By Hassen Hussein

The latest tragedies may have temporarily united Ethiopians but has raised doubts about the country’s economic miracle

(Al Jazeera) — Within a week, Ethiopians were hit with a quadruple whammy. On April 19, the Libyan branch of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a shocking video purporting to show the killings and beheadings of Ethiopian Christians attempting to cross to Europe through Libya. This came only days after an anti-immigrant mob in South Africa killed at least three Ethiopian immigrants and wounded many others. Al Jazeera America reported that thousands of Ethiopian nationals were stranded in war-torn Yemen. And in the town of Robe in Oromia and its surroundings alone, scores of people were reportedly grieving over the loss of family members at sea aboard a fateful Europe-bound boat that sank April 19 off the coast of Libya with close to 900 aboard.

These tragedies may have temporarily united Ethiopians of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds. But they have also raised questions about what kind of desperation drove these migrants to leave their country and risk journeys through sun-scorched deserts and via chancy boats.

The crisis comes at a time when Ethiopia’s economic transformation in the last decade is being hailed as nothing short of a miracle, with some comparing it to the feat achieved by the Asian “tigers” in the 1970s. Why would thousands of young men and women flee their country, whose economy is the fastest growing in Africa and whose democracy is supposedly blossoming? And when will the exodus end?

After the spate of sad news, government spokesman Redwan Hussein said the tragedy “will be a warning to people who wish to risk and travel to Europe through the dangerous route.” Warned or not, many youths simply do not see their dreams for a better life realized in Ethiopia. Observers cite massive poverty, rising costs of living, fast-climbing youth unemployment, lack of economic opportunities for the less politically connected, the economy’s overreliance on the service sector and the requirement of party membership as a condition for employment as the drivers behind the exodus.

A 2012 study by the London-based International Growth Center noted (PDF) widespread urban unemployment amid growing youth landlessness and insignificant job creation in rural areas. “There have been significant increases in educational attainment. However, there has not been as much job creation to provide employment opportunities to the newly educated job seekers,” the report said.

One of the few ISIL victims identified thus far was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 2013. (Saudi deported more than 100,000 Ethiopian domestic workers during a visa crackdown.) A friend, who worked as a technician for the state-run Ethiopian Electricity Agency, joined him on this fateful trek to Libya. At least a handful of the victims who have been identified thus far were said to be college graduates.

Given the depth of poverty, Ethiopia’s much-celebrated economic growth is nowhere close to accommodating the country’s young and expanding population, one of the largest youth cohorts in Africa. Government remains the main employer in Ethiopia after agriculture and commerce. However, as Human Rights Watch noted in 2011, “access to seeds, fertilizers, tools and loans … public sector jobs, educational opportunities and even food assistance” is often contingent on support for the ruling party.

Still, unemployment and lack of economic opportunities are not the only reasons for the excessive outward migration. These conditions are compounded by the fact that youths, ever more censored and denied access to the Internet and alternative sources of information, simply do not trust the government enough to heed Hussein’s warnings. Furthermore, the vast majority of Ethiopian migrants are political refugees fleeing persecution. There are nearly 7,000 registered Ethiopian refugees in Yemen, Kenya has more than 20,000, and Egypt and Somalia have nearly 3,000 each, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
As long as Ethiopia focuses on security, the door is left wide open for further exodus and potential social unrest from an increasingly despondent populace.

Ethiopians will head to the polls in a few weeks. Typically, elections are occasions to make important choices and vent anger at the incumbent. But on May 23, Ethiopians will be able to do neither. In the last decade, authorities have systematically closed the political space through a series of anti-terrorism, press and civil society laws. Ethiopia’s ruling party, now in power for close to 24 years, won the last four elections. The government has systematically weakened the opposition and does not tolerate any form of dissent.

The heightened crackdown on freedom of expression has earned Ethiopia the distinction of being the world’s fourth-most-censored country and the second leading jailer of journalists in Africa, behind only its archrival, Eritrea, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

There is little hope that the 2015 elections would be fundamentally different from the 2010 polls, in which the ruling party won all but two of the 547 seats in the rubber-stamp national parliament. The ruling party maintains a monopoly over the media. Authorities have shown little interest in opening up the political space for a more robust electoral contest. This was exemplified by the exclusion of key opposition parties from the race, continuing repression of those running and Leenco Lata’s recent failed attempt to return home to pursue peaceful political struggle after two decades of exile. (Lata is the founder of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front, fighting since 1973 for the rights of the Oromo, Ethiopia’s marginalized majority population, and the president of the Oromo Democratic Front.)

A few faces from the fragmented and embittered opposition maybe elected to parliament in next month’s lackluster elections. But far from healing Ethiopia’s gashing wounds, the vote is likely to ratchet up tensions. In fact, a sea of youth, many too young to vote, breaking police barriers to join opposition rallies bespeaks not of a country ready for elections but one ripe for a revolution with unpredictable consequences.

Despite these mounting challenges, Ethiopia’s relative stability — compared with its deeply troubled neighbors Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti — is beyond contention. Even looking further afield, across the Red Sea, where Yemen is unraveling, one finds few examples of relative stability. This dynamic and Ethiopia’s role in the “war on terrorism” explains Washington’s and other donors’ failure to push Ethiopia toward political liberalization.

However, Ethiopia’s modicum of stability is illusory and bought at a hefty price: erosion of political freedoms, gross human rights violations and ever-growing discontent. This bodes ill for a country split by religious, ethnic and political cleavages. While at loggerheads with each other, Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups — the Oromo (40 percent) and the Amhara (30 percent) — are increasingly incensed by continuing domination by Tigreans (6 percent).

Ethiopian Muslims (a third of the country’s population of 94 million) have been staging protests throughout the country since 2011. Christian-Muslim relations, historically cordial, are being tested by religious-inspired violence and religious revivalism around the world. Ethiopia faces rising pressures to choose among three paths fraught with risks: the distasteful status quo; increased devolution of power, which risks balkanization; and more centralization, which promises even further resistance and turmoil.

It is unlikely that the soul searching from recent tragedies will prompt the authorities to make a course adjustment. If the country’s history of missed opportunities for all-inclusive political and economic transformation is any guide, Ethiopians might be in for a spate of more sad news. As long as the answer to these questions focuses on security, the door is left wide open for further exodus and potential social unrest from an increasingly despondent populace.

HassenHussein225Hassen Hussein is an assistant professor at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.

31 thoughts on “If Ethiopia is so vibrant, why are young people leaving?

  1. Very good article!

    If one wants to understand the economic model of the TPLF/EPRDF regime in Ethiopia, one needs to closely study the economic models of Tunisia under Bin Ali and that of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak. The current economic model of Ethiopia has very limited similarity with the economic models the world observed in South East Asia (Asian Tigers). One can clearly explain this in more details how Ethiopia’s economic model very widely differs from the Asian Tigers.

    Note that the West, including the World Bank and IMF, were hyping the economic growth in Tunisia under Bin Ali and Egypt under Hosni Mubarak. And the world eventually saw the truth & the effect of the wrong economic models. Simply put, irrespective of political views and bias, the TPLF/EPRDF regime is conducting wrong economic model in Ethiopia. Even worse, only the regime and its supporters are portrayed as lovers of the “economic miracle” in Ethiopia. Some people such as Oromos are depicted as enemies of economic progress, which is anti-thesis to the essence of economic development theories and the roles of government in the economy.

  2. First of all, Hassen Hussen welcome back to accademic areas. you are not talented as politician but may be as an accademician. your Ethiopianst view highly reflected in your article. You, as one of the few young intellectulas emerging from south Oromia failed Oromo. knowingly or unknowgly you failed us.still you are trying hard to critcize as if the TPLF mafia gangs care about desperate youngs exodus.Young man, The only way is dismantelling the Abyssinains hegemonic system from the roots not a paper tiger critisim from desperate individuals. By the way, is your boss was the founder of OLF or one of the founder? yes, you are right that he was the founder of OROMO Dividing Force sorry Oromo democratic front.

  3. Hassen,
    You wrote:

    “Despite these mounting challenges, Ethiopia’s relative stability — compared with its deeply troubled neighbors Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti — is beyond contention.”;

    Calling Ethiopia relatively more stable than Djibouti and Eritrea is not factually accurate. To say it is beyond contention also foolish. How do you measure stability anyway? Representative of 6 million controlling 100 million divers people is stabel in what way?

    Ethiopia faces rising pressures to choose among three paths fraught with risks: the distasteful status quo;; and more centralization, which promises even further resistance and turmoil.

    What do you mean by “fraught with risk”? You became more woyane than Woyane when you write “;increased devolution of power, which risks balkanization”. Really? That is shameful. Why write at all when you do not even know what to write that is of benefit to Oromo? Forgot; trasfer poer to ODF and things will be fine, right. dream on….Beeka Namoo

  4. @Hassen Hussein

    You said it all and I personally thank you for that. Here is something absolutely despicable I expect to happen soon.

    While we mourn and shade our tears for the dead and agonize with the sufferers, woyanes/TPLF will soon turn our double tragedy into a working strategy to their benefit. They will use our tragedy to divert the attention of Ethiopians and the global community from the coming up “fake election” to eliminate individuals and opposition parties with the potential to critisize their past/present wrong doings. That will be our triple tragedy!

    The indicators of our triple tragedy are already out there. They beat up peaceful demonstrators and have started massive harassment, propaganda and jailing of party members, innocent citizens, etc. Encouraged by this anti-people action of woyanes/TPLF, ISIS will soon unleash its attacks and strike again in Libya or some where else until Ethiopians are confused to figure out who the real enemy is.

    As the earnestly put it, “Refugees don’t need our tears. They need us to stop making them refugees”.

    To stop the fleeing of our country men, women and children, we must be able to eliminate the root cause. Woyanes/TPLF are just drying the pond to catch the fish.

    May God/Allah give us the courage and wisdom to fight back evils like woyanes/TPLF, ISIS, Al Shaba, etc., etc.

  5. In the present context, there is no exact definition of Ethiopia. Is that Amhara only? Is that Tigree Only? Is that include others in prisoners for their political views?

    What do you mean in your title by the word “Vibrant”? Do you mean an increase in inflation and devaluation of exchange rate value? Do you mean high involuntary unemployment? Do you mean invading of Somalia? Do you mean high out-migrations? Do you mean high land grabbing? Do you mean lack of social security for all people but only for political affiliated or victims parents of the Libya? Do you mean high police and military abuses? Do you mean… where should I stop to ask you! It is entirely a political structure failure in that each region has no autonomy to manage ones resources in every direction with responsibility! The only solution appears independence!

  6. Dear Hassen,
    I thought that the division of the OLF that you and your friend Leecoo Baati engineered based on clan politics in 2008 and your subsequent political downfall would teach you and others who think like you to reexamine your ideology and political position. I am wrong to think this way. In fact, you seem more Ethiopian than Tigres and Amharas who always try to use people who are ideologically naive and opportunists as collaborators.

    Please Hassen wake up and discard the ideology of Ethiopianism, which is a disease for people like you. Also, teach people who are with you in the ODF; You are an Oromo and you cannot be an Ethiopian. By the way can you convince the Oromo why they are Ethiopians. Please write an article on this.

  7. On the expatriate status, I excerpt from a book the following:

    “Muslim pirates (or corsairs) in North Africa, in retaliation for the encroachment of Spanish kings, enslaved at least a million European Christians in Algiers and other port cities. The most famous was Barbarossa:

    “Spanish kings, having conquered the Muslim emirate of Granada and brought an end to nearly eight centuries of Muslim rule in Spain … established a string of fortress colonies, or presidios, along the coast from Morocco to Tripolitania and forced local dynasties in Fez (in Morocco), Tlemcen (in Algeria) and Tunis to pay tribute to the Spanish crown.

    “The main resistance to Spain’s occupation came from local sailors who armed their ships and plundered Spanish vessels for cargoes and captives. In Europe, these corsairs were regarded as a barbarian menace, reviled for selling thousands of Christian sailors into slavery. But they themselves viewed their war as a religious conflict against Christian invaders and were seen by Arab and Berber inhabitants of the coast as local heroes.

    “The most famous of the corsair commanders were two brothers, ‘Aruj and Hizir, both known in Europe by the Italian name of Barbarossa. Born on the Ottoman island of Mytilene (now Lesbos), they began their seafaring careers as privateers in the eastern Mediterranean, but shifted their operations to the western Mediterranean where the opportunities for plunder from Spanish shipping were greater. In 1504, they obtained permission from the Beni Hafsid sultan in Tunis to use the nearby port of Halq al-Wadi (Guletta) as a base. Their raids on Sicily, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands and the Spanish mainland made them widely feared by coastal communities in southern Europe. In 1516, they succeeded in liberating El Djezair (Algiers) from Spanish rule. After consolidating control over the surrounding region and forcing the Beni Ziyad ruler to flee, ‘Aruj declared himself the new sultan of Algiers and set out to extend his power to Tlemcen in the west, but was killed there in 1517.

    “His place was taken by his younger brother Hizir who inherited the name Barbarossa. Needing the support of a powerful ally against the might of Spain, in 1519 Hizir sent an envoy to the Ottoman court, bearing gifts and a petition from the Algiers population asking for protection in the war against Christian invaders and offering to submit themselves to Ottoman rule. The envoy duly returned home with an Ottoman flag and a detachment of 2,000 janissaries. The arrival of Ottoman forces in the western Mediterranean shifted the balance of power there decisively. …

    “Corsair fleets continued their raids with official approval, making huge fortunes from captured merchandise and from the sale or ransom of captives. Their field of operation widened considerably during the seventeenth century when they began to use square-rigged sailing ships instead of galleys. Their activities formed the backbone of the economy. Corsair loot paid for the wages of government officials, furnished their residences and financed the building of harbour defences, aqueducts and mosques. Christian slaves were used as a ready supply of labour. They worked on construction gangs and as galley slaves, agricultural labourers and quarrymen. Skilled artisans were consigned to shipyards and arsenals and made a significant contribution to maintaining the fighting capacity of corsair fleets. Women and girls were sent to the harems. The only escape for white captives was to organise payment of a ransom or to ‘turn Turk’ — convert to Islam.

    “The booming port-city of Algiers became the base for a fleet of seventy-five corsair ships and the principal entrepôt for European slaves. Between 1550 and 1730, the white slave population there stood consistently at about 25,000 and sometimes reached double that number. With so much slave labour on hand, Algiers blossomed into one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Contemporary writers remarked on the immaculate state of the streets, the elegant houses, manicured gardens and handsome pavilions. White slave labour helped build the Mole, a large breakwater protecting the harbour, dragging giant blocks of rock weighing twenty tons or more from hills outside the city. Tunis and Tripoli held about 7,500 Christian captives over the same period. The ports of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli also served as a haven for thousands of European pirates, many of whom ‘turned Turk’ and who joined in the plunder of Christian shipping with equal enthusiasm, sharing the profits with ruling officials. ‘If I met my own father at sea I would rob him and sell him when I was done,’ boasted John Ward, an infamous seventeenth-century English pirate based in Tunis.

    “The white slave population needed continual replenishment. Some were ransomed; some converted; thousands died from disease and ill-treatment. New arrivals destined for the slave auctions of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli numbered on average about 5,000 a year during the boom years of the trade. Modern historians estimate that in all, between 1530 and 1780, at least a million European captives were enslaved on the Barbary coast.”

  8. @Dig-Inward,

    I read what you quoted with great interest. My question to you is this: What is the moral of the story right here and right now? Are you trying to justify the slaughter of our brothers in Libya and the murder of others in Yemen, South Africa, etc is in “retaliation” to past/present violation of Ethiopian Muslims by past/present Ethiopian kings and rulers?

    I look forward to hearing from you soon with great respect.

  9. @Mario

    I has conversation in many occasion with you on this website. An answer to your question is your response: ” I say, no body is opening his/her eyes either to see around with what is going on. We blame others a lot for the trouble we are in. We must also start blaming ourselves, for we are part of the problem and never part of the solution.”


  11. @Senayt
    A first priority to go to hell is TPLF. Other evils like ISIS deserve the same.

    Freedom fighters like OLF, G7, ONLF go to heavens.

  12. Senayt street girl/boy

    start to open her/his dirty mouth with cursing.

    go to hell ………

    Yata Lemagn Tsadbo Yihedal!!!

    that’s how her/his mom was.

  13. DIG

    1. senayt

      you are Amhara, & don’t try to act as if you are from Tigry, I know you comment in different web sights with different names.
      stop accusing people of Tigry because of some individuals. shame on you we are not like you, think,

  14. @senayt

    You don’t yet about TPLF? It ranges from land grabbing-jailing, torturing, and killings including students, politicians, raping and journalists-to-corrupting internationally through Al-Moudin and nationally EFFORT company-to-further- assassinating abroad who flee from Guns and displacement-and mounted with high out migration for lack of opportunity and political views in the history-and behaving as a yes-man to exacerbate inflation …..

    TPLF is the worst!

    1. How many TPLF members like Seye Abraha did languish in prisons for corruptions? There are still TPLF members in prisons. Add to that other EPRDF members behind bars for corruptions.

      Again, Senayt is ill-trained TPLF cadre, who does not know how to lie. She desperately needs retraining on how to effectively lie as some of the TPLF thugs and their henchmen. :}

  15. senayt

    this illiterate gang members from Adwa doesn’t represent even people of TIGRY.
    all our university graduate student, from TIGRY, OROMIA, AMARA, GURAGE, BENSHANGUL &
    in different area in Ethiopia, are not able to find a job, and those few mafia group & their family members, occupy (control) every thing in that country. our people are dying every where in the world, they try to scape the worst terrorist group in the world right now which is TPLF & they fell on the hand of ISIS.

    this is your economy grow, development, democracy, peace, human right,?

  16. @Senayt

    TPLF is bribing USA with millions of dollar to save him from angry Ethiopians,
    that didn’t work for Mubarak or Gadafi.
    the end is coming, people are joining,G7, and all armed forces, to remove the cancer from our country.

    YEHAGER anbesa YEWUCH eresa!!!!

  17. don’t talk with sanyt leave talk with himself .Libya was stable country under gadafi for 40yrs he finished his home work of distraction in 40yrs.tplf is the same.

  18. hadara rabuma sodadha oromo namni tatan maqa nama dhoytani sabanama hin arabsina.kufati qabso oromo kan it I gafatamu suma mata keti.

  19. Hassen Hussein is a clueless politician and academician, if at all he is one or the other. A politician must have his own guiding principle and an academician must also have his own thesis.

    In the Hassen Hussein case, his premise (or thesis) is the propaganda of the EPRDF regime. He asks, “If Ethiopia is so vibrant, why are young people leaving?” as a boy in an elementary school poses a question to his teacher: “Teacher, Teacher – If Ethiopia is so vibrant, why are young people leaving?”

    We all agree that Hassen Hussein is only good in clanism, but neither politics nor academics.

    1. God how you expose your ignorance?! Asking a good question is the beginning of any inquiry. Besides there is what we call rhetorical question but you don’t get that. You wanted to criticize him just because it was Hassen. Who is clanist here?

  20. All in all, I think, Hassen Hussen has evolved a lot comaring
    with Lecho Bati, his erand boy. For me, to see an ODF Executive committee member to come out and officially critisizing TPLF/EPRDF is unthinkable. You are welcome
    Hassen. Keep it up! After all we still consider you one among
    the potencially promissing oromo intellectuals. If you continue deviding our people to grab power, you will be rejected like Lencho leta. NO ONE IS INDIPENSEBLE

  21. All oromos including ODF members demand more explanation from profesor Hassen Hussen on the statment He wrote. I quote “increased devolution (discenteralization ) of power, risks balkanization”. Why you prefer to use the word ‘balkanization’ ?

  22. Hussa Huseen,only knows only licking what others write on book and has nothing new to offer. He is good at copying and repeating what others say. He is very irresponsible when he sites the population of Oromoo as 40% and the population of Amahara as 30% percent without quoting his sources of this figures. I think, this guys should be advised to shut up and teach in school.

    1. Hawinee the terrorist, ISIS lover, you cannot even read and understand, and you want to criticize what Hassen wrote. You are not in league with him. Just don’t talk. You have nothing to offer

  23. The comment I saw on the above is really a deformed way of putting current Ethiopia that has saved the lives of more than 80 millions. If it wasn’t for this government more than 40 millions of Ethiopians would have been flooded any where in the world.
    The previous governments were the cruelest & greed ensanes the world has ever seen.
    As to the Oromos as it’s meaning shows they were the late migrants to Ethiopia & the name means ‘new comer’ till recent times they were treated like strangers & nomads.
    However the current government offered them ownership of land & self administration just like a dream came true. But when the youth Oromos started migrating to western countries,
    blaming the current government became the best business to get financial support and to bring their families & relatives easily. Thier shout is baseless & un true. The same moslims too. The joujournalists are also mercenaries of those who wants to see the country dismantled always they report fake & false infos. Had they done same in Europe they would have been convicted of treason. It is true there are many things to amend & from time to time is improving . And everyone agree that our main enemy is poverty and the country needs harmony to lessen everything.

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