Promoting inclusion of minorities

Somali region is one of Ethiopia’s most ethnically diverse regions, its 4.4 million population comprising 84 different ethnicities[1].  Traditionally, politics, economics and social status in Somali society is determined by a caste-like hierarchy, led by three to five major clans. For ethnic minorities like the Gaboyo (or Midgan) people, whom lie on the periphery of the system, the clan structure poses special difficulties such as widespread exclusion from local politics and employment opportunities[2].

Photo by Michael Tsegaye/CSSP

Photo by Michael Tsegaye (CSSP)

The Somali-Ethiopian Relief & Development Organisation (SERDO) with support from the Civil Society Support Programme (CSSP) is trying to tackle discrimination towards the Gaboyo community and increase their representation in decision-making processes, starting in Kebrir Dahar woreda in Korahe zone.

‘The pastoral society of Somali believes that an individual’s occupation defines his or her value. As a result, the Gaboyo community is considered as inferior for being hunters, metalworkers and leather makers’, explained Tadesse Negash from the CSSP Regional Office.

SERDO’s approach to promoting equality

Discrimination has lead many Gaboyo and other minorities to keep their children out of school, preferring instead to teach them traditional trades as shoe cobbling, blacksmithing, hunting and labouring. Gaboyo people are under-represented in political spheres, and many failing to fully utilise basic services like health, education and credit facilities.

Using a CSSP Innovation Grant, SERDO tried to breakdown barriers between Gaboyo and non-Gaboyo populations through a programme of workshops, meetings and trainings to religious leaders, clan leaders, community members and local government officials focused on equality. This has supplemented the creation of income generation opportunities for Gaboyo people, to facilitate their economic and social participation in society.

The initiative has reminded participants that ‘the ancestors of the Gaboyo community are among the Somali tribes and the same as other Somalis’, noted Mr. Negash.

Improving minorities’ representation in local government

Cabinet members of Zonal and Regional government participated in the training and awareness raising activities of the project, and the views of the Gaboyo community are better represented in the local administration. There have also been positive steps to reduce marginalisation of ethnic minorities in society, with restrictions on the inter-marriage between Gaboyo and other Somali communities being loosened.  Religious leaders are also playing their own role in normalising the past discrimination practice by engaging and informing their congregations.

Mr Arab Abdulahi, the Cooperative Head of Korahe Zone was one local government official that participated in SERDO’s training and awareness raising activities.  ‘As government representative, I believe that the project is immensely important in addressing the needs of the excluded community and bringing about attitudinal change towards the Gaboyo. The government is supporting such kind of projects’ said Mr. Arab.

The project is changing attitudes not only towards minority groups themselves, but also towards the role that civil society organisations can play in Ethiopia’s development.  ‘CSOs are real development partners of the government and have potential to introduce innovative ideas’ noted Mr Abdulahi Werer, Foreign Resource Coordinator of Somali Region and one of the recipients of training.

The project aligns with CSSP’s goal to promote civil society organisations that represent marginalised minority groups. This work is underpinned by CSSP’s Insider-Outsider analysis which suggests that support is needed for both those who are excluded, and those who exclude, to ensure equal rights and benefits to all Ethiopian people.

[1] Central Statistics Agency, 2007 Census

[2] Minority Rights Group International

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