The streets of Addis Ababa and other major cities are filled with beggars – especially rural migrants. Many people are often physically handicapped, unable to provide for their families or lack other options to earn a stable income. Research on the topic finds that begging can be especially detrimental for young children, who often forsake their formal education, furthering the cycle of poverty. However, as EBR’s adjunct staff writer Meseret Mamo reports, there are efforts to quell the factors that lead to begging, but even these programmes face challenges.
Bantu Amlak, a mother of three, came to Addis Ababa six years ago from Gojam in the State of Amhara. Now in her early thirties, she came to the capital because her parents died and her husband was unable to support her and their children. Due to this destitute situation, and lack of job opportunities in her rural setting, Bantu saw migrating to the capital as her only option to improve her situation.
But things were not as she thought they would be. Running out of options to support her children, she decided to beg for a living and with her three children – aged 4, 5 and 9 –makes the streets of Addis a place to stay during the daytime. At nightfall, they usually retreat to a house she rents. “This is the life I am leading after I came to Addis Ababa,” she told EBR.
Currently, many people like Bantu – especially rural migrants – engage in begging as a way of life in almost every major city and in some small towns. As a result, beggary seems to be grave and severe in the urban areas, especially in Addis Ababa.
In fact, data obtained from the Addis Ababa Bureau of Labour and Social Affairs (BoLSA) reveals that more than 18,000 beggars live in the capital.
This may be surprising, given Ethiopia’s economic growth has been remarkably rapid and stable over the past decade. Real gross domestic product growth averaged 10.9Pct between 2004 and 2014, according to World Bank data. Poverty declined substantially – from 44Pct in 2000 to 30Pct in 2011, which translates to a 33Pct reduction in the share of people living in poverty, also according to data from the Bank.
Despite such promising economic indicators, the prevalence of poverty is still ubiquitous in Ethiopia, both in rural and urban contexts. In rural areas, poor subsistence farmers are especially vulnerable to falling below the poverty line, as their livelihoods are greatly impacted by drought and other volatile shocks.
Urban poverty in the country is no less of a reality, with rapid urbanisation, population growth and income stagnation. As a result, urban poverty has also become a problem, contributing to the increased presence of begging in major cities.
Negese Belay, a Senior Officer at BOLSA, elucidates the negative effects of begging, both on the beggars and on the society as well as the city at large. “The deteriorated and poor way of living in terms of food, clothing and health are the prime effects on beggars, although the psychological impact is also devastating,” he says. “Begging for survival makes people feel subhuman, incompetent in socialisation.”
He also says the psychological impact of begging takes a toll on children, since they usually spend time on street and have a tendency to follow in their parents’ footsteps, contributing to a cycle of poverty. Negese’s argument is validated by the fact that two of Bantu’s children were begging with her at the time EBR met them.
The impact on the society is also another problem, according to Negese, since the ubiquitous nature of begging in Ethiopia creates an uncomfortable situation for the overall public by making public spaces dirty and sometimes interrupting smooth traffic flow.
Geremew Hulika, a PhD candidate and lecturer in Wollega University’s Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, says beggary is an indicator of poverty that may be due to economic and social factors. “Old age and illness are main reasons to beg but there are also poverty-related issues that can contribute greatly,” he says.
Research conducted on the issue demonstrates the reasons that force people to resort to begging are multifaceted and vary in accordance with the type of beggar, their past and present socio-economic status, and personal health, among other factors. This means the causes that force individuals towards begging can only be identified through a rigorous study of a beggar’s specific circumstances.
One study, conducted by Woubishet Demewozu as a master’s thesis in Addis Ababa University’s Department of Social Anthropology, stresses that a careful and thorough examination of the economy, demography and public policy will show how these developments have moved towards one extremely unpleasant form of chronic poverty – widespread begging – in recent decades.
According to the study, from a historical perspective, one can trace the main causes of poverty to past episodes of drought, famines, and war. Under such circumstances, migration, particularly from rural to urban areas, exacerbates poverty in general, especially beggary.
Negese agrees with this conclusion. “Of the total beggars who live in Addis Ababa, 86Pct come from other parts of the country,” he estimates. “Although poverty is the major cause for this type of migration, unwanted pregnancy, illness and drug addiction are other reasons as well.”
A mere observation is enough to conclude that beggars in Addis Ababa are composed of different ethnic groups constituting all age groups and both sexes. However, young people are likely to be most acutely impacted by begging. According to a study conducted by researchers at Princeton University, children in extreme poverty are less likely to enter or complete formal education, further excluding them from work opportunities and continuing the cycle of poverty.
Despite its adverse effects and ubiquity, begging is an issue that has not been given much attention until recently. “We have started working to solve the problem of beggary since 2011,” says Bereket Zereay, Rehabilitation Officer at BoLSA. “In collaboration with the Metal and Engineering Corporation, the Bureau helps beggars receive short-term training, which helps them to get ready psychologically and in terms of skill to [start working].”
Indeed, five years ago the government, along with the Elshaday Relief and Development Association, implemented a joint effort to end begging through job training programmes. Four months ago, the Metals and Engineering Corporation’s Addis Raey Training Centre graduated more than 10,000 street youths who were collected from different parts of the country at a graduation ceremony held in the State of Afar.
According to information obtained from BoLSA, there were 4,151 trainees who travelled to the training centre from the capital. “Our Bureau even hired 12 of them,” Bereket says.
However, he says the programme isn’t perfect, as several trainees returned to the capital before finishing the training, many returning to a lifestyle of begging. “Maybe it was because of the climate at the training centre, which was very hot and the intensity of the training that forced people to return,” argues Bereket. “BoLSA is supporting people who want to return to the training centre. The Bureau even facilitated the return of 503 beggars who migrated to the capital due to the current drought.”
Officials say tackling this issue isn’t something the federal government can do by itself. “This is not something the Bureau can do alone, regional state administrations should also be willing to cooperate by accepting the returnees and giving them necessary support to re-establish their lives,” urges Bereket. He says the State of Tigray and two zone administrations in the State of Amhara have been cooperative in accepting and re-establishing the returnees.
The Urban Safety Net Programme, which will be implemented as a pilot project in Addis Ababa and other towns, is another attempt to mitigate the effects of urban poverty, which in some cases leads to begging. The programme will be implemented for ten years in urban areas throughout the country. “There will be direct monetary support to those who can’t earn their living due to illness and incapacity,” Bereket told EBR. “The able-bodied individuals will be supported by engaging themselves in different jobs.”
Experts, including Woubishet, stress that categorising beggars based on their physical abilities is important to get the most out of the Programme.
In Ethiopia, beggars can be organised into three general categories, according to a report by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The first category includes the disabled, the aged and other destitute groups, who generally ask for alms around churches, mosques, public places and rural villages. The second category includes the Orthodox students and professional beggars known as Hminas or Lalibelas. The third category includes holy beggars of various sorts, including priests who carry sacred pictures and ask for charity for different reasons.
BoLSA also has a plan to work in collaboration with religious institutions in the areas of advocacy and creating an organised aid system. “The latter is a very important endeavour, since in our society giving money to beggars is considered right and holy,” says Bereket.
Geremew stresses that culture plays a role, as societal norms in some cases incubate the culture of begging. “[The society] pays beggars lip service and encourages a culture of begging,” he argues. “It was in the early 19th century that begging as a means of living started in Ethiopia. The fact that it has passed through the 21st century shows it has become a culture in our country.” EBR
4th Year • August 16 2016 – September 15 2016 • No. 42