Migration Betrays Full Picture of Economy

Last Tuesday, at lunchtime, I heard two elderly women chitchatting rather casually about one of the critical problems that are currently affecting our nation. They conversed about human capital migration, about offspring that made it across the Libyan desert and the Mediterranean sea to a destination in Europe.

They asked each other for details regarding their respective children. The news about migrants travelling across the Libyan route has indeed been distressing, at least of which was the CNN report that people were being auctioned off as slaves.

But these women were giddy, as the youth that dared to take on this journey have reached Germany and Italy in one piece. They congratulated one another, never mentioning the amount of courage and desperation it takes on the part of a person to attempt something as dangerous as illegal migration.

If the stories of drownings in the Mediterranean sea, inhumane treatment by human smugglers and the threat of running into terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant (ISIL) are not slowing down migration then it is impossible to know what will.

In the era of the internet, it is impossible to claim that migrants are not aware of such dangers when they make the journey. Families will likely advise against it, as does the government through public media outlets. Even movies and TV shows are prepared in order to preach against such a journey.

What is the pull factor, then?

I was shocked to learn about the United Nation’s migration agency report that thousands of Ethiopians are still making the journey through war-infested Yemen, looking for economic opportunities in the Middle East. Whatever the political situation here, the sort of civil war that is currently taking place there should at least be a deterrent to migrants. And if economic opportunities are the ultimate reason for migration, then the double-digit economy the government is proud of should have provided them with the impetus to stay.

It is common to hear from officials that the standard of living is picking up and that job opportunities are increasing. In some cases, they even have the numbers to prove such assertions. The 10pc growth rate of gross domestic product (GDP) is greatly emphasised. And mega projects such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) rarely miss media coverage every week.

Some of the economic development is palpable. Take, for example, the many roads that have been paved and the many buildings that have been constructed over the decades. They have fundamentally changed the urban landscape. Moreover, health centres and learning institutions have become accessible to more people than ever before.

Nevertheless, migration persists, showing that such economic growth is failing to fix the bottlenecks that people are trying to avoid. Things such as foreign direct investment (FDI) may be growing, but the sorts of job opportunities that they are opening are low-income ones. And income per capita may be strengthening, leading to a better standard of living, but it is growing at a slower rate than ever before.

All of this is compounded by the fact that population numbers are growing faster than what the economy can catch up with. Ethiopia may have the most significant economy in East Africa, but per capita income is still under 900 dollars, lower than that of neighbouring Kenya. What this shows is that although there is a big pie, there are too many of us for it to be shared adequately by everyone.

The government is too focused on its double-digit achievements, while there are too many red flags that show that all is not well. Forget the forex crunch or Ethiopia’s lower ranking on the doing business index the World Bank published last year; migration should be enough of an incentive to begin working to improve the economy for it to create equal opportunities for all.

The problems that are ailing the economy, such as severe supply constraints, will not abate soon. Furthermore, it is not easy to fix an economy that supports what is estimated to be over 100 million people. The least the government can do is be honest about growth numbers.

Why sing of a double-digit growth rate all day when exports are too low, imports are too high, remittances are stagnant, tourism is down, debts are too great and domestic revenue is minimal?

Although it could be detrimental to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling coalition, the public media has the responsibility of being honest about such fundamental economic issues. It is the only way to get people concerned enough in order for them to work towards achieving better development.

Citizens need to feel that the government is giving them the full picture. Otherwise, they are bound to be distrustful, either resorting to violence as a means of getting their way or migrating, instead of being productive members of society.

By Hintsa Andebrhan
Hintsa Andebrhan is interested in politics and history. He can be reached at hintsa1974@gmail.com.

Published on Mar 10,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 932]



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