Sorrow and anger in Ethiopia

Aheza Kahesai, on the far right, mourns the loss of her 38-year old son, killed by Islamic State militants in Libya. (Marthe Van Der Wolf/VOA)
Aheza Kahesai, on the far right, mourns the loss of her 38-year old son, killed by Islamic State militants in Libya. (Marthe Van Der Wolf/VOA)

By Marina de Regt

While Europe is discussing its immigration policies after last week’s disasters in the Mediterranean, Ethiopia is mourning the deaths of Ethiopian migrants during three dark events in the past three weeks. First the country was in shock when people heard about the outrageous violence against migrants, amongst whom many Ethiopians, in South Africa. At least three Ethiopians were killed and many more were victims of the recent xenophobic practices. A few days later the horrible news of the killing of thirty Ethiopian Christians by Islamic State (IS) in Libya led to a new wave of disbelief and disgust. And last week the drowning of more than one thousand migrants on their way to Europe caused a third shock as many Ethiopians make the same trip.

These shocking events have led to an outcry amongst Ethiopians at home and abroad. The government announced three days of national mourning for the thirty Ethiopians who were killed by IS. On Wednesday April 22 tens of thousands of people gathered at Meskel Square, one of the major squares in Addis Ababa, to protest against IS. People were particularly upset about the fact that their fellow countrymen were killed because of their Christianity. Many Ethiopians belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and are religiously devote. While Ethiopia was known for a long time as a country where Christians and Muslims lived together peacefully (the first Muslims who were persecuted in Mecca at the time of Prophet Mohamed were, for example, welcomed by the King of Aksum and allowed to practice their religion freely), nowadays relations have become quite strained. This is mainly due to the growing influence of Wahhabism, and the subsequent growth of Islamist movements, in the country. The horrible event in Libya will not help improve Christian-Muslim relations, even though Ethiopian Muslims are not responsible for what happened.

The demonstration on April 22 started as a protest against terrorism, organized by the government, but gradually turned into a protest against the government itself. Some of the protesters held the government accountable for the horrific killing of their fellow countrymen. The main reason behind the burgeoning number of Ethiopians migrating abroad is the lack of employment possibilities, and the deteriorating situation in the countryside. Ethiopia is considered to be developing economically but only a small part of the population is benefiting from this alleged growth; the money entering the country is not used to create new jobs in urban areas and develop the countryside. The large majority of the Ethiopian population is living in rural areas and farmers are increasingly unable to make a living. As a result, many people see migration as the only chance to improve their livelihood. They take huge risks that would not be necessary if only the situation at home was better. Thus, instead of discussing ways to solve the “immigration problems” of Fortress Europe, it would be better if European politicians put more pressure on the Ethiopian government to improve the living conditions of its population.

Marina de Regt is Assistant Professor at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She specializes in gender and migration in and between Yemen and Ethiopia.

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