Dutch entrepreneurs in Ethiopia: ‘Hard to leave all of a sudden ‘

Tensions in Ethiopia are running high and the cabinet is calling on Dutch people โ€œstronglyโ€ to leave the country. A difficult decision for some, especially if you have built a lifetime and even a company there.

DeCCeit spoke to four Dutch entrepreneurs about their lives in Ethiopia, and about going back to the Netherlands.

โ€œVery hard to decide to leaveโ€

Sander the Council has been living in Ethiopia for 4.5 years. He works for a foundation that helps Dutch entrepreneurs with investments in the country, among other things. The Council notices that the situation is tense. โ€œPeople are concerned and are preparing for further escalation,โ€ he says on the phone. For the time being, he remains in Ethiopia; however, he is preparing to get away as soon as possible as necessary. โ€œIve built a lifetime here and have an Ethiopian girlfriend. Its very difficult to decide to leave just like that.โ€

According to The Council, it is good that the embassy takes steps and prepares everyone. โ€œInternational organizations still have Afghanistan in mind. Nobody wants to have a similar situation where panic breaks out and you cant leave the country. That is why people are preparing, but of course we hope for a good outcome.โ€

The rebels of the Peoples Liberation Army of Tigray, say, are getting closer and closer to the capital Addis Ababa, where The Council lives. โ€œIf you read the news, you will soon get the impression that things are on the flare here. But thats not the case. Life goes on, but people are nervous. When you go to the office and do the daily things, you dont immediately see that there is war.โ€

Jaap de Pater has been living with his wife and children in Debre Zeit, 50 kilometers outside Addis Ababa since 2019, where he works for a steel company. Hes going back to the Netherlands next week. As soon as it is safe again, he returns to Ethiopia. โ€œBecause our life is here, we have our home here. We are certainly not going to the Netherlands permanently. You think carefully about such a call to leave and it unleashes a lot of emotions,โ€ he says.

De Pater can continue to work from the Netherlands. โ€œBut you are also responsible for the staff and leave them behind. They cannot leave and stay in a country torn apart by the conflict. Thats hard. We hope that we will be able to return soon.โ€

De Pater also says that he does not notice much of the conflict. โ€œThere have always been tensions in our time in Ethiopia. But it is still very quiet in our immediate vicinity, except for increased controls. Thats hard to rhyme with the messages from elsewhere in the country.โ€ However, there is a lot of talk about the conflict, he notes. โ€œAs Dutch people, we have regular contact and keep each other informed about the developments.โ€

โ€œOur departure means uncertainty for staffโ€

Just over a year ago, Marc van der Meij moved to Ethiopia with his family. In the countryside, near Debre Zeit, he runs a furniture factory with a colleague. Van der Meij told his staff this week that the company is closing for the time being: he is leaving for the Netherlands next week to join his family, which returned three weeks ago.

โ€œI live in the luxury that I can leave, but not everyone can leave. Thats really sad. Our departure brings a lot of uncertainty for the staff. There is no social security here. We promise to continue to pay the salaries, but what if the banks suddenly put down the work?โ€ Still, Van der Meij is optimistic: โ€œI hope to be back before Ethiopian Christmas.โ€ Thats on 7 January.

Although there is little to notice about the war in everyday life in the entrepreneurs residence, there is a lot of activity at the military airport nearby. โ€œDrones are constantly rising there, which they just bought in. And fighter jets. They go straight over the compound.โ€

โ€œWe look at it per dayโ€

Jaco Hendriksen has a chicken slaughterhouse in Debre Zeit and has been living in Ethiopia for eight years. โ€œIts difficult to assess the situation and its course,โ€ he says. โ€œWith a company, its like a captain on a ship: you cant just leave that behind. When you leave, you must have a good captain who will take over.โ€

How his company continues when Hendriksen leaves is already fixed. The stuff is packed, although his intention is to stay. โ€œIn principle, we can leave any moment, I just dont know if Im actually going. We look at it a day,โ€ he says. โ€œBy leaving, you also send a signal to the people here. Now that they need you, youre leaving. Thats hard.โ€

If Hendriksen has to go to the Netherlands, he will definitely go back to the African country as soon as it is possible again. โ€œWhat is happening in Ethiopia is in and intrigue. Moreover, this war costs a lot of money, and that wasnt that much. I hope its likehas been resolved quickly as possible.โ€