Ethiopians were the Laughing Stock in Saudi Arabia; Our government is the reason!
By Bezawit Demisse
On Friday November 15, 2013 in Addis Ababa, some hundreds of people were conducting a demonstration aimed at the embassy of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia located around the neighborhood popularly known as Wello-Sefer. The rally was called by the opposition Blue Party Movement after three Ethiopians were killed in Saudi Arabia. Their major agenda was to criticize the suffering of Ethiopian immigrants in Saudi Arabia and the embarrassing slow response of the Ethiopian government towards prioritizing the safety of its citizens.
However, the reportedly peaceful demonstration was violently dispersed by the Federal Police Force within half an hour. The allegation for the crackdown being that the demonstration was “unauthorized” by the relevant government bodies. The harsh response by the police was extended to detaining demonstrators and barricading roads leading to the embassy. According to different news sources, dozens of demonstrators were arrested and police were forcing some journalists to destroy their photos.
This event has awakened in me the desire to speak on the subject of the Saudi situation in relation to the Ethiopian government. My aim in writing this article is not to show the clear lack of concern and care the government displays in securing the safety of its citizens abroad. In the last couple of weeks only, many evidences have surfaced of that particular subject. Rather I will venture to go deep into the subject of why Ethiopians are emigrating legally or illegally from their motherland. In my opinion the government of Ethiopia is the major player behind the unprecedented rate of immigration that Ethiopia is witnessing. I will try to raise key economic and political factors supporting my argument.
In modern Ethiopia, economic wellbeing is anything but a dream. The youth is frustrated with the direction the country is heading. The much glamorized “economic growth” the government talks about has yielded but very little for those who want to build a decent living. It is a common site to see university graduates looking in vain for a job for years without success on the streets of the capital. Instead they rely on their parents for the basics with bleak future prospects. The weak education system has created individuals with below par skills in the discipline they study. Chances are the student is not at liberty to study the subject of his or her choosing to begin with. With little chance of landing a job the youth is resorted to doing a mediocre work for a mediocre pay or a life of crime or in an increasing trend to leave the country (legally or otherwise) to a foreign land.
But, it’s not only the unemployed youth that is seeking to escape economic entrapment. Those “lucky” enough to find a job are also looking for chances for a better life elsewhere. The reasoning behind it is the appalling salary one expects to get in Ethiopia. Salaries having been stubbornly stagnant for years, things have never been worse for the working class. The semi-skilled and unskilled workers earn an even meager figure. Families are struggling to make ends meet with so little income and with rising cost of living.
Here are some facts to help you identify where the Ethiopian economy stands at the moment. The United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in its 2013 annual report has placed Ethiopia 151 among 157 countries based on ICT (Information and communication Technology) development in its ICT development index. The highly influential “Index of Economic Freedom”, an indicator which evaluates the rule of law, the prevalence of limited government, regulatory efficiency and open markets to measure a country’s economic freedom, also rated the countries’ economy poorly. According to the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, Ethiopia is classified under the “repressed group” with a dismal ranking of 146th out 177 countries. If this picture doesn’t give an apt indication about the state of the country’s economy, then nothing will.
On the political side of things, the picture is even more disappointing. The government is deemed by institutions like the Human Rights Watch, Crisis Group and Amnesty international as undemocratic and grossly in violation of basic human rights. The unlawful detention of Journalists is but a common thing in Ethiopia. Free press is literally on the verge of extinction. The only Radio and Television station in the country, ERTA, is the right hand of the government as it is closed to views that contradict those of the government’s. All this is against the constitution of the land that clearly states that “any media financed by the state shall be operated in a manner ensuring its capacity to entertain diversity in the expression of opinion” (article 29 of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’s constitution). A report published by the Reporters without Borders places Ethiopia at 137th in its 2013 world press freedom index. This is no surprise considering the general work environment a journalist has to function in inside the country.
The Judiciary system is very weak and highly influenced by the executive agencies of the government. The legislative organ of the country (a.k.a the parliament) is the laughing stock of the people of Ethiopia. Anybody who cares to venture into the rugged confusion that is the Ethiopian politics will be amazed at the depth of corruption within the ruling elite. After all, the country ranks 113 out of 176 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International. With the ruling party having “won” a whopping 99.6% of the votes in the 2010 elections, it is in control of the 545 out of 547 seats of the country’s parliament seats with only one representative from an opposition party and one independent representative making up the numbers. Economic sectors such as energy production and telecommunication are completely forbidden for foreign or local private investors. Instead the government has established inefficient state enterprises to control these vital sectors. These enterprises act more like political maneuvering instruments rather than serving their economic purposes.
In conclusion, it is my belief that the sad plight of Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia in recent times traces its roots in the extremely poor and even dangerous economic and political path the government of Ethiopia continues to pursue. Many state that the government was too late in helping Ethiopians escape the horrible conditions that they faced and continue to face in Saudi Arabia. But I say the government was already too late when it made the ordinary lives of Ethiopians residing in Ethiopia a living hell. It was already too late when it decided the well-being of its citizens is secondary to the desires of its corrupt officials. It was already too late when it failed to create a viable working environment for the youth. It was already too late when it goes against on the human rights of its own people. With its reckless administration the government has made immigration the only choice left for ordinary Ethiopians.
With the sad economic and political state of the nation, citizens are risking imprisonment, torture, abuse and even death in a foreign country. It is very common to hear of Ethiopians living under treacherous conditions in many countries around the world just to escape the horrendous realities of life in Ethiopia. If the government of Ethiopia really wants to commit to make a better Ethiopia, it would devote itself to dialog with all stake holders to amend the things that are going utterly wrong in the country. A government that can’t protect its citizens within its territory is never going to stand for them when they face abuse in another country.