Escape routes from the welfare trap – By Mulumebet Asfaw

April 14th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

It was extremely gratifying for me to stir a lot of controversy with my last article on welfare addiction and its consequences. The issue at stake, being a thorny one that pricked the sensitivities of many especially those who have been deliberately caught by the benefit trap indefinitely, all the uproar and furore was understandable. As far as I am concerned, I have achieved my goal and set the agenda for sincere discussion on such an issue which has long been consigned as a taboo that nobody dares to talk about. (more…)

It was extremely gratifying for me to stir a lot of controversy with my last article on welfare addiction and its consequences. The issue at stake, being a thorny one that pricked the sensitivities of many especially those who have been deliberately caught by the benefit trap indefinitely, all the uproar and furore was understandable. As far as I am concerned, I have achieved my goal and set the agenda for sincere discussion on such an issue which has long been consigned as a taboo that nobody dares to talk about.

Let me make it clear from the outset once again that my criticism is by no means directed towards those who legitimately claim benefits as a result of some misfortunes. My criticism has targeted only those who have been deliberately avoiding opportunities so that they would stay on welfare for the rest of their lives without contributing anything valuable to make a real difference to themselves and others. Throughout this article, it must be noted that I have used the quantifier “some” to avoid the risk of making gross generalizations.

I have heard so many great sermons and moral teachings in Ethiopian churches in the Diaspora but I have never heard a preacher challenging the moral decadence attributable to welfare swindling, the resultant lack of work ethics, loss of direction and the distorted purpose of living in exile seeking a “better” life. If someone from your church catches you eating chicken on a Friday, your sin quickly becomes the talk of the whole congregation, some of whom even dare to share their benefit swindling techniques to others including conning benefit officers into believing that they are disabled or mentally retarded so that they would be guaranteed a place on the benefit system for life. Unfortunately, there are some who feel that their pathetic way of existence is a badge of honour to brag about. Surprisingly there are even those who earnestly believe that God is helping them in their dubious endeavours despite the widely known biblical adage which goes like: “He who doesn’t work does not eat.”

In spite of the fact that some supported my initiative to bring up the issue, there were equally resentful and suspicious views. Some even thought that I might be a Weyane cadre who is out to destroy the reputation of my fellow countrymen who are tactfully stuck in the welfare system. As a matter of fact, those who concocted such a conspiracy theory didn’t know the fact that I hold Weyane cadres and spies who are also artful benefit swindles with utmost contempt. This is because of the fact that they are the ones who are bankrolling the Meles regime with their money laundering businesses that stretch from Europe to North America. They spy on innocent Ethiopians, get paid by Weyane, drive their minibuses and run their businesses and yet you find them living rent free and claiming all sorts of benefits as expert freeloaders and free riders. Some of them are children and close relatives of high ranking officials of the Meles regime and its business associates who bogus refugees milking the nation at the detriment of the hunger stricken people of Ethiopia. Even Meles Zenawi’s London-based relatives, including his sister, are said to be expert benefit swindlers in spite of the fact that their man has been robbing Ethiopia for nearly three decades, as leader of a criminal ethnic syndicate called the Tigray Peope’s Liberation Front. This very ethnic front is an expert welfare cheat as it created a repressive kleptocracy propped up with foreign aid as the whole aid economy, which is said to grow by tenfold every year, survives on beggary.

Contrary to the suspicions of the conspiracy theorists who have gone as further as theorizing that I was motivated by envy, God knows what for, the main reason why I ventured out to speak loudly against deliberate welfare cheating is due to its long term impact among Ethiopians who have lost their sense of pride, purpose, direction and self-confidence. Let us assume that Ethiopia is liberated and the Diaspora is needed to reconstruct Ethiopia. Can the large army of benefit swindlers who have preferred to dodge work and education contribute anything valuable with their corrupt experience? Doubtful!

Before wading deeper into murky waters, let me praise those who have changed their lives through hard work and determination. Unlike the artful dodgers, there are a large number of Ethiopians who have started from the bottom to fulfil their dreams and made their way up the ladder of success. These are the kind of Ethiopians that can take home their valuable skills, experience and know-how to build a new Ethiopia that we will all be proud to call a country. They are well prepared to be trusted and make a difference as they know the value of independence that must be earned through hard work.

Though it is undeniable that immigrants face discrimination, compared to the natives, it cannot be a justification to swindle benefits forever as a way of tackling adversities. For the majority of able bodied Ethiopians caught up deliberately in the welfare system, there are some simple escape routes that can help many get out of the terrible dependency syndrome and declare independence as well as dignity.

Right attitude

Many Ethiopians in exile suffer from attitudinal problems that they imported from our backward culture. The worst attitudinal problem is lack of respect for all kinds of work. It is a shame for some Ethiopians to be seen in public doing blue collar and less privileged jobs. But these compatriots never feel ashamed to live at the expense others. There are even those who choose jobs without having the necessary skills and qualifications to their dream jobs. How can they fulfil their dreams without studying and working as hard as they possibly can?

Another misconception widely held among benefit cheats is that they feel certain that they would remain better off on welfare benefits than working legally, pay bills and taxes. To some extent that may be true, but this can go wrong in the long term. This is due to the fact that those who do not get qualifications and job experience become more and more marginalized from mainstream society. That would in turn make them disadvantaged as they cannot compete well in the job market without work experience and qualifications. So having the right attitude is the first step to escape from the welfare trap that kills the inner energy of any able bodied fellow Ethiopians who have deliberately surrendered their self-confidence to dependency syndrome.

It is ridiculous to see some Ethiopians engaged in hard fought fashion, furniture and car shows as well as wedding and birthday extravaganza while they are intently trapped in the welfare system, the prerequisite of which is supposed to be their claims of being poor and dispossessed.


As mentioned above, self-belief and self-confidence cannot be guaranteed when people adopt a self-defeatist attitude. Those who have lost their self-belief never believe that they have untapped potential that must be unlocked to their own good and the society at large. Therefore, self-confidence is an important asset that should not be compromised and sold out to welfare dependency that saps out one’s self-beliefs and inner strength.

Hard work

From Japan to Taiwan, from Singapore to Israel, from America to Europe, there is one dominant factor that has created a wider gap between affluent and poor nations. The level of hard work in the most affluent nations is incredible. While some of us spend hours making rounds of coffee smelling aromatic smokes of incense and backbiting our neighbours and friends, there are many around the world that have their coffee rushing to work or inventing something new. One can imagine how anyone with a lot of time to waste loses out because they are on welfare benefits with no significant experience and skills. Can they truly believe in hard work even if they work in the black labour market without securing their rights and dignity? The answer is a resounding no as such a belief entails the drive for success and the sweetness of honest gains.


It would be stating the obvious to declare that education is a key to unlock our potentials. That being a universally accepted fact every society invests heavily on education. Every able bodied Ethiopian who lives in the Diaspora must aspire to get a qualification and skills. Those who are unable to be successful academically can do vocational qualifications. Professionals qualified in vocational skills like plumbing, electrical installations, vehicle maintenance, beauty therapy, hairdressing, social care, child care etc. are high in demand in many countries. The majority of Ethiopians who have completed secondary schools are able to gain vocational qualifications provided they have the determination to succeed. Why is it that some have never been to schools and colleges in their countries of refuge while they have been sitting comfortably on welfare? Can they legitimately complain about discrimination and other forms of disadvantages? Not at all!


For the majority of Ethiopians language is a barrier that holds them back from being successful in exile. Those who live in Anglophone countries, like the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, have a relative advantage. But one should not discount the fact that in the majority of schools in Ethiopia, English is not taught properly. The majority of students, who even graduate from universities, may not have conversed in English until they “finish” their studies even if the medium of instruction in post-primary schools is said to be English. It is therefore imperative to learn languages seriously so as to integrate and succeed in foreign countries. There are some Ethiopians who think that it much better to speak in broken English and miscommunicate with native speakers rather than being seen around language schools.


The bases of morality, whether religious or not, are values and actions which have been widely accepted and endorsed as rightful and righteous. Being on welfare benefits with intent to cheat cannot be accepted as righteous by any moral or legal standards. Unless those who have been intently swindling benefits are making efforts to rectify their mistakes by working harder and earning their living in stead of being dependent on those who work hard and pay taxes, they find no moral excuse to challenge a burglar or a pickpocket. This may appear outrageous but the burglar or the pickpocket may also say it is difficult to work hard, pay tax and bills. “Why can’t I seek a shortcut to get better off?”

Success comes with pain

Unless one wins a lottery or inherits wealth that someone else has made, prospering in the right way has always been difficult. As the saying goes, success usually comes with pain. In stead of fending off criticism against welfare cheats and swindlers, we have to convince ourselves and children that working hard is the most important escape route from dependency and despondency, not only in exile but also back home where the regime seems to be helplessly addicted to foreign aid. If such a comment appears to be offensive, let it be. After all this is a legitimate discussion based on legitimate observation.

As a final note, I would like to conclude by calling on my fellow Ethiopians to continue the debate. I firmly believe that we need to have honest discussions on many thorny issues. I rest my case on welfare swindling and make a promise to come back with another upfront comment on some thorny issues. In the meantime, so long!

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