The loss of hundreds of Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali lives at the near end of the gruesome journey to the coasts of Italy was tragic news that crowded the media worldwide. So much precious human lives and resources lost and so much pain and suffering endured for nothing! The unjustified inhumane treatment of our sisters in the middle-east by their employers, going as far as causing the formers’ deaths or irreversible physical injuries, has been repeatedly exposed by the local and international media. Why is it then that our fellow Ethiopians turn deaf ears to such horrifying news and choose to follow the footsteps of those who before them got the bitter taste of travelling illegally to the coasts of Italy and to the unhospitable domestic employers in the middle-east? Are these journeys so much worth the pain and suffering? I do not want to sound unsympathetic but I sometimes wonder if an equal amount of pain endured through hard work would not have brought economic success without leaving the motherland.
In discussions about migration with some affluent members of the Ethiopian diaspora and with well-educated Ethiopians, what amazes me most is to hear these despise the idea of settling in their own country. Their argument is basically that, although one has the means to survive financially, the poor quality of public infrastructure, unstable political conditions, the inefficient and bureaucratic nature of public services, and the unconducive nature of the socio-economic environment in general makes life in Ethiopia very unappealing. Yes, these challenges should be acknowledged. But who do we expect to fight poverty for us? What seems to be forgotten here is that Ethiopia is a bare land in the absence of its people. If Ethiopia is an unattractive place to live in, it is because we Ethiopians have made it so. If Ethiopia is short of highly skilled doctors, economists, engineers and university professors, it is because Ethiopians trained in these professions choose to seek personal comfort in highly developed countries and deprive their homeland from their much needed skills.
As an Ethiopian myself who lived in the Western world for few years, I have experienced the shame of having to hear Westerners associate Ethiopia mainly with misery. Questions like ‘Ethiopia is a very poor country, right?’ and ‘How is the economic condition now? Is it improving?’ are painful reminders that we have still a long way to go before we can prove to the world that we are capable of building a thriving economy. Such demeaning questions on one hand, and the marvels of Western civilization one the other should, theoretically speaking, create a strong desire among the Ethiopian diaspora to transfer the knowledge or financial resources they have accumulated in the Western world to the betterment of their own country. As much as there are country-loving and well-meaning people among the well-to-do and educated Ethiopian diaspora, there are several others who look down on those Ethiopians who work and reside in the country either by choice or otherwise. The latter category are neither Ethiopians nor ‘Ferenjis’.
The grass may be greener on the other side. But who will tend to the grass here if everybody is looking away? As the saying goes, the whole is (at least) a sum of its parts. Whether we choose to agree or not, each of us have a share in the whole. Poverty is a common enemy that can only be fought and defeated with unity. Running away will only sustain the problem. Unless each of us makes sure to put his or her maximum effort in the common fight, we have no right to complain about the inconvenience of life in Ethiopia!