Before a social integration project implemented by ActionAid and the Ethiopian government, members of the ‘Menja’ minority group were excluded from social, economic and political activities in parts of the Keffa Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region.
Now, the Menja minority sit with majority social groups in the same hall to discuss concerns and eat and drink in the same restaurants.
The issue of social marginalisation is now openly discussed and is considered to be a priority for the Council of Nationalities of the State. Local governments are working towards ensuring integration among the minority and majority groups in respective areas.
Some members of the minority group have already secured plots of land in towns in the woredas, administrative districts of Ethiopia managed by a local government. Here they have built houses, assumed positions in woreda and State Councils, and a number of them have joined the police and other civil service sectors in the area.
Whilst this is clear evidence of a change in attitude taking place, according to local government and community members further intensified efforts are needed to sustain and scale up the social integration.
Commenting on the issue, Ato Lemma Gezumu, Speaker of the Council of Nationalities, emphasized that the fight against social marginalisation should be a responsibility of every community member.
“Government officials should take a lead in setting examples of eating together and mingling with members of the minority,” he said.
A member of the Menja minority, W/ro Mashufe Mamo, offered his views, stating:
“Things are changing and we have no problem in this area as we use the same mill, health service and other facilities with the majority groups. However, the problem is huge once we go out of our village and try to get the same service.
“We still have to sell our goods for a cheaper price and have to sit under the shade of a tree and not with other community members if we have to buy food and drink from a restaurant.”
The project, now managed by the State Council of Nationalities and supported by ActionAid and UNDF (United Nations Development Fund), recently reviewed its performance in Tello with a view to identifying future developments.
A review and reflection process, held in the Oda and Sheda villages of the Zone, recently brought together thousands of attendants of both the majority and minority social groups, top government representatives including the State Council Speaker, cabinet members, woreda administrators and UNDF and ActionAid representatives.
The workshop was decorated with expressions of the local government commitment to reinforce efforts against social marginalisation by woreda, zonal and other government bodies as well as community members.
Ademe Airo, a teacher from the Menja social group agreed that a wind of change is blowing in his village, Sheda.
“The change is slow compared to the seriousness of the problem. A lot needs to be done by way of changing the attitudes the majority group hold against the Menja minority” he said.
He went on to say that "the perceptions the minority group have towards themselves are wrong as some still think they are inferior to members of other social groups. Some business people still go to the extreme of beating Menjas who sought services of their businesses.
“The discussions and awareness-raising works should be further strengthened and strong measures need to be taken to ensure the desired level of social integration.”
Ato Tesfaye Tafese, Deputy Administrator of the Zone issued a stark warning to business people in the area and elsewhere, who are provided with work permits with the assumption that they equally serve community members in respective areas.
“The local government will close down businesses of individuals who discriminate against the Menja minority groups,” he stated.