Some policy considerations regarding the Ethiopian outmigration By Seid Hassan and Minga Negash

Seid Hassan ( and Minga Negash (

In our December 19, 2013 article entitled “Explaining the Ethiopian outmigration: incentives or constrains” we alerted readers and policy makers in Ethiopia about the push, pull and mediating factors of outmigration in general and outlined the factors as they relate to Ethiopia. In this short article we aim to discuss further the incompatibility between macroeconomic growth and outmigration and close the piece by outlining potential mitigation strategies.

By the end of 2013 and early 2014 the world witnessed yet another shame of Ethiopians. Voices of men, women and children in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Libya, Southern Europe and Southern Africa are instantly being transmitted across the globe through the use of advanced information technology. Saudi Arabia alone deported at least 165,000 Ethiopians within the span of few weeks. Demonstrations were held in Kuwait and Israel against African immigrants. The European Union has erected various forms of fences against immigrants from Africa. As Emnet Assefa of Addis Standard, a journalist in one of the local newspaper noted, “[o]ver the last few years, news of young Ethiopian men and women found dead inside jam-packed containers loaded on heavy duty trucks has become a routine media exercise both locally and in many parts of the continent.”  Abuses, abductions, disappearances and killings of Ethiopians in the Middle East, North Africa, and Gulf States has become common. On Thursday March 20, 2014 the (U.S. based) National Public Radio (NPR) run a heart-wrenching story of an Ethiopian young woman who took unbelievable levels of risks and investments to reach the shores of the United States. While outmigration is the history of mankind, as indicated in the holy books, for example, modern day migration, particularly migration into the Middle East, is documented to be associated with calamities.

Detentions of Ethiopians for violating the immigration laws of other countries (such as in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe), deportations, refugee camps filled with Ethiopians, and sending the remains of Ethiopians who died in their search for better lives and liberty has become routine. Disturbed by the depressing news and the total failure of the  Government of Ethiopia (GOE), the Ethiopian diaspora held noisy protest demonstrations in front of the Saudi Arabian and Ethiopian embassies, collected petitions, contributed and donated some funds to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to aid returnees and painfully listened to the information provided by foreign based radios and websites. While these are normal reactions and laudable works, they are nonetheless temporary measures and will not serve as mitigation strategies unless one understands the causes, scale and depth of the problem, and consider a range of possible policy options.

The Horn of Africa has been and continues to be one of the hot spots of major human movements in the world.  Civil wars, secessionist conflicts, tribal-clan warfare, famine, land scarcity and evictions, and poverty have been the causes of both internal displacements and cross border migration. At the time of writing this article, tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees are reportedly crossing the border and entering the Ethiopian territory in search of security. The civil wars in North and South Sudan, tensions and skirmishes in the Eritrean-Ethiopian borders, sectarian and secessionist movements in Somalia and the Ogaden, ethnic, religious and clan tensions, land grabs and repression have been some of the culprits of the migration.

In addition to the instability and government failures in the region, it is important to note that globalization often manifests itself in the form of increased movement of capital, freer movement of goods and services, internationalization of production and investments, and information about labor demand. Hence, outmigration must also be examined in the context of the global trends in the import and export of labor. Immigration magnet countries generally have labor shortages as in the Middle Eastern countries while exporting countries benefit from remittances. In other words, one might be tempted to ask whether the remittance that a country receives from the export of both skilled and unskilled labor drives a government’s policy towards emigration. This question is pertinent to Ethiopia as the country exports both skilled and unskilled labor and its annual earnings from remittances is estimated at about 3 billion dollars, a figure that is more than the revenue it obtains from exporting products. In addition, the government has been trying to finance mega projects through the issuance of low interest and high risk diaspora bonds.

However, consistent with theory, Ethiopians spend their remittance earnings on consumer goods and alleviating family hardships. Remittance expenditures on consumption goods, particularly imports, therefore, is believed to have played their own roles in exacerbating the high cost of living in the country and widening its trade deficit, in addition to raising the birr’s real exchange rate and escalating real estate prices. Anecdotal evidence also shows that a good number of Ethiopian diaspora members are deeply involved in the real estate sector, particularly housing. Using its monopoly power on land, the government has been engaged in evicting entire neighborhoods, including the forced removal of the remains of the dead from grounds that traditionally belonged to the churches, and building roads and auctioning the confiscated lands at artificially inflated prices that are often set through insider trading of information. This is in addition to continuously raising rental prices. The use of remittances in real estate thus could only add fuel to the fire, thereby making housing unaffordable to residents. Anecdotal evidence also shows that remittances have played their own roles in fueling corruption and heightening rural and urban land speculation.

Notwithstanding the above, the GoE has been claiming that the country has been enjoying double-digit real economic growth for about one decade. The growth statistics however has been questioned by several economists and as of late even magazines that used to be known for echoing the government’s line of story have started to question the validity of the government provided statistic.[2]  Secondly, the country is known to have achieved “stability” since 2000, while at the same time neighboring countries such as Sudan and Somalia found themselves embroiled in escalated internal conflicts and with their neighbors. These stories spark a number of important questions. First, given that the country is claimed to be at “peace” with itself and is also a peace-maker in the Horn of Africa (such as contributing troops in Somalia, Sudan and beyond), and with a “federal multi-party system” in place, why would one observe documents and criticisms against the government? Why should the residents of a land with a growing economy and “federal democracy” choose to emigrate en mass?[3] In other words, could outmigration and economic growth move in the same direction or move in different directions or have no association between themselves at all? To answer these questions in the context of Ethiopia, one needs to review the relevant literature.

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Posted by on March 27, 2014. Filed under FEATURED. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Responses to Some policy considerations regarding the Ethiopian outmigration By Seid Hassan and Minga Negash

  1. Tedla Asfaw

    March 28, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    I appreciate the contribution Professor Minga Negash and Professor Seid Hassan made on the 3rd conference of the Center for Rights of Ethiopian Women (CREW) in Silver Spring, MD last week. They shared with us their study why Ethiopians both educated and uneducated old and young have left Ethiopia in the last two decades in large umbers. The analysis is good for policy makers and politicians.

    As you all know very well the regime in power in Ethiopia for more than two decades is calling itself “YeLemate Mengiste” and “You are free to go out of Ethiopia”. “Freedom” to go out of Ethiopia for our young sisters turned out to be sweating as house slaves in Gulf Nations. Death, beating, rape, jailing and deportation has become common.

    The third CREW gathering last week focused on the suffering of our women and I wonder if Professor Minga Negashe and Seid Hassan’s work have contributed to that burning issue of our sisters. Someone has to do the translation and share it with our sisters suffering as housemaids in the Gulf Nations at this very moment.

    Yes Ethiopians young both men and women are running away for better life or for freedom. Middle Eastern airlines and houses are filled by skilled and unskilled Ethiopians respectively. Our famous athletes make huge money on Arabian lands.

    However, we have not seen the well established Ethiopians in these countries and our top athletes saying a word about the suffering of our sisters they witnessed closely. The Arab medias attack of Ethiopians as dangerous people never was challenged by capable Ethiopians out of fear of loosing their jobs and big pay.

    Most of our “educated” out of Ethiopia live in fear too. I have not seen from your piece the urgency of our sisters situations in Gulf Nations. Diaspora Ethiopians took it as urgent issue and mobilized to save lives. We know Diaspora is divided. But we have proven to anti Ethiopians that we will not take too much humiliations. Zeraye Deresse did not take it neither Moges Asgedom nor Abraha Deboche.

    Leaving our homeland in search of freedom or better life have not taken our connection with Ethiopia and Ethiopians. The reaction in Saudi Arabia to the barbarism against Ethiopians by Ethiopians there, “Oromo, Tigre, Amhara, Gurage, etc, Christian or Muslims, we are one cry” and the hundreds thousands rally in support of our people in major cities of the world make me proud to be an Ethiopian.

    I am very certain that Ethiopia will attract her children back home when the “Federal” bantustaization wall is dissolved and we all use Ethiopia’s land and resources for the benefit our people equally. The bottom line is establishing government for the people by the people.

  2. Solomon Tsadike

    March 29, 2014 at 2:41 PM


    Many economic and social pressures forces christians to turn into radical muslim. That is why many migrate.

  3. 5ተና ክፍል ያገባደደች ባለ ዲቭኢ አልማዝ

    March 30, 2014 at 6:24 PM

    Remittance is $3 billion dollars a year from diaspora.

    Foreign government’s aid is $4 billion dollars a year.

    Ethiopian budget is $8 dollars billion a year.

    So according to the figure above the 80 + million Ethiopians in Ethiopia are only contributing $1 billion dollars a year to the budget.

    One may ask is it really one billion they are contributing? or is it the money the Ethiopians contribute is currently being diverted to the government officials personal pocket?

    To answer these questions all one need to do is examine the lifestyle of the elites.

  4. Wondu

    May 2, 2016 at 12:27 PM

    Ethiopian Muslims and Christians are forced to leave their beloved country because of the oppression they face from the Brutal regime made up of Tigreans and extreme right Protestant nutter allies. Ethiopian Muslims and Christians will not allow white neo-colonialists spear headed by extreme right Protestant to divide them.