We should have drawn lessons by now about negative ethnicity

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By Mohamed Dakane

Donald L. Horowitz defines ethnicity as a kind of group identification, a sense of belonging to a people, usually experienced as a greatly extended form of kinship. Negative ethnicity, on the other hand, is the use of ethnic affiliation as a basis to amass wealth and resources, as well as to gain political and social supremacy to the exclusion of other under-privileged ethnic communities.

This never-ending vice has made Africa the laughing stock of many, and earned it the description “epicentre of war and crucible for gross human rights violations”.  This unfortunate reality peaked when Rwanda degenerated into genocide in 1994. Kenya also almost plunged itself in the same abyss during the 2007-2008 post election violence.

Whilst we acknowledge that Africa is ravaged with a lot of problems, negative ethnicity has proved to be the bane of African democracy. The tragedy, however, is that Africans and their myopic leaders are still burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the bitter fact that the vice is proving to be a  thorn in the flesh that will continue haunting them if not addressed in a matter of urgency.

It is high time we became pound wise and penny foolish. Let there be frantic and concerted effort from all quarters, leaders and electorates alike. It is indeed the time we join our hands in solidarity sooner rather than latter so that we come up with the requisite synergy to exorcise the ghost of negative ethnicity once and for all. We better smart up and borrow a leaf from Rwanda which has like the proverbial phoenix rose from the ashes to become one of the most united and fastest developing economies in Africa through  their concerted effort to reconcile by a way of truth and reconciliatory mechanism.

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We can do it through devolved system of government in which power and resources are devolved to the people. This demystifies the “winners take it all” notion associated with central system of government. This empowers marginalised and minority ethnic communities politically and economically through federal or county government. Through this, perceived marginalised communities who feel like they have been pushed to the periphery by central government in matters development are incorporated into the system.

This will slowly but surely bring to an end the issue of negative ethnicity. It has worked very well in other areas, and I have no doubt that it will work equally well in Africa.

Embracing different electoral system other than “one man, one vote” presidential ballot will bring about a new breath in African democracy as far as elections are concerned. Most African counties more often than not risk degenerating into civil war during elections, and especially if the results are disputed. Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Malawi general election are classic cases in point. Electoral College like in the U.S would do better in Africa especially in the countries where the so-called tyranny of numbers is the determining factor in the presidential elections.

De-ethnicisation, especially in politics, is a very important aspect to ensure negative ethnicity does not break Africa. This can be done by ensuring that political parties are not formed on basis of ethnicity and people are also not mobilised thorough their ethnic affiliation.

Elected leaders should also play their part to defang ethnicity by ensuring proper legislation are passed to seal all loop-holes that aid and abet negative ethnicity. They should also be providing checks and balances by ensuring that the government of the day is all inclusive and incorporates all communities regardless of their tribal, religious and ethnic affiliations.

Nepotism, patronage and political expediency should not be entertained and should be treated with the contempt they deserve. All arms of the government especially the executive (presidency) must be responsible and should be restructured in such a way that all and sundry is confident that they will deliver. Through this, negative ethnicity will be contained exclusively.

Negative ethnicity can also be exhaustively tackled if there is a concerted effort towards regional integration. Different ethnic communities should appreciate and be proud of each other’s cultures and heritages. Government should facilitate communities to work and live together and even inter-marry in order to achieve unity in diversity. The government should also empower institutions like National Cohesion and Integration Commission to foster unity among different ethnic communities. Such institution should regulate, prosecute and punish hate-mongers through legal means.

Government and other stakeholders should also educate the citizenry about the effects of negative ethnicity through civic awareness. This will inculcate new spirit to the citizens not to vote their leaders on the basis of ethnicity but through the content of their character and their integrity level. This will also ensure new crop of leaders are elected which will bring about paradigm shift in leadership that would leave out the usual political rent-seekers who only come to their electorates during the electioneering period. The importance of patriotism and effects of negative ethnicity should also be taught in the school curricula to ensure that Africans know and appreciates their diversity and need for unity early in their life so that they grow up undeterred with this spirit.

The effects of negative ethnicity in Africa can never be slighted nor gainsaid even for a moment. It is currently having its toll almost across all African countries. It is real and growing big and needs urgent attention. Africa has to rise up, tighten its belt and tackle negative ethnicity in all its forms. The time is now if we are to liberate and bring ourselves up to par with the rest of the continents.

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