Ethiopia: Situation of the Shinasha ethnic group, including treatment by the majority population and authorities (2012-July 2014) [ETH104906.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview
1.1 Names and Languages

Sources indicate that the Shinasha ethnic group in Ethiopia is also known by various names, including:

  • Boro (Professor of social anthropology 9 July 2014; Associate Fellow 4 July 2014; Alula July-Sept. 2012, 116)
  • Borna (Joshua Project n.d.a)
  • Gonga, Dangabo, and Sinicho (Alula July-Sept. 2012, 116; Endalew 2005, 2)
  • Sinetjo (ibid.; Professor of social anthropology 9 July 2014)
  • Amuru (Joshua Project n.d.a)
  • Seenetyo, Simitchos, Scinascia and Xinax (Endalew 2005, 2).

Ethnologue: Languages of the World, an online catalogue of world languages, identifies Borna as the language of the Boro ethnicity and states that Boro, Bworo, Shinasha and Scinacia are alternate names for the language (Ethnologue 2014). The Joshua Project, a research initiative that collects information on ethnicity in support of Christian missions (Joshua Project n.d.b), states that Borna is the language of the Shinasha (ibid. n.d.a). PeopleGroups.org, an online database on ethno-linguistic groups maintained by the Global Research Department of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board (PeopleGroups.org n.d.b), states that Boro is the primary language of the Shinasha (ibid. n.d.a).

Sources indicate that the ethnic group is most commonly known by the term Shinasha (Alula July-Sept. 2012, 116; Endalew 2005, 2). An academic source indicates that Boro is an older name for the group (Alula July-Sept. 2012, 116).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a retired professor of social anthropology at the University of Oxford who has conducted field research in Sudan and Ethiopia said that the Shinasha speak a language "quite different from their neighbours, whether indigenous Gumuz, [...] Agow, or Oromo and Amhara" (9 July 2014).

1.2 Geographical Area

The Professor of social anthropology explained that "[t]he term has long been applied to a relatively light-skinned population living in the hilly country of what used to be Gojjam Province in western Ethiopia, north of the deep valley of the Blue Nile as it moves towards the Sudanese lowlands" (Professor of social anthropology 9 July 2014).

Sources state that the Shinasha are mostly located in the Benishangul-Gumuz [also spelled Binshangul-Gumuz] regional state (ibid.; Senior Researcher, African Studies Centre 8 July 2014; MRG 3 Apr. 2000, 10). Other sources specifiy that the Shinasha are mostly present in the Metekel [also spelled Metekkel] region (Endalew 2005, 1; OSSREA 2002; Alula July-Sept. 2012, 115) of Benishangul-Gumuz (ibid.). Some sources report that they live near the Blue Nile River (Ethnologue 2014; Joshua Project n.d.a).

Two sources mention that the Shinasha are only present in Ethiopia (PeopleGroups.org n.d.a; Joshua Project n.d.a). However, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, an anthropologist who is a senior researcher at the African Studies Centre of Leiden, in the Netherlands [1], stated that "[s]ome Arabic-speaking Shinasha groups live across the border in Sudan" (Senior Researcher, African Studies Centre 8 July 2014).

1.3 Relationship with Other Groups

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, an associate fellow at the Institute of African Affairs of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, who has written on violent conflicts in the Horn of Africa, including in Ethiopia, indicated that the Shinasha are a sub-group of the Oromo (Associate Fellow 4 July 2014). (L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde, a website on linguistic policies throughout the world (L'aménagement linguistique n.d.), states that the Oromo are the biggest ethnic group in Ethiopia, constituting about 40 percent of the total population (ibid. 24 June 2009). In a research paper on the history of conflict resolution in the Metekel region, the Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA), based in Addis Ababa, explains that the Shinasha have a distinct origin but have absorbed "value concepts, religion, language and identity" from the Oromo (OSSREA 2002, Sec. 2). According to the Professor of social anthropology, there are claims that historically, the Shinasha have been assimilated "on quite a large scale" by the Oromo (14 July 2014). Some sources indicate that the Shinasha are also part of the Gonga language speaking group (Alula July-Sept. 2012, 118; Endalew 2005, 1).

1.4 Population

The Senior Researcher at the African Studies Centre stated that Benishangul-Gumuz is "of mixed ethnic composition (with Gumuz, Highlander people, and Oromo)" (8 July 2014). A 2000 Minority Rights Group International (MRG) report states that the Shinasha are, alongside the Komo and Mao, one of the smaller ethnic groups in Benishangul-Gumuz, where the Berta and Gumuz ethnic groups represent approximately half the population (MRG 3 Apr. 2000, 10). According to the Professor of social anthropology, as of 2007, the Shinasha were the third largest indigenous group in Benishangul-Gumuz (14 July 2014).

According to the MRG report, a 1994 census enumerated 32,698 members of the Shinasha group, who thereby constitute about 0.06 percent of the total population of Ethiopia (MRG 3 Apr. 2000, 7). Ethnologue reports that a 2007 census identified 37,500 speakers of the Borna/Shinasha language (2014). However, the Professor of social anthropology stated that as of 2007, there were about 51,000 Shinasha, with the total population of Benishangul-Gumuz consisting of 670,000 people (14 July 2014). For his part, the Senior Researcher at the African Studies Centre stated that the Shinasha number about 70,000 people, constituting approximately 8 percent of the population of Benishangul-Gumuz (8 July 2014).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of Unity for Human Rights and Democracy [2] said that

[t]he Shinasha population size is less than 100,000 and it is decreasing because of intermarriage to other ethnic groups, the flights of members of the Shinasha people to other regions in search of better opportunities, and the pressure that comes from surrounding regions or peoples such the Oromos, Amharas or Gumz. (14 July 2014)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

1.5 Religion

Sources report that the Shinasha are mostly Christians (Joshua Project n.d.a; PeopleGroups.org n.d.a; Senior Researcher, African Studies Centre 8 July 2014), specifically Ethiopian-Orthodox (ibid.). However, the representative of Unity for Human Rights and Democracy [2] stated that "[u]nlike other ethnic groups, the Shinasha [adhere] less ... to the Christian or Muslim religions which dominate the mainstream politics and social norms in Ethiopia" (14 July 2014). Corroborating information for this statement could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

1.6 Economic Activities

The Professor of social anthropology stated that the Shinasha "practise a largely settled, agricultural way of life, famed for their skills in weaving and metalwork" (9 July 2014). The Senior Researcher at the African Studies Centre also stated that "[t]he Shinasha are known for craftswork," as well as for "very good traditional medical knowledge" (8 July 2014).

2. Treatment by Authorities and Other Groups
2.1 Treatment in General

According to the Professor of social anthropology,

[s]ince the establishment of the Benishangul-Gumuz regional state in 1992, the value placed upon the ethnic and cultural identity of minority groups in the nation as a whole has been raised. At the same time, the scale of resettlement of highland populations, and the spread of land alienation for purposes of agricultural investment, has led to regular conflicts both between local indigenous groups and the resettlers; and between local groups themselves as land and forest resources come increasingly under competition. (Professor of social anthropology 14 July 2014)

The Professor added that

[i]t is feared by many observers that further problems affecting relations between the indigenous communities and settlers of Benishangul-Gumuz may develop over a major central government project, the ongoing construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, 40 km from the Sudan border. (ibid.)

The Professor explained that the dam is scheduled for completion in 2017 and "is likely to displace 20,000 people," adding that "the population linked directly or indirectly to the Blue Nile River is likely to feel the effects" (ibid.).

The Senior Researcher at the African Studies Centre stated the following:

In my opinion, the Shinasha are not specifically "targeted" by any authorities and share the general problems of life in Ethiopia, i.e., political repression, land scarcity and struggle over resources, [especially] now that much land is given out to foreign companies, often at the expense of local peoples' rights. They are as far as I know not specifically subject to discrimination or violence by the majority population and by authorities because of being Shinasha, although their collective rights are less heeded tha[n] those of the larger groups (but that is how "ethnic federalism" in Ethiopia works).

At present, there may be tensions and disputes between Shinasha and other groups and with the government, rooted in past grievances and on land problems and local representation. But not massive ethnic persecution or violence. (Senior Researcher, African Studies Centre 8 July 2014)

However, the representative of Unity for Human Rights and Democracy stated that, reportedly,

the Shinasha were and are subject to discrimination on the ground of their culture and belief[s]. There are reports coming from independent sources and members of the ethnic group that they are underrepresented in the regional and national political structure. Many people believe that for generations, the Shinasha ethnic group has been marginalized and subjected to recurrent oppressions by neighboring majority groups and successive government authorities. (Unity for Human Rights and Democracy 14 July 2014).

2.2 Treatment by Authorities

According to the Professor of social anthropology,

[t]he Shinasha are accepted as a titular indigenous group under the constitution of Benishangul-Gumuz, though by no means as numerous as the Gumuz or the Berta. And because they are based north of the Blue Nile, largely in the Metekel Zone, they are not closely in touch with the political and administrative activities of the regional state in Assosa, south of the river.

They nevertheless have theoretical privileges over the recently arrived settlers, though the latter are increasingly being integrated into the economy and politics of the state. Their "indigeneity" is however still very important to their rights and treatment within the state and in this their interests are politically associated with those of the Gumuz. (14 July 2014)

The Professor added that as a result of the 2000 elections, the Shinasha community obtained 11 seats in the Benishangul-Gumuz regional administration at Assosa, out of a total of 100 seats (14 July 2014). The Senior Researcher at the African Studies Centre also stated that "[t]he Shinasha are 'officially' recognized as an 'ethnic group' in Ethiopia" and have "a number of seats in the Regional State assembly," although he added that they "have little power" (8 July 2014). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a retired professor of politics and international relations at the Centre of African Studies of the University of Cambridge similarly stated that

when [the Shinasha] last came to my attention, a few years ago, they had a representation broadly equivalent to their share of the population in the regional assembly, which however still leaves them very much in a minority position vis-a-vis the two major groups in the region, the Berta and Gumuz. (Professor, University of Cambridge 4 July 2014)

However, the representative of Unity for Human Rights and Democracy stated that,

[e]ven though local authorities are elected from the Shinasha ethnic group, they should be loyal to the government in order to remain in power and willing to implement the government policies indefinitely. This usually initiates conflict between the local government authorities and community or activi[sts]/advocates of the minority groups. Some of these conflicts can be described in terms of active clashes whereas some are expressed in terms [o]f latent cultural and political conflicts. (14 July 2014)

In addition, the representative of Unity for Human Rights and Democracy stated that

[t]he government of Ethiopia uses land law to oppress the Shinasha and other ethnic groups. For example, lands are taken away from minority ethnic groups in the name of investment. What makes the problem worse is that, since the investment in Ethiopia is driven by nepotism and other forms of corruptions, investors do not pay at all or pay unreasonable compensations for already underprivileged farmers who are evicted from their lands. Minority ethnic groups are dispossessed [of] their indigenous lands. The farmer remains in deadlock because the land is considered to be the only source of their household income and a property that they inherit to the next generation. (14 July 2014)

2.3 Treatment by Other Groups

According to the Senior Researcher at the African Studies Centre, "[the] Shinasha have historically a tense relation with the Oromo and the Gumuz, based on resource competition and cultural differences. They also suffered in the past from raiding by highlander Ethiopians" (8 July 2014). The Professor of social anthropology similarly stated that

[o]ver the centuries, there has been competition for resources between the Shinasha and, on the one hand, the Gumuz, and, on the other [hand], encroaching settlers from the central highlands. Relations between these communities have varied many times, as the wider context of Ethiopian political structure has changed. (9 July 2014)

According to the Unity for Human Rights and Democracy representative,

[f]or minorities in Ethiopia like the Shinasha, who have been living together with other ethnic groups in harmony, shared their limited resource with them for several centuries, drawing a line that separates them from other ethnic groups has a lasting consequence. The implementation of ethnic policies such [as] border demarcation causes conflicts with neighboring ethnic groups and regional authorities. As a result of this conflict, several people [get] hurt every year. The Shinasha are living in continuous conflicts with other majority ethnic groups such as the Oromo or Gumz or Amharas. (Unity for Human Rights and Democracy 14 July 2014)

The representative also stated that

[the Shinasha] are subjected to discrimination and forced assimilation. For example, the Shinasha are considered as pagans or non-believers. Hence, they are subjected to stereotypes, stigma, and discrimination by members of other conventional religious groups such as the Christians or Muslims or ... ethnic groups such as the Amharra, Oromo, Tigre, and other majority populations. Some members of Shinasha claim that the above social groups have tried to assimilate them into their respective groups by the use of force. (ibid.)

The representative added the following:

The Shinasha and other minority group claim that the Amhara, Gumuz and Oromo majority groups, represented and supported by the central government, have caused challenges to the survival of minority ethnic peoples such as the Shinasha for decades, for various reasons such as by land grapping, cattle raiding and cultural clashes. The Shinasha considered the above ethnic groups as invaders of their land and culture. As a result, there are conflicts between the Shinasha and these majorities ... (ibid.)

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a Senior Researcher at the Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development (EIIPD) similarly stated that, reportedly, "there are always skirmishes and tensions with other tribes living in the region, including the Berta, along resource lines" (13 July 2014).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] The Senior Researcher is also a professor of African ethnic studies at VU University Amsterdam, where he researches the history and cultures of the Horn of Africa, with a focus on Ethiopia.

[2] Unity for Human Rights and Democracy is an NGO based in Toronto that strives to "empower Ethiopian-Canadians to advocate for [h]uman [r]ights, [d]emocracy and [g]ood [g]overnance in Ethiopia" (Unity for Human Rights and Democracy n.d.).

References

Alula, Abebe Ano. July-September 2012. "The Shinasha Relation with Other Gonga People." Star Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3. [Accessed 10 June 2014]

(L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde. 24 June 2009. Jacques Leclerc, associate member of the Trésor de la langue française au Québec (TLFQ), Université Laval. "Éthiopie." [Accessed 10 June 2014]

_____. N.d. Jacques Leclerc, associate member of the Trésor de la langue française au Québec (TLFQ), Université Laval. "Page d'accueil." [Accessed 14 July 2014]

Associate Fellow, Institute of African Affairs, German Institute of Global and Area Studies. 4 July 2014. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Endalew, Tsega. 2005. Christian Influences on Shinasha Oral Traditions. Hamburger Afrikanistischen Arbeitspapiere (HAAP) 3. [Accessed 10 June 2014]

Ethnologue: Languages of the World. 2014. 17th ed. "Borna." Edited by M. Paul Lewis, Gary F. Simons and Charles D. Fennig. Dallas: SIL International. [Accessed 8 July 2014]

Joshua Project. N.d.a. "Shinasha in Ethiopia." [Accessed 8 July 2014]

_____. N.d.b. "About." [Accessed 8 July 2014]

Minority Rights Group International (MRG). 3 April 2000. Kjetil Tronvoll. Ethiopia: A New Start? [Accessed 4 July 2014]

Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA). 2002. Conflict Resolution Through Cultural Tolerance: An Analysis of the Michu Institution in Metekkel Region, Ethiopia. . [Accessed 10 June 2014]

PeopleGroups.org. N.d.a. "People Name: Shinasha of Ethiopia." [Accessed 10 June 2014]

_____. N.d.b. "Frequently Asked Questions." [Accessed 10 July 2014]

Professor, Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge. 4 July 2014. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Professor of social anthropology (retired), Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford. 14 July 2014. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

_____. 9 July 2014. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Senior Researcher, African Studies Centre of Leiden, The Netherlands. 8 July 2014. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Senior Researcher, Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development (EIIPD). 13 July 2014. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Unity for Human Rights and Democracy. 14 July 2014. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.

_____. N.d. "Unity for Human Rights and Democracy Toronto." [Accessed 14 July 2014]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral Sources: The Program Head for the African Conflict Prevention Program of the Institute for Strategic Studies was unable to provide information within the time constraints of this Response. The following individuals were unable to provide information for this Response: Associate Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology; retired professor of African Studies; Senior Researcher, Chr. Michelsen Institute. Attempts to contact the following individuals were unsuccessful within the time constraints of this Response: Assistant Professor, Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University; Director of Research, Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa; Professor, Addis Ababa University; Professor of Sociology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Research Fellow, German Institute of Global and Area Studies; Researcher, Department of History and Heritage Management, Wollega University.

Internet sites, including: Addis Tribune; Africa Portal; Africa South of the Sahara; AllAfrica; Amharic News; Ayyaantuu News; Chr. Michelsen Institute; ecoi.net; Ethiopar; Ethiopia Daily; Ethiopian Government Portal; Ethiopian News Agency; Ethiopian Observer; Factiva; IdRef; Institute of Ethiopian Studies; Ogaden Online; Open Language Archives Community; RestorativeJustice.org; SIL International; Speech Variety Network; United Nations – Integrated Regional Information Networks, Refworld; Walta Information Center; Zehabesha.com.