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Socio-economic Impact of Somali Refugees on the Host Community in Addis Ababa

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Author’s NameKibrom Tekelwold


The study by Kibrom Tekelwold titled Socio-Economic Impact of Somali Refugees on the host community in Addis Ababa: a case study of Woreda 1/2 of Bole Michael (May 2013), is a timely and well constructed empirical research project using qualitative data method. The relevance of this study is that a limited amount of research has been done on the impact of large and cohesive refugee populations, who are found to be settled in host communities, with established socio-economic organisation, cultural and religious identities, and practices. The research is firmly based in relevant theoretical models which were used to construct the research tools, as well as in the analysis of the collected data. Even though the sample range is  relatively small , it is reflective of the micro-district, Woreda 1/2 of Bole Michael, Addis Ababa, in which the refugee population (mainly Somali) has settled. The research study provides an empirical basis from which to understand a range of important issues related to this host community, and as a comparative research tool to be utilised within Addis Ababa, other Ethiopia cities or other urban host communities in the developing country context.

Chapter 2 is based on an overview of relevant theoretical points of entry. For instance, Refugee Aid and Development Theories, and defines the empirical and methodological tools, terms and approaches to the analysis of the data. The methodological approach utilised in this research project is directed to identifying specific interest groups; for example, House and land owners, Small Business owners, and ‘Chat’ Sellers and other service providers. Thus, open ended questionnaire was administered to these groups with a specific focus area to collect the necessary empirical data.

Chapter 3 is the analysis of the collected data, and a number of important thematic issues are revealed through the analysis of the data collected. There are specific economic cost and benefits to both refugee population and host communities. These relate to the increase in market size, but also an increase in competition for access and control over this increased market for goods and services. These cost and benefits are further stratified by the lack of, or access to resources of both the refugee and host community, the old maxim applies, “poor get poorer and the rich get richer”. However, the new economic and social opportunities are being grasped by women, who had played a relatively small economic role in these substrata of Addis Ababa, and this situation is offering new economic and social opportunities to reconfigure the traditional gender roles and divides.

The social and cultural effects are reflective of identity and religious profiles, and cannot be broken down to identifiable or clear patterns, as the research reflect intense integration on a micro level, to the opposite effect, the development of extreme xenophobia, dependent on individual circumstances and issues. The effects on developmental indices, for example, health, will have to be studied over a longer time frame. A possible further longitudinalstudy could be considered in this regard.  Specifically, the increased use of ‘Chat’ over and above the population influx is indicative of behavioural change which could be problematic in the future.

The study could not unpack specific patterns of social impacts, as family based interaction was shown to have taken place in some instances, but this could not be generalised. Inter-marriage in the short term was not taking place. Reasons for this were identified as mainly religious and belief differences. The handling of traditional approaches to the buying of goods and services, specifically the use of short term ‘credit’ prevalent in the host communities, was leading to breakdowns of trust as host communities were not finding their expectations in this regard being meet. The reasons for this were not able to be identified by the research project.

In conclusion a range of negative and positive impacts on, and within, the host communities were identified. The negative impact was related to increased economic competition and the ability of the poorer elements of host community to cope with this increased cost of living and economic competition. The spread of negative social behaviour, for example, increased use of ‘Chat’ and the changing/ breakdown of perceived gender roles were raised as issues of concern in the host community. The different attitudes to repayment of ‘credit’ and problems of the collection of payment of ‘rental due’, were also identified as negative issue as perceived by the host community. Positive impact are also seen as the increased market size and competition, but generally by those with access to resources within the host communities, as new and greater opportunities were available to this group. The refugee populations were generally seen as peace loving and were not seen as a disruptive social group with whom the host communities are not able to coexist. The resolution of the economic, social and specifically, the problems of access to housing etc. would have to take a micro, meso and macro approach; as only a stable government in Somalia would allow the return of the refugee population to their home state. The issues of housing and the relief to the poor from the host communities would have to be resolved from the Ethiopian authorities on national, and /or municipal level with assistance from local and international NGO’s and IGO’s.


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