By Temesgen Zewdie
The recent decision by the government of Ethiopia to ban domestic workers from traveling to the Middle East and Arab countries is myopic at best and stone-age governance at worst. Any sensible government would define the alleged problem and seek solutions without subjecting innocent people to lose their Constitutional and Universal Rights to travel to their places of choice. This type of draconian government decision can only happen in a one-party totalitarian state.
Any rational government would ask itself why its citizens choose to travel to another country by hundreds of thousands instead of staying put in their own country. Most people need income to live on, and support their families; and hence they need to work to earn money. The stagnant Ethiopian Economy does not create jobs; and when it does, you have to belong to a corrupt ethnic net-work Ruling party circle to secure employment. For the majority of the population who do not belong to this corrupt circle of thieves, the choice is to travel to an equally unenlightened savage environment to earn a living or starve. There are many Ethiopian domestic workers who have lost their lives and some seriously injured because of abuse by their employers during their stay in the Middle East, and Arab Countries. The fact of the matter is, domestic workers do not have much of a choice; it is either to stay in their homeland Ethiopia and starve, or flee the country to a lawless foreign land and a hostile environment; where human rights of workers are grossly neglected, or most of the time abused.
Any responsible government would investigate the cause of injustice, death, and injuries sustained by its citizens in a foreign land through its diplomatic mission in host countries; and seek diplomatic and legal solutions to mitigate the crisis; or better yet, make an honest and vigorous effort to accelerate the economic development of the Country to create conditions of employment available to all citizens without bias to ethnic favoritism, corruption, and nepotism which is rampant under the current administration. The people at the helm of power in our Country seem to have no clue, nor do they care about the right of the individual to work and support himself/herself and their family in any place of his/her choice as long as they meet the legal requirements of the host country. What is one supposed to do if not work and earn a livening?
I have argued both as a member of parliament (2005-2010), and as a member of the Opposition since then, that the double digit GDP economic growth propaganda of the Ruling elite is an illusion sometimes supported by International money lenders to systematically loot the country for their mutual benefit, while allowing the narrow ethnic Ruling cliques continue its misrule and pillage of the resources of the country to satisfy its insatiable desire for money, power, and ethnic chauvinism.
In Ethiopia, almost 70 percent of the urban youth is unemployed. To make matters worse, 20 percent of the rural population is flocking to the urban area in search of employment. Those who are capable of escaping the miserable economic deprivation and lack of freedom in their homeland flee the Country by tens of thousands endangering their lives; by any means necessary, legally or illegally. In 2009 alone over a hundred thousand Ethiopians have illegally crossed over to Yemen with the hope of reaching Saudi Arabia. An equal number of Ethiopians have also migrated to Sudan and Kenya in search of a better life. It would be an understatement to say that any responsible government would be alarmed by the mass migration, and the loss of life in the process. The Ruling Party just walk-up to this monumental national problem and the first step it took to mitigate the crisis was a travel ban to the Middle East and Arab Countries, without due consideration to the Natural, Constitutional, and Universal Rights of its subjects.
While unemployment is a source of despair for many Ethiopians, an equal number of urban consumers are stretched to the limit to meet their daily expenses because of the high cost of living instigated by the upward spiraling inflation. While the government purports inflation to be in the single digit using its mouth piece propaganda media machine, it is actually in the double digits which is attested by the escalating prices in the local markets for goods and services which have quadrupled in the past few years especially for agricultural commodities such as Teff, Corn, wheat, cooking oil, sugar, coffee etc….commonly consumed by the people of Ethiopia. The purchasing power of the local currency (birr) has depreciated almost 60 percent within the past four years, making life impossible for people with fixed income such as government employees, and retirees. This is a Country where 90 percent of the population earns less than two dollars a day; and where 5 to 8 million people are exposed to food insecurity at any given year. While the cost of living is extremely high because of the ravaging inflation, the Regime is busy flooding the economy with printed money, while at the same time widening the budget deficit, making an already bad situation worst. The Ruling Party refuses to use conventional macroeconomic tools to bring inflation under control for fear of deflating its shattered political image. The external debt of the country has ballooned to 15 billion dollars; without taking into account the 6 billion dollar international debt cancellations the government received in 2006 from Western Countries. In addition, the country suffers from shortages of foreign exchange, which has forced the current account deficit and the balance of payment to widen, which in turn has forced the government to reserve just enough money to cover a one month of imports. The Ruling Party has the distinction of running a continuous trade deficit with all its trading partners; not having a single instance of trade surplus with any international trading partner in the last 23 years of its dictatorial misrule of the Country. Who among us would not wish to flee from a country mired in social, political, and economic problems to last generations to come? Not only the domestic workers flee their country to the Middle East, and Arab Countries; the rest of us, living in various western countries, are proof to the atrocious social, economic, and political conditions in our country.
No government has the right to hold its citizens hostage by declaring a travel ban; the decision by the government to ban travel has fortunately pointed to the glaring inadequacy of the government in managing the social, political, and macro-economic governance of the Country. It is illegal to ban travel to any Country short of a military hostility between two countries. In a democratic society the right of a citizen to work and earn a living is legally guaranteed, and cannot be abridged by the whims of dictators.
In conclusion, I would like to suggest, what in my opinion, would be a common sense solution to the problem.
a) The source of the conflict between employer and employee should be researched, so that the government has facts and figures to base its future decisions.
b) Hostilities between employer and employees could be reduced if entrepreneurs in Ethiopia are encouraged to open training schools for migrant workers to learn the language, culture, tradition of host countries.
c) Trained government diplomats (courses in 101 International Relations would help), sensitive enough to seek legal and diplomatic solution to the conflict.
d) Networking with international Human Rights Organizations to highlight the problems in host counties.
Travel ban is not a solution. The underground movement to smuggle people out of the Country would begin in earnest because of your callous decision. The sooner you learn from your monumental mistakes the better for all of us.
The writer, Temesgen Zewde, is chairman of Foreign Relations Committee of the UDJP (Andenet). He was also member of parliament.