Migratory Tendencies

Cable News Network (CNN) are proud of themselves. They reported on a, granted, unbelievable, shocking, story about the slave trade in Libya. Nima Elbagir, one of the broadcaster’s correspondents, and her team did the investigation only to come across migrants that fell into the hands of traffickers getting auctioned off as slaves.

The world was shocked. Frenziedly, the story was recycled on many news outlets, and CNN made sure to repeat the story every news hour, never forgetting to mention that it was their investigative effort, as part of the CNN Freedom Project. Within a couple of days, there were protests in Libya, and notable politicians were prompted to give quotes, if not reply.

Similarly, it was disconcerting news to Ethiopians, for we could easily relate to the hardships of migrants. Like our prehistoric ancestors, many Ethiopians today migrate, preferably to, the West, or another country with a higher standard of living. Often than not, this is Europe or the United States (US) – two places in the world almost every Ethiopian has a relative in.

One BBC report in 2014 claimed that a whopping 250,000 Ethiopian-born residents were making a living in Washington D.C. Another source, City-Data, which collects data from both government and private institutions, shows that there are at least 500 residents of Ethiopian origin in 101 cities of the country.

Of course, most of these made it to the country by air. North America is far from East Africa. The timezone difference between the capitals of Ethiopia and the US stands eight hours long. And the distance from here to Australia or New Zealand does not fare better either. This leaves Europe as the best alternative with a higher per capita income and a well-established respect towards civil liberties.

The latest estimates for net migration in Ethiopia stand at -0.13, according to Knoema, an open data platform, showing that 13 people for every 1000 left their country in 2015. In contrast, net migration across a similar subset of Germany and the United Kingdom (UK) in the same period stood at 4.37 and 3.08, respectively.

The Europeans had been relatively calm about a large number of immigrants, from Africa and the volatile Middle East. That is up until the emergence of right-wing political parties like the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Alternative for Germany (AFD), which betrayed, at the very least, annoyance at the influx.

Statistics may be redundant here, though, in the face of horrific experiences of Ethiopian migrants between here and the Promised Land that has become Europe, and for others, the Gulf countries. Back in August, the news was abuzz with the report of Ethiopian and Somali migrants deliberately drowned off the coast of Yemen.

And who can forget the beheading of Ethiopian migrants in a Libyan desert, broadcast for the world, including their families and relatives, by the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS)?

And the destinations are seldom what they are built up to be, especially if one lacks the necessary education and language. The Ethiopian government is repeatedly confronted with the fate of the nation’s large expat community in Saudi Arabia. Despite warm relations, the Kingdom recently announced plans to expel what it believes are an estimated half a million undocumented migrants in the country. And we are not starved of news of abuses and mistreatment of Ethiopian nationals in the Gulf states.

“Why are Africans risking their lives to leave the fastest-growing country on the continent?”

That was the subtitle of an article published by Time soon after those Ethiopian migrants met their fates at the hands of ISIS.

And why indeed?

Migration out of the country was at its highest in 1980, almost a dozen people immigrating for every 1000. Perhaps this is unsurprising. Ethiopia subsisted under the hands of a military dictatorship (the worst sort of a dictatorship), the Dergue, whose Red Terror political campaign, the Amnesty International estimates, took the lives of as high as half a million people.

But, emigration subsided rather quickly, and by the mid-1990s, Ethiopia’s net migration rate was actually in the positive. More people were coming into the country than were leaving it. And this could have been attributed to the feeling of hopefulness. After decades of economic uncertainty, and vile abuses to human and political rights, people could, for once, look to a decent constitution, own a business and stay out late without fear of a curfew. It must have been a truly refreshing experience.

Fast forward about a couple of decades, and the political environment, for better or worse, has remained static. There have been ambitious projects, and the economy has grown only short of leaps-and-bounds, but the political environment remains narrow and unapproachable. The media is weak and when it comes to broadcast satellite channels, asinine.

And whatever the job opportunities economic development has brought, it faces the challenge of being obliterated by the sheer weight of the quantity of the youth. The demographic makeup has heavily tilted to that of the youth, requiring the Ethiopian government to create, according to several conservative estimates, hundreds of thousands of jobs every year.

Migration from a developing country to a developed one is only normal. At the very least, if not a college dropout looking to strike gold in London, then a medical doctor looking for better pay will vacate the country. Still, if the mid-1990s are any indication, where the nation was far less economically developed, political changes – at least at the legislative level – could go a long way to persuade people to stay put.

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye (christian.tesfaye@addisfortune.net) is Fortune's Op-Ed Editor whose interests run amok in both directions of print and audiovisual storytelling.

Published on Dec 16,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 920]



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