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Trust Fund grapples with fractured leadership

In his early days after assuming power two years ago, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), on his tour around North America and Europe, urged the diaspora community to contribute “a dollar a day” in support of alleviating Ethiopia’s socio-economic quagmires. He was able to bring prominent individuals in to the foray to form the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund (EDTF) which has been wrestling with a leadership crisis both in Ethiopia and in its sisterly not-for-profit and voluntary organizations abroad.

EDTF was able to mobilize some USD six million in donations from Ethiopians and citizens with an Ethiopian origin living across the world. With the Funds collected, the organization has decided to finance feasible projects. To this effect, five projects have been vetted and approved to be financed for implementation.

Last year, in pursuit of calls, more than 400 project proposals were submitted and 22 made it to the final consideration. That is when clashes began to surface leading to Eyesuswork Zafu, chairman of the board of EDTF, to tender his resignation. Along with Eyesuswork, his deputy chairperson and executive director of the Board, Mihiret Mandefro (PhD), have also opted to do the same.

The Reporter following unfolding events obtained documents that suggest there are some members of the board allegedly mishandling funds and infringing upon the project appraisal processes with “purposely and knowingly” violating the code of conduct.

Eyesuswork’s resignation as he claimed over a telephone conversation with The Reporter was when he learnt, among many issues, that one of the board members fail to report submission of a proposal by a sibling, in clear violation of EDTF’s code regarding potential conflict of interest. Another member was also accused of doing the same by letting an organization affiliated with the member to compete for grant while being fully aware of the conflict of interest arising from the situation.  

According to Eyesuswork, members are required to report to the Board when a potential conflict of interest arises, and take steps to refrain from the voting and approval procedures.

After resigning from his chairmanship, Eyesuswork, however, was requested by the Agency for Civil Society Organizations (ACSO) to remain until an officially recognized leadership change takes place. In a letter dated February 29, 2020, he said he was stepping down voluntarily both as member of the Board of Directors and as chairperson of EDTF.

“After considering all the alternatives available to me, and fully conversed that it is in the best interest of the grand objectives clearly set out in the establishment documents of both Friends of Ethiopia Diaspora Trust Fund (FEDTF) and Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund (EDIF), l hereby confirm my resignation from all duties and responsibilities as Director and Chairperson of the Board of EDTF with effect from the time and date I made the announcement: Friday, 28 February 2020 at about 04:40 PM.”

By the requests made by some members of ETDF board and the ACSO, Eyesuswork said that he had returned to serve the Fund. But before he was reinstated, the EDTF Board was summoned and replaced Eyesuswork and the vice Chairwoman Mihert.

On a meeting held on March 6th, Yohannes Assefa was reported to be elected “unanimously” by the seven Board members with two absent. Eyesuswrok and Fikre Zewdie, executive director of the Board were not present. However, the election process together with the whole procedure of the meeting was disputed and ACSO has rejected the election of Yohannes as the new chairperson.

Both Eeysuswork and Jima Dilbo, ASCO’s director general, in a letter directed to the EDTF Board, disregarded Yohannes for not being elected in a formally and legally accepted procedure.

Though efforts to talk to Yohannes did not materialize, in a reply letter, Abdulwehab Adme Ibrahim (PhD), executive board of directors, wrote on May 10, 2020, addressing ACSO’s director general, that the board led by Yohannes, has refuted and counterclaimed the legitimacy of the process that brought latter to the chairmanship role.

The agency has at least identified three major violations. It said the EDTF Board had failed to notify ACSO about the resignation of the former chairman and the election of a new one.

“The Board respectfully disagrees with ACSO’s conclusion on the election of a new chairman, held on March 6, 2020. It was [ruled] invalid because the election did not comply with Article 68 of Proclamation No. 1113/2019,” Abdulwehab wrote.

While the agency rejected the election procedures and the coming of the new chairman, the EDTF Board equally accused the civil society governing body of abuse of power and undue intervention to reinstate Eyesuswork.

In light of these back and forth, Eyesuswork has inked agreements for five projects that have been awarded a few days ago. He is on the process of finalizing the purchase and delivery of USD 1.37 million worth of protective equipment for health workers. Eyesuswork told The Reporter that facemask, protective shields, gowns and the like are about to be delivered to the Ministry of Health (MoH).