Last week but one, a friend from Austria shared on our Whatsapp group how tens of immigrants were found dead in a truck on the Austria / Hungary border.
Last week, the world witnessed the gruesome death of baby Aylan and his brother Galip, and their mother Reyhan, who died trying to reach Europe from the war ravaged Syria. Their stories could are the stories of thousands more illegal immigrants who have died in recent days trying to find their way into Europe. It shows how desperate souls can be while trying to find a better life.
While the eyes of the world have been focused on North Africa and Europe, deep inside Africa, a similar movement of people is taking place. But unlike the situation in the lower part of Europe where it is mostly non-Europeans trying to gain entry into Europe to look for greener pastures, here it is Africans moving within the continent to look for greener pastures.
The destination: South Africa.
Well, South Africa? One may ask. Just the other day, there were xenophobic attacks against foreigners. What could be alluring these Africans there?
Maybe it is desperation. Maybe it is adventure. Maybe…
But it is happening.
And, the scene is Kenya, thousands of kilometers away from South Africa.
In previous years, many cases have been reported of Ethiopians arrested on their way to South Africa, ostensibly to look for greener pastures, away from their country that is said to have a poor human rights record, besides other challenges common to African countries.
In the latest of such incidents, over 78 Ethiopians were arrested while being transported on a Kenyan government truck, on their way from Ethiopia. They were taken to court and found guilty of being in Kenya illegally and sentenced to three months in prison.
The 78 migrants will be repatriated after serving their terms. They pleaded guilty and begged for forgiveness, saying they had been on the road for 15 days and were heading to South Africa in search of jobs. The aliens were said to have travelled from Ethiopia to Kenya before police intercepted them.
There has been an influx of Ethiopians into Kenya in recent years, the majority of them said to be heading to South Africa to seek for a better life.
In March this year, 65 Ethiopians were charged for being in Kenya illegally. In April, 74 Ethiopians were arrested on their way to South Africa.
In December 2013, 35 Ethiopians were arrested inside Kenya on their way to South Africa. The Police Commandant in the county then said that some local businessmen were behind the cartels which aid the Ethiopians into Kenya. He said more than 200 aliens enter the country through the area every week.
In July, prison authorities in Isiolo town, which is a transit point for Ethiopians trying to find their way to South Africa, said they were facing a debt of KSh8 million in unpaid bills because of an increase in Ethiopian inmates.
The prison was then holding 80 Ethiopians who had been jailed for one year and who were expected to stay in jail until April 2016. In March of this year, 65 were released after staying at the facility for three months. In December last year, 372 were released after a three-month jail term each.
The trend above shows that the numbers are increasing and this is not about to come to an end.
What is it that lures these people to South Africa?
Maybe it is the strong economy. Information about South Africa found on http://www.southafrica.info says South Africa was ranked as the leading emerging economy in Africa in 2013 and the only country on the continent to be ranked in the top 15 worldwide, according to the Emerging Markets Opportunity Index.
The index analysed a variety of indicators including economic size, population, growth prospects and levels of development to rate the countries potential to attract business investment.
It is said that these aliens pay thousands of shillings to cartels that are in the business of trafficking them to South Africa where they will ostensibly have a better life.
Or to ask the question in another way, what is it that is pushing these people out of their mother land? Why should they risk everything just so that they may find their way to South Africa?
The IMF has classified Ethiopia as one of the five fastest growing economies in the world. Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, has been described as ‘the Dubai of Africa.’ Quartz Africa Weekly Brief says between 2003-2013, the country averaged a growth rate of 10.8% – more than twice the regional average of 5.3%.
But on the downside, the report adds that Ethiopia has done all that it can to stifle dissent and silence its critics. In 2009, it adopted a law which prohibits foreign NGOs from working on issues related to human rights, democratic governance, or conflict resolution.
Similarly, the country has used the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to stifle domestic media. Between 2011 and 2013, the law was used to prosecute 11 journalists; the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 17 journalists spent time in jail and 30 fled the country.
The irony in this whole scenario is that Ethiopians are running away from their country, with a higher life expectancy, to a place where the life expectancy is lower. According to study published in the Lancet, in 2013, life expectancy for men in South Africa fell to 58 in 2013, from 61 in 1990, for women it fell to 63 from 69. In Ethiopia, life expectancy for men rose by almost 16 years to 61.4 in 2013 from 45.5 in 1990. For women it rose by 10 years.
It seems the Ethiopians migrating out of their country prefer more freedom and a better life that South Africa seems to offer, rather than the economic boom that their country offers but without the necessary freedoms.
But one may just ask, what is it that the Ethiopians are running away from?