columnBy Hanna Haile (Hannahaile212@gmail.com) Is an Ethiopian Writer and Social Worker. She Is One of the Organizers of Poetic Saturdays At Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and At Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, Where a Stage Is Open to Those Who Celebrate Art Through Performances On the First and Second Saturday of Each Month.
Although there are various incidents of Ethiopians making dangerous treks overseas, we are not known to travel abroad for leisure. Young Ethiopians with an interest in travelling through legal means are often met with restrictions that are not just tedious but borderline humiliating.
Young people may travel for various reasons like education, training or just for vacations. But getting a visa is a complicated issue. It usually means having to gather loads of information to prove that one will return back home.
The freedom to move around the world is a right granted to few and denied to many. I am appalled by countries in Europe and North America that are unwilling to let me visit unless they find out for sure that I have no intention of staying.
Citizens from these countries, nonetheless, are offered visas on arrival in our country. All that is required of them is to set foot at Bole International Airport with a passport and pay a small fee.
Recently, a friend was denied a visa from a country where he was to celebrate his graduation ceremony. His age and lack of employment deemed him ineligible for a visa. Another friend, this one employed, could not even attend a week-long training where all his costs were covered. The powers that be believed he did not have sufficient incentives to return to his native country.
We are denied opportunities to travel, discover and develop our professional capabilities all because of what our passport means to others. I empathise with the need to control the influx of people, but if there was free movement around the world, there would be fewer misunderstandings about what the rest of the developing world represents.
Developed countries are terrified at the possibility of being inundated by migrants. Migrants are on the other hand terrified of civil war, poverty or repression in their homelands, driving them to engage in dangerous journeys.
We need to approach the movement of people in the 21st century with a different mind. If a person discovers they have more opportunities for growth and development elsewhere, in an ideal world, they should have the right to travel.
For the developed countries, this would mean more human power. Migration would also be more democratic, with more women being able to make the journey instead of the phenomenon turning out to be a breeding ground for gangs and traffickers.
Movement of people across borders would also help nations such as ours, where the transfer of skills, technology and culture would be more fluid. Referencing movies and books is good, but nothing beats walking among people who offer a different worldview.
Of course, this would not be a cure unto itself. I remember walking along the streets of Piassa with a friend who had stayed in Europe. It was not long before she mentioned the neighbourhood’s uncleanliness that she spat out gum on the street. The change we want to see in our nation will never be realised unless we walk our talk.
When the world denies its fellow inhabitants equal opportunity for change and discovery, it fails us. There are of course a few countries where Ethiopians can get a visa without much difficulty. For that reason, many people are travelling to these destinations, and we are feeling the effect of their inspiration.
We ought to similarly work to become more open to other nations that have opened up their doors for us. Countries such as Cambodia, India, and Thailand are some that do not require endless documentation for entry. Until the world can open up to everyone, we must also embrace those that have opened up to the world, which takes a lot of trust.