that you can see reflected right here, Getachew. How would you say current political events shape the face of communities in places like Washington? When Oromos laid down their arms a few years ago, some people said that was an event that's going to change Washington, D.C. too. How so?
METAFERIASee, a political situation in Ethiopia is the barometer of the relationship here among Ethiopians here in Washington, D.C. When three is a conflict, for example in Ethiopia, let us say when Oromo people are being attacked and then Oromo people are galvanized here in the United States in support of the Oromo repression movement or whatever the case might be, that the barometer rises and there will be contradiction and conflict between the Ethiopians and the rebel -- other Ethiopians from Oromo area.
METAFERIAHaving said that, the fact that the negotiation and the peaceful part basically would also bring about harmony among Ethiopians here. They are very sensitive -- the Ethiopians are very sensitive of what is going on in their country. And of course they see themselves -- all of them see themselves as Ethiopians and (unintelligible) integrity of Ethiopia basically will (word?) and will raise some issues here among Ethiopians in the United States.
NNAMDIWell, Jonathan Berman, China is investing very heavily in places like Ethiopia. How is that influencing the region itself and how is it influencing the relationship that America is also trying to forge?
BERMANSo I have a view that's a little bit contrary to the popular perception here, at least in the city in Washington.
NNAMDIDura (sp?) contrarians right here.
BERMANYou know, my perspective on this is that the relationship between China and Africa as first and foremost China and Africa is concerned, you know, I find that Americans talk a lot more about it to either Chinese or Africans too. But that secondarily while like all relationships, it's complex, had its ups and downs, on balance the Chinese are creating a lot of investment and infrastructure in Africa at favorable financing terms that wouldn't be available from anyplace else.
BERMANThey're doing a lot of things that the U.S. or other Western powers simply would not do. And from which we benefit. You know, the roads the Chinese built, American goods can flow on those roads. There's a lot of win-win in that opportunity.
NNAMDIOne of the people you interviewed for the book claim the Chinese interests look at African projects as investments, while too many Americans still look at African projects as charity. Can you elaborate because you just did, in a way, when you talked about the road that's being built. People think that, you know, you build a road simply in order for the citizens of that country to be able to get from one place to another. But it's an investment for the countries that are building the roads too.
BERMANYeah, for the countries that are building the roads. But then, you know, the road knows no nationality, right. Once it's built anybody's going to be able to roll across it. You know, I think that one -- a lot has been said about America perceiving Africa as a place of charity as opposed to China thinking of it as a place of investment. And I think that that's leveling out a bit. You know, America is coming onboard a little more with that. But I think there's one thing I did hear talking to African CEOs about their relationship with Chinese, which is the African CEOs said, you know, the Chinese have been where we are in their lifetimes.
BERMANThe Chinese executives we talked to, they've seen their cities the way our cities look today. And they can see that our future could be like their future. That may be a little tougher for an American who's grown up in a modern city with a modern infrastructure his or her whole life.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. To what extent do you think American interests fail to understand how African countries and African businesses view Chinese investment?
BERMANYou know, I think American companies get this a lot better frankly than the American government. You know, in my book I tended to focus on business readers and business perspectives. But, you know, since we're here in the nation's capital its way towards mentioning that I think that our private sector is a little ahead of our public sector here in understanding both the commercial nature of the opportunity in Africa and also that the Chinese are -- you know, they're not caricatures, they're not characters, they're not villains. They're competitors and in some cases collaborators.
NNAMDINevertheless, the Chinese have a political system that is often at odds with what we view in the United States as a political system. So Getachew, some people feel that there might be a kind of downside to the Chinese influence in Ethiopia. Some people have become very concerned, for example, about Ethiopia's political behavior, that the government under both Meles Zenawi and now Hailemariam Desalegn has been very aggressive say about jailing journalists that they deem problematic. What do you say?
METAFERIAYes. First of all, the Chinese are not new in Africa. They were there in the 14th century about 80 years before the Portuguese arrived in Africa. And then in the 1960s, the Chinese were very involved in supporting the people again as colonial rulers. But the problem with China and the Chinese are basically supporting and abetting dictators in Africa. Yes, China follows or its intention is to further its national interests. The Chinese are not do-gooders. Of course they want to make some profit and their national interest is a priority thing.
METAFERIACurrently, the Chinese government basically are working hunting gloves with dictators, with countries or leaders who jail journalists. And basically who, after the end of the Cold War, who says that any person or any newspaper or any journalist who challenges the government will be dubbed as a terrorist. And the Chinese are supporting this kind of regimes by, for example, providing technologies that stifles radio programs coming from overseas, like the voice of America. And so the Chinese are seen only supporting the bad guys. And so there is that kind of thing in Africa.
METAFERIAFirst of all, let me say this thing. The Chinese are making Africa a dumping ground for cheap materials and killing African budding industries. So they are working against the economic interests of most African countries.
NNAMDIHere is Al in Washington, D.C. Al, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALHi, Kojo. And I think you sort of alluded to what I was going to ask. Maybe the professors and the rest of your panel could answer this. As someone who's interested in African -- I've been involved in Africa for many years, how could we foster or encourage big-item investment, whether it's infrastructure, capital development, whether it's banks lending money for dams and so on and so forth?
ALI could see a connection between American companies, a lot of money, who could invest and get a good return on their investment in Africa, which in turn would produce new consumers for American products. And how much is that issue linked to the perception of lack of political and economic stability in Africa?
NNAMDIJonathan Berman, how much is the notion of investing in specific countries in Africa or maybe the perception of Africa in general linked to the notion of ongoing political instability?
BERMANI think it is linked and it has a dampening effect on investment. You know, particularly, there's sort of this enlarging effect of the media on every time there's a conflict anywhere in Africa, that it might speak to the political stability of all of Africa. So right now there's a big -- there are conflicts in both South Sudan and the Central African Republic that are very prominent in our news. One might think that all 54 or 55 countries of Africa are in flames. Certainly not the case.
NNAMDIObviously not going on in Ghana, obviously not going on in Ethiopia at this point, but this general perception affects everyone. Thank you very much for your call. We're going to have to take a short break. It's that time. But, if you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. If you haven't called yet and would like to, the number's 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Have your preconceptions of countries in the Horn of Africa, like Ethiopia and Eritrea changed at all in recent years? If so, why? Give us a call. 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on Washington and the Horn of Africa. We're talking with Getachew Metaferia. He's a professor at Morgan State University and the author of "Ethiopia and the United States: History, Diplomacy, and Analysis." Menna Demessie is a political scientist and professor at the University of California Washington Center. She's also a senior policy analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
NNAMDIJonathan Berman is a senior fellow at Columbia University's Vale Center. He's a senior advisor to Dahlberg, which is a strategic advisory firm focused on frontier markets. He's also the author of the book, "Success in Africa: CEO Insights from a Continent on the Rise." We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. I wanted to go to Tiffany in New Orleans, Louisiana, who's been on the phone for awhile. Tiffany, you're on the air. What's your question or comments?
TIFFANYYes, I would like to take the conversation in a different direction. I was wondering if any of you could comment on the number of African-Americans who could possibly be like slave descendants from the Horn of Africa? And also speak on the relationship between African-Americans and immigrants from Ethiopia or the Horn of Africa.
NNAMDIOkay. I'll put that in your hands, Getachew.
NNAMDII don't know what the research in on the number of African-Americans who originated from that part of the world.
METAFERIAI haven't seen any research, but most research indicates that from the Horn of Africa most of them went to the Middle East, to Saudi Arabia and to Pakistan and all of those countries. And some of them actually became rulers in Pakistan. And they did -- they were involved in agriculture in the area of Syria -- today's Syria, for example around the Tigris and Euphrates River. So that is the case. But, here...
NNAMDIBut you just mentioned Saudi Arabia. And, as we were talking in the break, apparently there's another issue having to do with Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia. What's going on?
METAFERIAThe Ethiopian government promised to send about 40,000 or 43,000 migrant laborers, mainly woman, maids, to Saudi Arabia. And there have been human rights abuse. They do what they call the kafala system in Saudi Arabia and in the Middle East, in the area, in the region in general. What that means is, when somebody is recruited in Ethiopia and is sent -- shipped off to Saudi Arabia, there would be -- a families are to receive these migrant workers. And then they will place them in their houses. But they would take away their passports and they don't have any say.
METAFERIASome of them work between 70 to 100 hours a week. Most of them are working for several families. And, as a result of these human rights abuses, most of them commit suicide. And that's the situation. And now they are...
NNAMDIWho represents -- who speaks for these migrant workers?
METAFERIANobody speaks for the migrant workers. But there is this alliance now, what is called global alliance. That is globally is an organization that is trying to find and repatriate these immigrants. And churches and religious institutions here in Washington D.C. are also very active in this, try to support. The government seems not to support. But the government has passed a law recently that it would not send migrant workers to Saudi Arabia for another six months. But the situation has become very, very...
NNAMDITiffany, the second part of your question had to do with how African-Americans and people from the Horn of Africa get along, an issue that Menna deals with every day when she looks in the mirror, because she happens to be both an African-American, having been born in Cleveland, and having parents who were born in Ethiopia. So, you're best positioned to describe this.
DEMESSIEYes. And I thank Tiffany for the call. I think she's touching on a very important question and that's sort of the coalition-building between African-Americans, Ethiopians and Africans more largely speaking. Of course we know, when you look at the history of black elected officials in the CBC, in their heyday, in the early 70s, we know they played a critical role in liberation during, you know, the post-colonial era on the continent. People like Congressman Ron Dellums, who still remains active.
DEMESSIEAnd, of course, following the unfortunate passing of our go-to Africa guy on the Hill, Congressman Donald Payne, he certainly has set the bar quite high for the U.S. playing a larger and more comprehensive role on the continent, not just regards to tackling things like poverty and hunger, but also development. And so I think it's worth mentioning, there's a lot of potential for African-Americans and Ethiopians and Africans to work together. We've got folks right now that are quite active. Of course, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, I can't forget to mention her.
DEMESSIEI worked for her primarily because of her strong role in helping create the U.S. global health initiative and really pushing and representing the interests, not just within her district in California, but across the country. And folks like Congresswoman Karen Bass on the Africa subcommittee. They play critical roles in helping create opportunities for African-Americans and Ethiopians to work together. And, you know, most people reflect back, when you think about D.C., of the sort of recent dissention in trying to rename the U Street area as Little Ethiopia.
DEMESSIEOf course we have sort of a counter-story, a successful one, out in California, where there's a sort of a Little Ethiopia in the Fairfax area of L.A., which is one of the first internationally recognized African sort of towns in the U.S. And it's unfortunate that that has sort of been sort of the go-to story of African-American relations with Ethiopians in the U.S., because, you know, my research comes from a place of almost returning to our past where there was this more Pan-African approach to the continent.
DEMESSIEBut certainly there -- right now we see -- back to her question about sort of tracing ancestry -- I was in Benin a few weeks ago and, of course, that was one of the largest slave ports. Many African immigrants -- African-Americans have come from there and other areas in West Africa. There are new opportunities. A lot of folks are now tracing their ancestry back to Africa. The, you know, Cameroon's a good example of that. The government has opened its doors to African-Americans to come and learn about the country.
DEMESSIEThere's places Sierra Leon, where even, you know, Isaiah Washington, the famous actor, traced his ancestry back. And then the question becomes, Well, what do you do with that? On the one hand, it's a very personal connection to the continent. On another, it's also an opportunity to play a larger role that is African-Americans. But we have to be very careful about how we go about doing that and what it means to go back and to invest and to ensure that it's a collective effort.
NNAMDIAnd we mentioned China earlier. And that's what Mable or Mabie in Lanham, Maryland wants to talk about. You're on the air, Mabie. Go ahead, please. Hello? Mabie, are you there?
MABIEYeah. Oh, yes, yes. Hi, Kojo. This is my first time calling.
MABIEHappy New Year and Happy New Year to your guests.
NNAMDISame to you.
MABIEI'm very happy you are focusing your discussion on the Horn of Africa. But, actually, for our younger generation, I just want us to go back. During the Cold War, most foreign policies were based on political ideology. At that time, we have Eastern Bloc as well as Western Bloc.
MABIESo and these policies also influenced development of Africa from the 1960s onward to the 80s. We had the Eastern Bloc, either you're pro-East or pro-West or non-allied.
MABIENow, today, we have a shift in these policies. And yet, still, it's very obscure in terms of political ideology. What is the prime mover and motivator that is actually driving China to invest -- apart from the economy -- to invest in some of these African countries? And why is it that the United States for so long had lagged behind, you know, to invest in Africa, to see the potentials that are there in Africa.
NNAMDIHere's Jonathan Berman.
MABIEWhat is the dividing line between these two foreign policies for our generation?
NNAMDIJonathan, is it as driven today by ideology as it might have been in the -- during the period of the Cold War?
BERMANI think not. I think the Chinese engage in Africa, you know, for commercial reasons and, one might argue, for geopolitical reasons, for access to resources that they don't have at home. But you don't -- I, at least, don't get the sense that there's an effort by the Chinese state to sort of export its model to Africa. I think they point to their success as a credibility builder. But it's not the exportation of an ideology, the way I think you saw in the Cold War.
NNAMDIOn, therefore, to Gedatcha in Silver Spring, Maryland. Gedatcha, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GEDATCHAThank you for giving me this chance to speak. The Ethiopians in the country and outside the Diaspora expect from Americans some push to -- for the democratization process in the country. And they are still not giving that push. And Chinese getting that chance and now they are getting deeply to the country. If this trend continues, China is going to take over the countries unfortunately and the Americans are going to be out, because as a Diaspora we have appealed to the United States.
GEDATCHAEvery time I ask, I know, Professor Getachew Metaferia, in his presence, we have appealed many times, what is better to be for the country. But Americans are still not giving that, you know, push. And we -- I think it's better for them to go push for the democratization process in order to get the chance...
NNAMDIWell, we're running out of time. So let me get two answers for you. First you, Getachew.
METAFERIAYes. First of all, the whole notion of democracy should could from the country's self. Democracy cannot be exported. So Ethiopians have to fight for that. The United States is there to advance its national interest. That's the primary thing. So what needs to be done is, again, for Ethiopians, again, to struggle in a very positive way and peaceful way, to make sure that democracy takes roots in Ethiopia. The fact that journalists are being imprisoned, the fact that political parties are disbanded and they are made -- called terrorists, specifically after 911, have made the situation very hard.
METAFERIAAnd then I think the Ethiopians have to keep on struggling in a very positive way in a very peaceful manner.
NNAMDIBut, Jonathan Berman, U.S. foreign policy practically demands that, if businesses, American businesses are going to be involved in a place like Ethiopia, that the American government has a responsibility to advance notions of democracy in Ethiopia.
BERMANYou know, I think if you looked at the totality of U.S. engagement in Africa and Western European engagement in Africa, you could hardly say it's free of the taint of supportive -- of non-democratic regimes. I think we...
NNAMDISouth Africa, the Congo, yeah.
BERMANThat's right. I mean, Equatorial Guinea today, there are lots of places where we are dealing with regimes that are less than fully democratic. I actually think more powerful than American policy proscription is, frankly, living the values here, that I think do translate abroad. I mean I think that when America lives up to its values of honoring the individual, of creating opportunity and mobility here at home, that's the greatest export we can offer.
NNAMDIAnd, finally, Menna, negotiators from the two sides of South Sudan's conflict are meeting in Ethiopia this week. What do you make of Ethiopia's rise, not just as an -- it's rise not just as an economic hub but apparently a diplomatic hub as well? We only have about 30 seconds.
DEMESSIEYeah. Sure. Really quickly on this point, I think the U.S. government has a critical role, I mean, here's where, you know, in terms of having a holistic approach to the continent. I mean, we have AGOA, PEPFAR, you know, we can turn to as sort of achievements from the U.S. standpoint, to push this economic piece. But, you know, the political and stability has been a key point of giving aid to Ethiopia in particular and that has to be maintained. So we have to have strengthening accountability measures.
DEMESSIEOn the point of South Sudan, again, when we look to Africa Union housed at the capital of Ethiopia, we know the peace talks going on are critical right now. People are dying. And it's the job of all African leaders and their communities to come together on that issue.
NNAMDIMenna Demessie, she's a political scientist and professor at the University of California Washington Center. She's senior policy analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Getachew Metaferia is a professor at Morgan State and the author of "Ethiopia and the United States: History, Diplomacy, and Analysis." Jonathan Berman is a senior fellow at Columbia University's Vale Center and senior advisor to Dahlberg. He's the author of "Success in Africa: CEO Insights from a Continent on the Rise." Thank you all for joining us and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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