Mass-migration explained by a hangover

I suffer from a huge hangover since this morning and it probably will continue to chase me until tomorrow. The direct cause: Genaa, Ethiopian Christmas. This year I was lucky to celebrate Christmas with my colleagues on an Ethiopian farm in the middle of nowhere, without a decorated tree, a chubby Santa and red wine. Instead, I have eaten raw meat from a freshly butchered cow, drank hard liquor at 10:00AM in the morning and had at least six sour pancakes, each accompanied by warm homemade sorghum-beer. And see, the reason for suffering. But how on earth does it explain the mass-migration from Africa to ‘the west’?

This is because the main conclusion after yesterday is not about those differences, but the similarities instead. It might be my short-sightedness, but I admit: in my Dutch world full of smartphones, financial-crises and holidays, I sometimes tend to forget that there are poor people. Moreover, I tend to forget that these people are pursuing the same goals, are upholding the same values and care for the same issues as I do. Every time I live abroad, it strikes me again: in essence people are the same. My hangover, it could have been one after a successful Christmas-celebration in rainy Holland…

As the hangover is similar, so are dreams. The ideal of a perfect life is worldwide converged, towards the western ideal. MTV, Wikipedia and cheap flights caused my own world to globalise, and so did they globalise the world of poor people in Africa. Everyone knows someone who went to study in Europe has family in the US and is updated about the doings of Arsenal in the Premier League through Arabic satellites. Besides, due to mass-tourism, the exponential growth of NGO’s and emerging economies, Ethiopia´s roads are packed with Europeans, Americans and Asians. This omnipresence of the west ignites dreams in the heads of many people, which were not there before. Dreams about smartphones and holidays and an MTV sweet sixteenth birthday party.

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Although globalisation does not alter dreams itself, it does enlarge them. The more lives (literally) become visible, the more, the bigger the dreams are (and with it the desire to reach them). Yesterday´s Christmas clearly showed me the convergence of dreams. The conversations did not touch upon how to reach Lampedusa or Christmas Island, Caucasian workers in Moscow or the US-fight against immigration at the Mexican border. Instead, the conversations focused on topics like children, sport, travel, fun and family: exactly the same topics as we care for in Holland. And rightfully, because are those not exactly the topics to care for in life in general? Wherever? Whenever? Whoever? As I try to fulfil my dreams in life, so do people here. The only difference is the financial extent to which these dreams can actually be fulfilled.

That is why yesterday between the sour pancakes I answered questions about scholarships and listened to stories about Ethiopians who made it far away. That is why I had a conversation about salaries, house-rent and price-level in Holland.

Are you looking for the root-cause of mass-migration? Celebrate a wonderful Christmas in Ethiopia and get a hangover.

Floris de Roy is an Economist, based in the Netherlands.