TPLF’s fiction says human trafficking down in Ethiopia by 8% in 2013: How does it know?

3 Sep

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin   –  The Ethiopia Observatory

                                              Part I

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOLSA) at the end of August 2013 reported that in the 2012/2013 budget year, human trafficking – the smuggling of people out of the country by force or deceitful means – went down by 8.0 percent, i.e., from a high of 198,000 in 2011/2012 to 182,000.

After all these 22 years, one lesson has become a second nature for Ethiopians – the need to treat TPLF data with some caution. The regime has proved an ace in manipulating statistical information as the feed behind its political propaganda and its means of securing political mileage.

For instance, here the question should arise how MOLSA could know the exact number of trafficked human beings. Such figures usually are a matter of conjecture, especially in developing countries. Therefore, the truth is it does not have any idea of it. What it has done here is employ its craftiness and refer to the very number of the very people the government licensed to go and work as domestics in foreign countries as “trafficked human beings”.

As an evidence, see the 2013 US report on human trafficking. It says, “In 2012, MOLSA reviewed and approved 198,000 contracts for overseas employment, predominantly for women emigrating as domestic workers.” The Fana story states:

    “በበጀት አመቱ በርካታ ስራዎች መሰራታቸውን በመግለጫው ላይ የቀረበ ሲሆን ፥ ከነዚህም መካከል ህገ ወጥ የሰዎች ዝውወር በ2004 ዓ.ም 198 ሺህ እንደነበርና በ2005 ዓ.ም ደግሞ ቁጥሩ ወደ 182 ሺህ ዝቅ ማለቱ ተመልክቷል።”


    “While in the briefing statement the accomplishment during the budget year of numerous tasks has been indicated, notable of this is the gains made in fighting smuggling of human beings out of the country. This has helped lower the number of illegally trafficked humans from a high of 198,000 in 2011/2012 to 182,000 in 2012/2013.”

The reduction in the second figure is possibly due to the reduced number of domestic workers going to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The reason for the regime to go into such scandal is because of its need for political propaganda, regime’s speciality. Clearly, this is intended to laud TPLF’s achievements. At the same time, it is also to show the United States that it is acting on its pledge, since Washington has been critical of the TPLF regime’s failure to “fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”, according to successive reports of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on the matter.

In 2013, the report accused the government of failure to provide appropriate consular services to Ethiopian workers abroad, which is seen amongst continued “weakness in government efforts”, along with its “limited assistance to trafficking victims.”

                                              Part II

TPLF is hungry for some shoulder patting

Interestingly, the release of this self-congratulatory news story on Fana is with no regard to the fact that its information only comes just two months after the TPLF regime in June 2013 went public about illegality of human trafficking.

For that matter, it would be recalled that it did wrong diagnosis of the causes of problem at the time. This even aroused lots of criticisms at home and abroad – including from within the ranks of the regime itself. The prime minister and his deputy deliberately distorted cause and effect relations in Ethiopia’s human trafficking experiences. Their analysis, among others, reduced this danger to being mere fad in the youth, especially young girls.

Nonetheless, Fana reported that the new success of the regime comes from the population’s awareness of the anti-human trafficking campaign the government launched in June 2013. In its usual habit, it clearly showed that it did not care about what it wanted to do when the regime embarked on this project – for that matter under pressure from the international community, especially the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Now Fana’s news report says that the TPLF campaign has enabled people to realize that they could be better off working and living in their own country. Ironically, however, it is taken as the case of empty stomach being told to persevere or victims of denial of justice finding comfort and conversion from teachings by the perpetrator of their problems.

In addition, the story also stupefyingly reported on the regime’s preparation to build shelter for the elderly on an area of 418 sq. m. to stop human trafficking of the elderly. It says this has contributed to this reduction – in a country where lies have become grits for the regime’s continued survival. Unfortunately, for it, this claim came a bit too early even before the said shelter is constructed.

Moreover, the news report speaks of contributions of other activities by the government in stemming the tide of human trafficking. This time it said it is by ending rural-urban migration through job creation in the rural areas. The report has not indicated what rural jobs have been created for these people. Bear in mind that in Ethiopia in the past five years, the regime has been busy whetting its foreign currency appetite after imposing on the nation the scourge of the massive land grab – estimated up to four million hectares and substantial dislocation of rural populations.

It is essential to point out that there are experts that speak about climate change already now affecting the highly densely populated Ethiopian highlands. One such expert is the Oxford University’s James Morrissey. He too is very cautious about this, possibly since Meles Zenawi has tried to thrive on it.

Mr. Morrissey says environmental change may very well be capable of forcing migration. His argument, however, is tempered by the fact that the other factors may induce more migration. In that regard, he carefully observes “factors other than environmental change will be important in mediating migration and that the majority of these factors will be located in social structures which regulate access to resources perceived to increase the chance of improving livelihood security post-migration.”

Against the interests of environmental protection, the opposite is happening in Ethiopia. Natural forest covers are unmercifully removed, huge populations across the country have and are being dislocate in Afar, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, Oromia, urban areas of Tigray, and SNNPR to make room for domestic (mostly TPLF members) and foreign commercial farmers. This and the accompanying state violence has been driving people out of their villages and even to foreign countries.

Ethiopian immigrants discovered at a bungalow in Ngong area in outskirts of Nairobi City during an undercover mission. Nairobi, Kenya. 23/06/2010 (courtesy of Demotix).


                                              Part III

Bad governance as push factor for human trafficking out of Ethiopia

The fact of the matter is that the causes for the huge youth bolting out of Ethiopia are two: economic and political, although in the years ahead the environmental factor would not be far behind, thanks to destructive contributions of the TPLF in terms of forest and water resources.

In Ethiopia, there is huge unemployment and underemployment especially of the youth and the rural populace. This means that huge population groups do not have anything they could consider their own. Nor are there incomes, even after young people complete high school and/or graduate from universities.

Often this has reminded me of a woman who graduated from college in late 1960s in Addis Abeba; she had had a good job and a good life, but not a husband or a boyfriend. Once she bitterly complained, her life has become “ሽቶ ለንፋስ” – literally, “expensive perfumes for the wind.”

Perhaps that is how the unemployed youth feel in today’s Ethiopia.

Data on youth unemployment is either nowhere to be found or, even when they appear on rare occasions, they have been shamelessly doctored and left with no resemblance to the reality in the country. The ministry responisible for labor and empolyment – MOLSA –MOLSA’s data is stuck on 2005, where youth unemployment stands at 7.72 percent.

At the height of Ethiopia’s double-digit economic growths in 2008-2010, there were no jobs for university graduates; the TPLF sought to lecture fresh graduates looking for jobs day after day, week after week – marshalling its cadres that speak without a full stop about the “virtues” of becoming cobblestone road builders. At that point, the unemployment figure was put between 15-17 percent. This was also wishful.

By the admission of the government, the best the country’s Central Statistical Agency (CSA) could come up is youth unemployment of 27.9 percent in 2011. Other studies cite figures over 45 to 50 percent.

In June 2012, the US State Department observed:

    Ethiopia is a source country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Girls from Ethiopia’s rural areas are exploited in domestic servitude and, less frequently, prostitution within the country, while boys are subjected to forced labor in traditional weaving, herding, guarding, and street vending. Brokers, tour operators, and hotel owners in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR) facilitate child prostitution for tourists. Ethiopian girls are forced into domestic servitude and prostitution outside of Ethiopia, primarily in Djibouti and South Sudan – particularly in Juba, Bor, and Bentiu – while Ethiopian boys are subjected to forced labor in Djibouti as shop assistants, errand boys, domestic workers, thieves, and street beggars. Young women, most with only primary education, are subjected to domestic servitude throughout the Middle East, as well as in Sudan and South Sudan, and many transit through Djibouti, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, or Yemen as they emigrate seeking work.

The 2013 June US report improved its language, stating “Ethiopia a source and, to a lesser extent, a destination and transit country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking…”

                                              Part IV

Political intolerance and human rights violations as push factors

The other problem behind the exodus out of Ethiopia and the illegal trafficking in human beings is political. The country under the TPLF has become the most repressive one party state that does not give space to citizens, especially those that have different views other that its own. Added to this now is the lack of religious freedom in the country. In many respects, with all its pretensions and dupery, Ethiopia today is even worse than the openly Stalinist party it overthrew in 1991.

Consequently, there is massive and flagrant human rights violations in the country, about which there are decks of reports from disparate sources. The political environment in the country – rampant corruption, TPLF’s nepotism and state violence – has also become the push factor for this mass exodus of the youth out of Ethiopia.

Otherwise, there is no reason for young Ethiopians to take the hazardous journeys across the Red Sea into troubled Yemen, Somalia, Libya and the notorious Sinai Desert or face risks of deportation from Kenya. It is tragic to learn that Kenya should increasingly turn against Ethiopian citizens, after Nairobi signed political agreement with Addis Abeba under their anti-terrorism cooperation within the framework of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and pressure from the West.

For instance, an Ethiopian Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda, who in Kenya was recognized by the UNHCR as a refugee, was handed over to the TPLF regime and died in prison on August 14, 2013. His friends and family speak about the tragedy and the total denials he suffered. Reports are abundant about him being subjected to inhuman forms of torture, according to human rights sources.

That is not the only case, since there are numerous reports about Kenyan security collaborating with the notorious Ethiopian security agency in kidnapping those politically opposed to the Addis Abeba regime. Kenya someday may have to account for that illegal act under international law.

There is also the problem of inter-ethnic clashes, forcing population displacements. There are recurring reports pointing to that being one of the tools the TPLF uses to divide and rule the country. That is seen as possible means by which the regime anticipates to prolong its stay in power. There are continuing such clashes in all parts of the country – Afar, Amhara, Benishangul Gumuz, Gambella, Oromia, SNNPR, and Somali Region – save Tigrai.

Ethiopians in a sea unworthy boat on the Red Sea (Courtesy: EMF)

Ethiopians in a sea unworthy boat on the Red Sea (Courtesy: EMF)

In a statement picked from the BBC in its World News documentary in 2013 there was a report tracing “the steps of the 80,000 Ethiopians who attempt to reach Saudi Arabia every year, but first they must cross the Red Sea, trek 500 kilometres through the desert and then evade Saudi border guards.”

                                              Part V

It would get worse before it gets better

In early 2013, the response of the TPLF regime to this deepening Ethiopian problems is the creation of more political control. On February 10, 2013 The Reporter published an innocuous sounding article that tells the nation finalization by the TPLF regime preparations to further establish a semblance of ‘governance’ structure in Addis Abeba at the level of city blocks, which may later expand deep into the country.

In reading that story on The Reporter, I reacted with my article Youth-focussed ‘governance’ structure to be introduced in Addis Abeba – sign of the country’s deepening repression

I was certain then, as I am now eight months later, that the government has been terrified by the many darts aiming at it, as I wrote at the time. This is its own creation, its greed for power that aims at installing a thousand year TPLF era over Ethiopia. That has taken all its sleeps, its sense of security, as it also has deprived citizens their dignity.

I stated at the time, “In terms of the governance of zone, sefer and ‘gott’, councils would be established with all youth becoming members. This means, the expectation is that automatically those individuals would be recruited as members of the ruling party, strange political operation as that sounds.”

Recall that in May 2012, Meles Zenawi boasted to Richard Dowden of African Arguements, claiming “Unlike all previous governments our writ runs in every village. That has never happened in the history of Ethiopia…” That is the extent of the control, to which today’s TPLF remnants also
turned to plucking a page from that book.

On the surface, however, the TPLF regime gives the impression of dancing to its praise and its own tune in this ugly state of human conditions in our country. The likelihood is that this problems could worsen, with more people looking for some means of survival out of this oppression. At its worst, the bull may be taken down by its horn.

View this situation against the backdrop of the ban on domestic workers from Ethiopia in the Middle East. For now, Saudi Arabia is leading the charge, having Saudi Arabia banned ‘import’ of Ethiopian women to work in that country as domestics. In 2011, the two countries agreed for Ethiopia to provide 45,000 workers every year.

There are millions behind those women that look to them to meet their food and shelter needs. Therefore, many would continue to knock at foreign doors, because of the dictates of survival and human security needs.

In early August 2013, the UNHCR – the United Nations refugee agency – expressed concern that nearly 40 thousand Ethiopians, 84 percent of African refugees, crossed the dangerous sea by boat risking their lives to reach Yemen in the first half of 2013.

In 2012 and 2013, several Ethiopian immigrants have drowned in the Red Sea; others died en route to their destination – South Africa. An unknown number were lost in state prisons, sick and shunned in Eastern and Southern Africa as unwelcome guests, although victims of human traffickers. States of the region are offended by breaches to their laws on illegal entry into their countries. There is the unspeakable Sinai desert and Libya, amongst many others, where Ethiopian dignity has been trampled under foot.


Ethiopia is a country that has been allowed the liberty to torture helpless prisoners. The country hosts too many political prisoners. How could those outside prisons feel free and safe? Why should the West lecture Ethiopians and others about respect for fundamental human rights and human dignity, as a friend of this regime?

When the first defence minister under the TPLF came out of prison in July 2007, after spending six difficult years, along with his brothers charged with corruption but in reality also for the crime of challenging Meles’s power, he told the media that the language in prison was Oromifa – the Oromo language. This, he meant to tell the world that Ethiopia’s prisons are filled with Oromos, members of the country’s largest ethnic group.

By the same indicator, we should anticipate that the release of the next high-profile person from prison would tell Ethiopians that Islam is the dominant religion of prisoners! We have already seen its configuration in the past two years.

This is a shame and a huge blot for a free world. The only redress for this is to go beyond empty words regarding concerns about the tens and thousands of Ethiopians that are being exterminated by torture and other forms of state violence within the country. This practice is continuing, for that matter openly, but most of it behind closed doors.

How could this support and encourage any policy that aims to bust the vast network of human traffickers in , Ethiopia, Africa and around the world?

*Updated with additional materials.

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