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This paper reviews key trends in migration patterns within and from Ethiopia over the last century, with a particular focus on 1960 onwards when more national-level data is available. It shows that both gradual and dramatic shifts characterize Ethiopia’s migration history. Regarding gradual shifts in the movement of populations within the country, Ethiopia shows a two-fold process of sedentarization of nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyles alongside a slow but steady urbanization of internal migration trajectories. Alongside this, rising levels of international migration have diversified in terms of the composition and destinations of Ethiopian emigrants. Ethiopia’s history also shows more punctuated and dramatic shifts in population movements over relatively short periods – a consequence of political conflict, famine, conscription, resettlement schemes, and/or development-induced displacement. At the same time that Ethiopians left their country in times of distress, Ethiopia was also an important destination for hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa. This paper provides evidence for these trends, and considers how they relate to other processes of social change. In particular, it applies a social transformation framework to show how different dimensions of social change – the political, economic, cultural, technological and demographic – impacted population movements over time. We distinguish between ‘deep’ drivers of migration transitions (e.g. the expansion of formal education, infrastructure development and industrialization) and the (often) stateled policy interventions (and failures) that can suddenly affect the movements of large segments of the population (e.g. resettlement programs, development-induced displacement, political conflict, or famine). We ultimately argue that while migration driven by the latter can be addressed and mediated through policy-interventions, overarching migration transitions driven by the former are part and parcel of development strategies in the modern period, and are thus unlikely to be significantly affected by policies aimed at stemming migration’s ‘root causes.’


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migration, development, social transformation, urbanization, state