Get Your Facts Right
Reply to Mulumebet Asfaw, author of “dechasa addiction”
I was recently referred by a friend to an article published on Ethiopian Review which portrays Ethiopians living in the UK as dependant on the Welfare system. In fact, the article made a headline by using sensational words like “addiction” and street language like “Dechasa”.
First of all, my reply is to highlight the achievement of Ethiopian communities in the United Kingdom and put to the test Mulumebet’s “comparative research”, but not to defend those who may abuse the welfare system.
As far as I am concerned, there is no subject that should be left as a taboo and beyond criticism. However, when we talk about large size of population, we should get our facts right first. Taking small minorities to extrapolate it to larger population using sensational headline such as “addiction” is a sign of ignorance and lack of depth, to say the least. As my favourite humorist, Mark Twain, said: “get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please”
Therefore, in my humble opinion, Mulumebet, in her pursuit of sensational presentation, made a big mistake by not getting her facts right first before pompously preaching to others.
To start with, we need to critically question whether what she has written is a true reflection of the life of Ethiopians in the UK. Are they living on welfare handout? How many of them really are abusing the system? How many percentages of the estimated 15-20,000 Ethiopians are dependent on “Dechasa”? Two percent or twenty percent?
Of course, Mulumebet claims to have come to the “United Kingdom to do a comparative research on welfare benefits, its advantages and its adverse effects”. That is a noble undertaking. But if indeed she was here to do a comparative study, we could also fairly assume that she has some basic education to understand what “comparative study” means.
In fact, what transpired in her writing is not comparative study or statistical presentation but unwarranted bashing of Ethiopians in the UK. Despite her self-congratulating introduction, she did not present the “population size of her survey” or a category of “similar population” which she compared the Ethiopian community with. Comparative study only means comparing the performance of Ethiopians against that of say Nigerians, Indians, Bangladeshi, Portuguese, Turkish, Eritreans or Somalis.
If she had been indeed in the field of “study”, she could have at least “Goggled” for some online facts to see how Ethiopians compare to other communities. Again, if she were indeed doing a comparative study, she could have at least visited a public library to do some reading since the effect of migration is a widely studied subject by all sectors from left wing academics to right wing think-tanks.
Each group may stretch the statistics to highlight the benefit or the danger of inward immigration but the data are there for anyone to see. So Mulumebet’s claim of a comparative study is either an introduction grafter to give some credibility to her pompous opinion of Ethiopians in the UK or an extrapolation of data which she collected from close associates. By no means it can be regarded as a comparative study of welfare state.
Having said this, let’s see the history of Ethiopian
s immigrants in the UK. Disclaimer first: I have not done any “research” like Mulumebet but from my own experience I know a bit about different batches of Ethiopians who have arrived on this island in the last 40 years.
The first generation of Ethiopian refugees were either students who were studying in the UK before the revolution or the Royal families or aristocrats who fled from the 1974 revolution. Like all first immigrants, they may have struggled to adapt to the new exile life. Nevertheless, they had by far the sympathy of the establishment to settle in the host country with some help. In addition, they were considered as allies and encouraged and even funded to set-up resistance against the communist junta in Addis Ababa.
Soon after, the second wave of immigrants began to arrive from Sudan and Kenya. These were mainly EPRP members who predominately came with the aim of regrouping to fight back and return home. Unfortunately, that dream has never been realised. As a result of this political pre-occupation, they were not mainly into business or money making ventures but there is no doubt that they have benefited from British free educational system to earn themselves PhDs and other degrees in various fields. From this batch, some have returned to Ethiopia to share power with TPLF, some are working in international organisations all over the world and the rest are here. Most of them who remained in UK earn their living in professional capacity or academic institutes. No doubt like all political refugees, they were fed, sheltered and protected by the welfare state but they cannot be described as “dechasa” addicts. But that doesn’t mean that there were no people who miss out on economic front or fail to climb in academic or professional ladder. In fact, there has been a history of high percentage of frustration, mental health, including suicides.
From late 1970 to 1990s, the number of immigrants from Ethiopia increased dramatically with increasing number of liberation fronts such as TPLF, OLF, and Sidama etc.
Then we get a new wave of immigrants who predominately came to do postgraduate studies or some short courses in the U.K. Students from Central Planning, Science Commission, Ministry of Industry, Ethiopian Airlines, mining, universities, telecommunication and other sectors can be categorised to this batch of immigrants.
In the last years of Colonel Mengistu, there were many postgraduate students in various British Universities who remained in UK as the political repression increased. This batch could be described as partly political and partly economic conscious. Of course, these too had to get support but it didn’t take them too long to get a career or retrain in response to the market need and take professional career in IT, manufacturing, Civil service, local authority, accounting and legal firms. At the same time many students from Eastern Europe had a chance to come to UK. Probably the largest numbers of Ethiopian came between 1990-1994. At the same time, there were also many Colonel Mengistu’s cadres and officials who abandoned their diplomatic posts from various European cities to settle in the UK. Probably with exception of few they seem to be doing fine.
Particularly those who came from Eastern Europe were quick to work hard and focus on money making. It is at this time, early 1990’s, that the social and economic life of Ethiopians began to take shape in UK. Around this time, Ethiopians began to experiment by opening restaurants, shops, small ventures and minicab related businesses. These Ethiopian immigrants have lived close to 15 years to have a decent income, mortgage, family and a career or a business to attend. The rest have either gone to US, Canada on professional migration or returned to Ethiopia to start-up business.
The last batch of Ethiopians were predominately underage Ethiopians or teenagers, who grew up in hostels and children homes or Ethiopians who came through South Africa, Middle East and third countries. By the nature of their age, they are flexible to be blended with British urban culture and also get influenced in negative or positive ways. They may have dreadlock hair, body piercing or wider trousers but in no way they are lazy or addicted to ‘dechasa’ as Mulumebet tries to paint the portraits of Ethiopians in Britain. They may not have the skills required and may struggle to climb the ladder but not the ambition to succeed. Actually, what they need is guidance and help to grow to their full potential not stigmatisation.
Britain had invented the steam Engine to lead the industrial revolution but it is no more in competition in the manufacturing industry. It is hoping to become a knowledge-based economy by expanding education so that 50% of its youngsters to have first degree by 2020. There is already a skilled labour shortage and education is the only way for Ethiopians to succeed in Britain. The second generation of Ethiopians and those who were brought up in British educational system are already achievers in securing places in best medical, engineering and pharmacy schools; making their parents and their community proud. That is why a tabloid type of one sided sensationalism and stigmatisation need to be avoided.
Of course there are people out of these categories who came at old ages, disabled or have no communication and other
s skills to fit in to the system.
Getting back to the main point, of course, every country has different way of dealing with new migrants. The US may provide vacuum cleaners to the new immigrants to work from bottom up. The German and other European countries keep new migrants in camps until they are cleared to mix with the society. The UK system used to be by far humane but it has also shortcomings. It used to give refugees freedom to live wherever they want, rent a flat and ask councils to pay and provide them with basic needs and free education. But even in 1990s, the system did not allow new arrivals to go out and work for the first 6 months. Now, even that has been taken away and they cannot work until they are given permission to live in this country, which sometimes take many years. The benefit for asylum seekers have been reduced to basic food vouchers with no right to study, work or access to housing. In fact, if they are not lucky they will get locked in detention centres for deportation. Hence, Mulumebet’s assessment of the UK as a paradise for lazy guys, who want to sit on their back side to live a comfortable life, is a wrong representation of life in the UK. It is this misrepresentation or gross exaggeration that made me question whether Mulumebet is indeed a real person who came from abroad.
UK is not a country of immigrants like US and Canada. It takes at least twice the effort to be accepted and make a breakthrough but the achievement of Ethiopians in this relatively short time is not something that can be belittled by any standard. Even those who couldn’t find jobs in their field of study have taken the option of driving buses or taxis to earn their bread and pay their taxes.
Of course some people like Mulumebet may feel better by belittling others or undermining others achievement. They prefer to undermine than empower because it makes them feel good about their mundane life. It seems to me that Mulumebet did not write to inspire others on how she made it from rugs to riches through hard work. No, she only wants us to think of her as an achiever.
Mulumebet, in her attempt to sensationalise her article, distorted even the welfare system in the UK. One cannot access the welfare system just because one wants to. It is not a soup kitchen where one has to queue to collect his benefit or limps to a Benefit Office to be classified as disabled (Surprisingly Mulumebet did not use the American word of “handicap” but the British politically correct word – “disabled”). One has to appear before a job centre every two weeks to convince the benefit officer that he has been looking for a job and didn’t get one to collect his unemployment benefit. He has to present proof of job application, CVs, interviews etc. One has to also be medically certified by a doctor to be on disability benefit. In addition, in the last 7 years, the law has been tightened to new asylum seekers to deprive them of any benefits.
Of course, no system is foolproof. Be it in Ethiopia, UK or US, people get involved in insurance fraud, tax evasion, and emptying parking coins, sell cast iron as gold or make false claims. There are people in every society who use a loophole to take advantage of the system but that is not a unique character of Ethiopians living in US, Europe or UK. In fact, Ethiopians are by far law-abiding and God fearing people who often walk away from benefits and privilege they rightly deserve. It is not in the character or upbringing of many Ethiopians to be pushy, demanding or opportunist.
The reality is that a large number of Ethiopians in UK have succeeded in carving a career for themselves in academic, Engineering, IT, law, accounting, health service or teaching in schools and colleges or working for local governments. A good number of them also own their own business. Though Ethiopians have arrived in sizable numbers since the last 15 years, one need to look at Ethiopian directories to see up to 30 restaurants in London alone, shops, hairdressers, minicab service operators, freight forwarders, travel agents, franchise business owners, etc.
UK is not as entrepreneur country as US where an immigrant can walk into a bank to borrow money to set up a carpet cleaning business with the hope of making himself rich. Things have to be done the hard way but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. Of course a lot could be done and a lot could be achieved but that cannot be achieved by preaching pompously.
In addition, I go further to say that those who have the best interest of Ethiopians should try to help other fellow Ethiopians by telling them when a vacancy arises in their company, posting scholarship opportunities where Ethiopians can find it, coach new- comers on how to succeed or simply by being a role model. By the way, just out of curiosity, which one of you wants another Ethiopian to work in your company? How many Ethiopian websites have a page dedicated for personal development of other fellow Ethiopians or a link to scholarship or job vacancy? I can say, none. Why? Just think about it.
In conclusion, people like Mulumebet need to be very careful before they try to put forward a blanket accusation of a society of a wrong doing. Before Mulumebet unashamedly writes with authority, she should have at least tried to get her facts right by doing a critical and decent research which is to an acceptable standard. It is really a disgrace for Mulumebet to pompously present hearsays and unsubstantiated allegations as ‘research’. Put simply, her distorted presentation has nothing to do with the real life of most decent and hard working Ethiopians in the UK.