Conference: Displacements in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, April 2018


Displacements in Ethiopia: Report of the conference organized by the French Center in 2018 

By Anais Maro & Constance Perrin-Joly


The 2018 SCA Biennial Meeting, cosponsored by the Society for Visual Anthropology,  was an innovative conference talking about displacements all over the world without any movement of the participants and speakers. 1,300 people had participated from over 40 countries, screening video panels within local nodes for half of them. According to the organizers, the virtual platform saved more than 425 tons of carbon emissions, as much as taking 11,500 cars off the road for three days.

For more informations:

In this context, the 20th of April 2018, the French Center for Ethiopian Studies has organized a local node hosting 40 people at the Bellevue Hotel, coming from Ethiopian Universities, United Nations, African Union, or NGOs.


This first video panel was organized by Anaïs Maro, on the theme of Ethiopian displacements. As highlighted by the conference organizers, this panel stands out as the only panel submission composed entirely of presentations from scholars based outside the global North. It is made of four presentations:

Wag Himara: “Moving because there’s nothing
Alice Corbet

Smuggling as a knowledge community
Dr Tekla Alenew

Displaced / Re-placed. The Oromo in and out of Ethiopia
Anaïs Maro

Going Back to do Business in Your Country of Origin
Constance Perrin-Joly




We choose to screen « in and out of Europe » as our second panel among the large choice provided by the international organisation comity because it offers a mirror of the Ethiopian situation in the North. Indeed, Europe is both the direction of many long journeys from the South and the source of displacement to the South of NGOs and donors.

We screened five videos:

Wandering as Re-collective Collage
Ethiraj Gabriel Dattatreyan (Goldsmiths, University of London)

All Eyes & Ears: The Sensory Work of Border Control
Perle Møhl (University of Copenhagen)

Displacement and the Creation of Emplaced Activism: Public Interventions on the Walls of a European Border City
Pafsanias Karathanasis & Konstantina Kapsali (University of the Aegean)

“Who Am I?”: Reimagining Moral Worlds and “I” When Fleeing Homeland
Aslihan Akkaya (Florida International University)

Crimeans Betwixt and Beyond: Navigating Liminality and Making Home in Post-Annexation Ukraine
Nick Massey (University of Amsterdam)

Both panels have in common to focus mainly on migrants themselves. They deal with a wide range of migrations: refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people. However, it seems that the question of migration in Europe entirely avoids professional migrations. This ommition is coherent with the ways media and politicians treat the issue, focusing on immigration as a problem more than a source of wealth and richness.

We would like to mention two original angles:

Firstly, the study of the body, the sensations and the emotions participate in giving depth to the analysis:

    • Professionals are controlling the borders using their senses to track suspicious behaviours (Perle Møhl)
    • Oromo musicians migrating to the US slowly lose their capacity to dance and embody their music, although they are making up it by incorporating back videos of dancers from back home (Anaïs Maro).
    • People leaving their country feel in their flesh the symbolic violence of the categorisation, both in the country of origin (for example: to be considered as traitor whereas they were activist for the freedom), and in the host country. It is the case for Turkish asylum seekers or people escaping Russian occupation in Ukraine (Aslihan Akkaya).

Secondly, migrants’ agency plays a crucial role. They are not only victims of the circumstances but also political and economic actors, participating in building their host society while appropriating their new space. This perspective is particularly useful to renew the current perception of migrants as victims and migrations as a threat to host societies. In turn, returning migrant can even support the development of both (Perrin-Joly). 

The academic dialogue on the two panels prepared for the roundtable of the afternoon session.


We invited practitioners from NGOs (Humanity and Inclusion, Action against Hunger, Retrak), donors (ECHO – European Commission) and an anthropologist (Dr Alice Corbet) to discuss on « Cooperation between scholars and non-academics about migrations ».

  • Fabrice Vandenputte presented different projects of Humanity and Inclusion (HI), former Handicap International, in particular on rural exodus (women, domestic workers, treated like slaves).
    HI added that the ARRA matrice regulates the intervention in refugees’ camps and organises the division of work of the majority of NGO. Because its mandate is transversal, HI is allowed to work in a broad range situation.
  • Aurelie Carmeille works for Action Contre la Faim (ACF), NGO working to treat and prevent undernutrition. They also work with the most vulnerable to try to reduce their vulnerability to shock, and therefore their potential movements.
    ACF works in different contexts (i.e., in 5 regions in Ethiopia), and part of its mandate is to respond to emergencies, which are regularly occurring. Therefore, they always adapt their response to emerging needs (i.e., South Somali refugees, El Nino crisis, La Nina crisis, internal displaced people crisis). This work requires a lot of proactivity and flexibility. The level intensity of the crisis, the number of people affected, partners’response (or the lack of it), capacity to fundraise and donors interest are the main ingredients of the decision to respond.

  • Lynn Kay represents Retrak, a development NGO which works with internal child migrants : boys migrate from rural to urban areas (trafficked or migrated themselves) and end up on the street and girls usually migrate by family or traffickers from rural to urban areas to improve educational opportunities but end up working as domestic workers (deceived by adults).
    Retrak supports children to leave the street or exploitative domestic work and to join its program. It provides holistic services to help children address the trauma they have experienced and developed a plan for their future. Most children go back to live with their families in rural areas, and families are supported to care for children. Some older children are supported in Vocational training, to employment and independent living. The NGO has three centres in Addis Ababa and one centre in Sodo and Hossana. It will be opening a new centre in Bahir Dar in September. It follows up children for two years (every three months) to assess their progress and best interest.

  • Ségolène de Beco is the director for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), which is the humanitarian donor of the European Commission with the mandate of funding INGOs, UN, the Red Cross and Red Crescent to provide humanitarian assistance to people affected by shocks. In Ethiopia, ECHO supports interventions helping refugees, internally displaced people, even returnees to a lesser extent. Their mandate is limited to humanitarian assistance – i.e. life-saving/basic needs such as food assistance, water and sanitation, health, nutrition, and protection.
    Ségolène de Beco explains: “For ECHO, as a humanitarian donor, the objective is to be able to intervene in a timely manner, so we work with a set of pre-approved organisations. In principle, humanitarian action has to reach the affected populations as soon as possible after the shock; projects need to be flexible to changing needs and changing context, partners have to be mobile to go where needs are, and not necessarily where partners are implanted, as nobody knows in advance where the shock will occur.”

  • Alice Corbet is researcher but before she has done consultancy, using her PhD in anthropology to help the NGOs, in Haiti Camps (2010 – 2016) and during the Cholera and Ebola crisis (2013). She is also member of ACF board since 2015.
    “As an anthropologist, I carry out fieldwork to understand deeply the population, the society and the culture. As a researcher, I have less constraint than NGO workers, and I am able to conduct a long-term research. For example, in Haïti, I worked between 2010 and 2016 at a spontaneous camp in Haiti (Canaan), which has emerged after the 2010 big earthquake, in North of Port au Prince. Canaan has been settled without any legal authorization, so the government and the NGOs didn’t and couldn’t help people in the campsite, whereas I stayed there for long time to talk with local people, particularly with the leaders of Canaan, sometimes named “gangs leaders” because of their ” violent and non-official practices”. This grounded-knowledge has allowed me to help international actors to access to the camp, and to identify relevant interlocutors”.


Dr Constance Perrin-Joly (CFEE) moderated and introduced the session:

Migrations have a long story: pilgrim, professional mobility of craft men, necessary migration of rural workers from one region to another, rural exodus, etc, were very common in Europe in the Middle Age. The advent of Nation States during the 19th and the 20th centuries has changed the story. Regulated before ex-post by deporting poor foreigners, migrations are now framed ex-ante by the impediment to cross the borders, to access to work market or social insurances (Rosenthal, 2010 [ii]) . 

However, the reasons to move are also very diverse, as the life course of migrants, their journey, their living conditions and their needs as well. According to IOM (2018 [i]), 244 million people are international migrants worldwide (that is to say 3.3% of the world’s population). Work is the primary reason for people to migrate. The number of internally displaced (which means people who stay inside their country but are forced to migrate by conflicts, political events, hunger, climate change) is over 40 million people and the number of refugees more than 22 million.

Categories of migrants and associated definitions are varied too.  There are numerous ways in which migration can be defined, according to the relation to place of birth or citizenship, relation with the host country (as migration is a process, the country where migrants live can be a host country as a step in a long journey), and their status (legal/illegal; economical or refugees). If “migrant” has a global meaning, without a consensual definition, on the contrary, “refugee” is framed by internal law since the Geneva Convention (1949), and “asylum seekers” depends on local institutions and legislation.

Most of the time, the migrants themselves tried to conform to the status which maximises their chances to stay in the country of arrival. Indeed, their situation is complicated, in-between and meets many variables rather than a fixed category.

Ethiopia illustrates this complexity: it is the second major country hosting refugees in Africa (after Uganda) with more than 900 000 people, mainly from South Sudan and Somalia.

1,7 million Ethiopians are internally displaced people, because of conflict in the region border (Oromia and Somalia) but also because of climate change. Ethiopia also hosts returnees: almost 6000 people have benefited from the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programmes, making Ethiopia the 6th country using this program. More than 45 000 migrants from Ethiopia have also reached the country in 2016, still according to IOM [i], often temporary workers back from the Gulf States.

With this diversity, coincides a broad scale of actors interacting with migrant people: Internationals organisations as IOM, UNHCR, Donors, humanitarian and development NGO, as well as, scholars. Indeed, the research about migrations is very dynamic. If we take the example of France, more than 100 institutions work on this subject. Since 1990, researches about migration broaden their field, take into account gender or study the effect of migration on the host society. The approaches, the sources, the methods are renewed and contribute to making the field prolific. However, at the same time, a report written by the National Museum for History of Migrations in France (2017 [iii]) notes that policy makers, senior officials and generally speaking practitioners ignore academic findings. For that reason, the roundtable focused on the opportunities impediments and key success factors to collaboration.

1. Specificities of the Ethiopian context

All NGO actors underlined difficulties to obtain accurate figures and statistics to support their program design and their fundraising process. They have to conduct a need assessment, to understand how to address a crisis adequately. However, data are collected from Government offices (Zone and Woreda administrations), from populations and key informants and are often questionable. In term of regular migration, it will be tought to obtain realistic figures visiting the local offices (i.e., the number of people who left for economic reasons, number of people who left the woreda).

The government regulates where and how NGOs intervene with different tools such as a compulsory license from Charity and Society Agencies (CHSA), work permits, business visas restricted to one month, annual audit, the impossibility for INGO to work on the human right, gender issues or advocacy. NGOs agree that the control of the government on their activities is useful, but this regulation is also a significant constraint. For example, the Proclamation for NGOs and the cost ratio (70 for the programs, and 30 for the administration) limits the cooperation with local NGOs or training to families, children and communities because the controlling body consider them as administrative costs. Another constraint is that the source of funding needs to be 70% from Ethiopia.

2. Difficulties about cooperation

In principle, humanitarian partners propose actions based on needs-assessments that should be fast per nature as the objective is to respond fast as well. Because Aid NGOs need to provide a fast humanitarian response, the temporality of research does not match their needs. NGOs also feel that they are more operation oriented, and spend less time on analysis, as opposed to academics.

For Ségolène de Beco, as a humanitarian donor, there is no prerequisite for interventions to be based on academic research, but when it is possible, the humanitarian actors will use them to inform their programming. It might also be more feasible with resilience projects. Stockholders need to deconstruct the perception that humanitarian response is incompatible with parallel research as eventually, many operations are continuing for several years. In reality, many crises are protracted (such as the refugee one in Ethiopia), displacement often lasts for several years, and once the first life-saving / emergency phase is over, there are opportunities to integrate work with academics to inform the next phase of the response and to evaluate the impact.

However, as humanitarian funding cycle is often on a yearly basis, NGOs needs to be able to obtain results of the research within the timeframe of the operation. The wall of post-its created by audience’s member contributions shows that audience members, particularly academics, see the rigid administration of donors as a barrier to a creative form of collaboration, although establishing a framework agreement could be a solution. More importantly, some audience member had the impression that donors may fear to be challenged by results when other pointed out that joint efforts would lead to better results with less (taxpayer) money.

The question of perception is indeed a vital issue, as HI underlines it: Fabrice Vandenputte was under the impression that the academic research was expensive because it was a long-term project involving highly qualified professionals. Discussing with the audience, including Addis Ababa University heads of department and foreign researchers, it became apparent that many collaboration systems can cost less or very cheap for NGOs. For example, granting access to field work to PhD students or academics can generate useful data and analysis for this the NGO’s current or further projects. However, the audience admitted on the post-it wall the existence of ethical issues in term of informed and free consent of beneficiaries. Can enrolling imply de facto he is a part of the study? How can they be no pressure in participating when emergency aid seems liked to participate in the study? Would it raise expectations? However, another post-it pointed out that interviews and focus groups can be a fantastic way for beneficiaries to be re-gain agency.

The way each actor communicates is also essential. The post-it wall reveals a felt language gap between academics and practitioners. Besides, there is no global vision of existing publication. Plus, practitioners have no time to read and digest the large number of existing reports. A lot of reports or PhD thesis lack dissemination in the NGOs network. A platform that would connect all stockholder could remediate this problem but is still to be created.

Finally, cooperation is not promoted enough by institutions. As Alice Corbet noticed, on the one hand, donors have no specific funds for research in humanitarian action, and on the other hand, scholars are not evaluated on their impact on the ground but on the number of scientific articles in peer-review they have published. The same is true on the partitioner side, because donors and board do not plan for cooperation with academics, there is no incentive for NGOs to reach out. In other words, either academic institutions nor humanitarian and development sector promote concrete cooperation, even if it tends to be very important in institutional discourse. Action research and common indicators were two strong suggestion emerging for the post-it wall to create effective cooperation.

3. Successful cooperations

Retrak has one project with the Population Council on the mental health of vulnerable children to increase understanding of mental health issues of their beneficiaries, to develop an effective therapy program for vulnerable children.

They also collaborated with Universities about education for vulnerable children and with donors who aspire to research efficiency economic strengthening programs for vulnerable families. Then, they applied these findings to strengthen their programs. They currently collaborate with Mekele University on one project to deepen their understanding of migration and enable them to target economic strengthening actions for maximum efficiency.

According to Lynn Kay, one of the reasons Retrak has been successful in co-operating with researchers is that they are committed to learning as an organisation. They actively include research in their programs and proposals and practice action research as a way to fully exploit their Monitoring and Evaluation data. Robust evidence base program design enables them to be successful in grant applications.

As Alice Corbet testifies, in Haïti, NGO workers have quickly seen that something was missing in their intervention: Haïtian people still had “wrong” hygienic behaviour, despite awareness raising programs. That is why NGOs started to ask social science scholars to help them to improve their understanding of local culture and to adapt prevention strategies to Haitian people, as taking into account the Vodou practices. For example, some people think that washing their hands only with water is efficient enough, soap is unnecessary. Understanding this belief allowed NGOs to do better prevention programs and obtain better results on the cholera epidemic. « As a scholar, I had to adapt to NGOs, working in very short time to produce reports with recommendations, for example. This is what I have done with a socio-cultural toolkit for « Wash » (water, sanitation and hygiene) in Haïti. This job was based on anthropologic knowledge to understand the Haitian problems with sanitation and water. The difficulty of the exercise was to translate my analysis into useful recommendations for NGOs WASH experts. » said Alice Corbet.

Like ACF, NGOs also conduct many studies by themselves (nutrition causal analysis, health system strengthening diagnosis…), as it requires technical expertise aligned to organisation guidelines. ACF had some partnership with Tuft University, who did a study on migration in Waghimra, which presented an entirely different point of view, maybe too innovative for some reader, but pointing to gaps to be addressed to improve the conditions of migration.

As a conclusion, cooperation between scholars and NGO is a relevant challenge for both part : for NGOs, to identify what information would be interesting to ensure that the humanitarian action respect the “do no harm principle” (ex. looking at clan issues, family dynamic, gender sensitivity); for scholars, to access to fieldwork and make their studies known by practitioners. The wall of post-it also mentions another stakeholder interested in the collaboration: states who could use practitioner/academic report for evidence-based policymaking.



[i] McAuliffe M. & Ruhs M., 2018, World Migration Report 2018 IOM.

[ii] Rosenthal P.-A., 2010, Une histoire longue des migrations, Regards croisés sur l’économie, 2010/2, 8, pp. 74-80

[iii] Stora B., Orain H., Amar M., Poinsot M. & Amal M., 2017, La recherche sur les migrations et l’immigration : Un état des lieux, Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration, Paris, La Documentation Française.

Citer ce billet
stagiaire (2019, 18 avril). Conference: Displacements in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, April 2018. UN ŒIL SUR LA CORNE / AN EYE ON THE HORN. Consulté le 23 mai 2024, à l’adresse

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