NEVIS Review No 23
August 12, 2013
Ethnicity and development in sub-Saharan Africa- Part I
By NDANGA NOYOO
(Source-JOURNAL OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA VOL 15 NO.2 JULY 2000)
Sub-Saharan Africa is presently confronted by many sociopolitical and economic maladies. Many of these negative forces have reshaped people's lives and the manner in which institutions respond to their needs. It has been argued in the past that many problems currently besieging the sub-continent of Africa emanate from the wanton exploitation by imperial European nations of the region's human and natural resources for more than four centuries. This exploitation and subjugation still continues today although in a more subtle and refined way. Even though political or "flag independence" has been attained in sub-Saharan Africa there has been insignificant progress in areas of economic emancipation. This has led to the re-colonization of the region through conditional aid and the regulation of prices of the region's exports by former imperial nations.
Although this conspiracy thesis was accepted for some time, especially during the anti-colonial struggles of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, some Africans today have also come to terms with the fact that many of the problems facing sub-Saharan countries are self inflicted. Indeed the blatant and senseless killing of Africans by depraved African regimes, such as those of Idi Amin in Uganda and Jean Bokasa in the Central African Republic after the attainment of political independence, has reawakened both scholars and activists to the reality that such factors contributed immensely to the region's current poor performance in areas of human development. Rightminded. Africans are now more cautious about attributing Africa's woes wholly to colonialism or neo-colonialism. When we analyse Africa's political and economic catastrophes it is clear that one self inflicted misery that is central to Africa's current situation is that of ethnicity.
To someone who has not visited the continent, Africa south of the Sahara conjures up images of emaciated children, the victims of famines caused by drought and desertification. This is a very different image from the Africa of thirty years ago when the flags of the newly independent states were being raised and a feeling of optimism were widespread beyond as well as within Africa (Grove 1991:39). In contemporary political and economic parlance it is the continent's unstable and volatile situation that stands out.
Although this manner of speaking does not signify a rediscovery of sub-Saharan Africa it merely alludes to the unstable conditions in the sub-continent by highlighting the colossal human tragedies that became pervasive in the 1990s. Much of sub-Saharan Africa is on the verge of imploding as civil wars ravage families and communities while poverty-related problems continue to escalate. The falling prices of the continent's exports on international markets have led to a downward spiral of the economies in the region. Added to this, the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank continue to accentuate this already unacceptable situation.
Our countries' economic crises appear most pronounced in the field of social welfare, poverty and in standards of living, infant mortality, school enrolment and life expectancy (Hassan 1997).The debt burden compounds the sub-continent's socio-economic and political problems. By the mid-1980s the share of debts incurred by sub-Saharan Africa was simply enormous, considering that most of the world's poorest economies are to be found in that sub-region. For example the total debt stocks for sub-Saharan Africa stood at US$ 55.6 billion in 1980, US$ 98.1 billion in 1985 and US$171.4 billion in 1990. In other words the sub-Saharan African debt more than tripled between 1980 and 1990 (Adekanye 1995:358).
THE TERM ethnicity refers to some form of group identity. Ethnicity applies to a group of persons who accept and define themselves by a consciousness of common descent or origin, shared historical memories and connections (Chazan et al. 1988). Ethnicity can be broken into two components:
• Instrumental ethnicity - this emanates from material deprivation,
• Symbolic ethnicity - based on the anxiety to preserve one's cultural identity.
In extreme situations the two strands of ethnicity can combine and serve as a motive force for state formation (Oomen 1997:21). Such a situation epitomizes the present conflagration of internecine wars in countries south of the Sahara.
Ethnicity seems to thrive in chaotic social and political environments. Ethnicity is not only a contemporary phenomenon. It was also rife in the colonial era. In many instances African social interaction in urban colonial settings has been typified by ethnic rivalries. Here people of different ethnic groups and cultures met for the first time. Some of these contacts .culminated in ethnic feuds which were - ironically - quelled by the white settlers. White settlers also established bodies such as the tribal elders' system to enforce law and order as well as manage conflicts between the natives. For instance in colonial Zambia on the Copperbelt there was hatred and fighting between different ethnic groups and killings as gangs of young men prowled around the mining compounds making it unsafe for people to appear outside their homes after dark. The hostilities in these colonial urban settings in turn cemented tribal stereotypes (Epstein 1973). In South Africa during the 1950s the tribal climate was not dissimilar from that in Zambia. In the African township of Alexandra the tribal gang comprising the Bavenda and Bapedi tribesmen terrorized other tribes in the area (De Ridder 1961). This was more or less the picture when different African tribes in colonial Africa met for the first time.
Davidson (1992) perceives ethnicity as a negative force and asserts that it is utterly destructive to civil society, undermining a country's morality and flouting the rule of law. But Glickman (1995) takes a more optimistic view by linking it to political processes. He points out that, despite the persistence of ethnic conflicts in the politics of all African states, signifIcant liberalization and democratization are possible. One reason is that the nature of ethnicity in most African states is instrumental rather than primordial.
(Ed’s note- The next part of the article which analyzes the link between ethnicity and development, and the conclusion part will be presented in the next issue)