In Tanzania, 41 Ethiopian migrants died of asphyxiation in the back of a crowded truck this week. The dead were dumped on the side of the road, and the survivors -- there were at least 80 -- were released into Dodoma, a central region of Tanzania. One more migrant passed away as local villagers rushed to assist the survivors, bringing the total death toll to 42 and counting.
The migrants began their journey in two trucks, said Tanzania's Deputy Interior Minister Pereira Silima to the BBC. But in the Tanzanian town of Arusha, they were gathered into a single vehicle. Shortly thereafter, the driver was on the road when he heard sounds of distress in the cabin behind him. He pulled over and opened the doors.
When he found out that at least 41 were dead, he released the survivors and dumped the dead in the bush, said Silima. Then he sped off, alone. Authorities are still working to track him down.
This tragedy is a common one. Migrants seeking to escape hunger and violence in the Horn of Africa are often transported south by smugglers; they hope to find new lives in more stable countries like Tanzania and South Africa, but the journey is perilous.
Just last week, 47 immigrants from the Horn of Africa died in Lake Malawi when their crowded boat capsized. In January, 20 Somalis suffocated in a crowded truck as it passed through Tanzania in an incident very similar to this week's disaster.
But these horror stories don't stop tens of thousands of Africans each year from boarding smugglers' vehicles and heading down south.
Hitting the Road
For many, circumstances in the Horn of Africa are so dire that escape becomes the only option.
In Somalia, violence is rampant as African Union forces struggle to contain and defeat the terrorist group Al Shabab. This is following two decades of failed statehood; despite current attempts to cobble together a functioning government, the country is riven by deep divisions. Poverty and hunger are rampant, and in many areas, little to no infrastructure is in place to deal with these problems.
In Ethiopia, things are more stable politically, and economic growth is encouraging. But destitution and starvation still plague this densely populated nation of 80 million people, where about 25 million live below the poverty line. Furthermore, many rural Ethiopians have been displaced or otherwise marginalized due to a growing trend toward agro-industrialization.
And the entire Horn of Africa was devastated by a drought-induced famine in 2010 and 2011; it killed tens of thousands, and the U.N. estimates that over 13 million remain desperately malnourished.
Evidence of these crises can be found in Kenya, which is failing to fully accommodate hundreds of thousands of migrants -- mostly from Somalia -- at overcrowded, poorly supplied refugee camps.
It is no wonder that so many Horn of Africa residents feel compelled to seek a new life elsewhere.
The journey southward across several national borders is both arduous and complex. A trip from Addis Ababa to Pretoria covers over 2,000 miles of jungles and lakes and lonely roads, boats and bribes, trucks and transfers. Still, there is great demand for migrant transportation.
In response, an expansive network of smugglers has sprung up. Their web of connections stretches all the way from the Horn to the Cape of Good Hope.
These smugglers are profiting handsomely from their efforts. A report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that their vast network generates about $40 million in annual revenues, although this money ends up in the pockets of everyone from drivers to customs officials to police officers.
Migrants themselves are the ones who fund this enterprise; they can pay upward of $1,000 at the beginning of a trip.
The journey is typically harrowing. Some migrants are caught by officials and arrested, to be jailed until a bribe secures their release. Many fall victim to road robberies, or are extorted for additional fees while on the road. Women have reported being raped by their smugglers.
And, as was the case in Tanzania, unsafe traveling conditions often result in tragedy.
At the end of the road, it is presumed, safety awaits.
For many, life is indeed better in countries like Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa. But others are dismayed to find entirely new difficulties waiting for them.
South Africa, which enjoys the healthiest economy on the continent, is the most popular destination for migrants, according to IOM. Unfortunately, it faces a host of migration-related challenges, including ... inadequate migration management policies and border management processes [and] rising xenophobic sentiments that in some cases turn into actual violence against migrants.
Despite being relatively wealthy -- at least as compared to surrounding nations - South Africa has an unemployment rate of about 25 percent. Many citizens resent the influx of foreigners, and this prejudice makes it difficult for migrants to find gainful employment. Those who succeed are often accused of stealing jobs.
This xenophobia is endemic in South Africa, and many migrants report mistreatment and marginalization. The problem erupted into violence most visibly in 2008, when 60 died and thousands more were displaced or injured during a wave of anti-foreigner violence.
The problems that plague Africa's migrants at every step of the way are being addressed in various ways, but remain far from resolved.
Conditions may improve in the Horn of Africa if, as is planned, Somalia assembles a permanent government by Aug. 20; this could better enable it to provide for its citizens and suppress the Al Shabab insurgency. In Ethiopia, industrialization and foreign investments continue to ameliorate poverty there. But hunger is still widespread across the Horn, terrorists are still active and Kenya's refugee camps are still overflowing.
Down along the migration routes, there are efforts in place to clamp down on dangerous smuggling operations. But these networks are notoriously difficult to pin down since they function with the complicity of bribed security officials.
And in South Africa, the government realized the need to combat xenophobia when it came under international scrutiny following the violence of 2008 -- but this hasn't stopped officials from refusing asylum to increasing numbers of Somali and Ethiopian immigrants in recent years.
Migrants heading south will continue to face formidable obstacles and serious risks. But for many, those don't yet outweigh the dangers of remaining in the Horn of Africa.