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This paper examines how Ethiopia’s “development” over the last century impacted the mobility patterns of a traditionally seminomadic peoples in the central lowlands of Oromia. Using original survey data, in-depth interviews, and ethnographic methods, this research uncovers how, within just four generations, one village experienced two mobility transitions: from seminomadic pastoralism into settled agriculture, and then from rural agriculture into more mobile, urban-centric lives. To explain these transitions, this paper advances a social transformation framework to explore how different dimensions of social change — the political, economic, demographic, technological, and cultural — impact aspirations and capabilities to migrate or stay. It finds, first, that the sedentarisation of seminomadic lifestyles was an integral part of modern nation-state building in Ethiopia. The integration of this once peripheral region into a centralised, hierarchical state disrupted traditional patterns of socioeconomic organisation with the effect of tying people to places. Second, it finds that rural out-migration among younger generations — whether to neighbouring towns or to the Middle East — is primarily driven by rising access to formal education, growing rural-urban connectivity, and the expansion of the market economy. In Ethiopia, where most analyses of rural out-migration focus on the factors that “force” young people to abandon agriculture and rural lives, this case study shows why rising rural out-migration is part and parcel of “development” as it is practiced today. Rather than alleviating the need to migrate, this research suggests that development often creates the need to migrate.



Working paper

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1 - 48


migration, development, Ethiopia, aspirations, urbanization