Wednesday, August 28, 2013

NEVIS Review No 24, Section I, Ref# 24.1

NEVIS Review No 24
Section I
Ref# 24.1
August 28, 2013

Ethnicity and development (continued)-part II
Experts from “Ethnicity and development in sub-Saharan Africa”
( Source- Journal of Social Development in Africa Vol 15 No.2 July 2000 )

Ethnicity and development

DEVELOPMENT is a multifaceted process that could be enhanced or impeded by a myriad of factors. There is no consensus on what should be understood by development. Neither is there agreement on how development can best be brought about nor why it has proved so difficult for most of the poor countries in the developing world to achieve any kind of improvement for the large majority of citizens (Martinussen 1997). But we usually assume a positive transformation of people's lives that is both quantitative and qualitative when engaging in debates about development. Adjectives that may denote development are: improvement, enhancement,Elevation, progress; to mention a few. Ideally development should be a process that raises the material and living conditions of people. For development to take place, therefore, other kinds of improvements that can catalyze the developmental process must be present. These include improvements in education, health, access to credit facilities, social welfare and security. There should also be institutions that protect both human as well as property rights. Development also
means improved access to life chances and opportunities such as employment and social security. When these life chances are blocked, due to the fact that people may be from one ethnic group or another, then development is impeded. But more importantly, development has to unfold in countries where good governance abounds, because fair play and social justice must be entrenched by the state, thus keeping ethnicity in check at the national level.

In contexts where there is abject poverty like sub-Saharan Africa the state is the prime mobilizer of resources for the people. But when the state is hijacked by one or more ethnic groups, upward social mobility becomes a preserve of such groups, who use the state machinery for selfish ends as opposed to national development concerns. In this sense a predatory state emerges whereby,clientelism and nepotism are used as yardsticks in the acquisition of state contracts and tenders. Ethnicity in its negative form negates development. It becomes a powerful force that leads to the vices that in turn define the redistribution of a country's resources. Those who do not come from the ruling ethnic group are neglected by the state. In this way ethnicity emerges primarily as an agent of accumulation, both of wealth and political power (Bayart 1993). Indeed, the most striking examples of ethnic strategies are those connected with the resources of the modern economy, for example in gaining employment, education, or loans (Bayart 1993). This situation results in distorted regional development as certain regions are designated for development schemes and projects, even when such places offer no comparative advantages; the sole criterion being that the region is inhabited by the dominant ethnic group.

Development cannot take place in a turbulent environment: one of the pillars of development is stability. Once fuelled, ethnic tensions can and do result in death. Clashes between different ethnic groups have undermined development pursuits in sub- Saharan Africa, again providing fertile ground for full-scale civil wars. The ethnic tensions in Nigeria in the 1960s culminating in the Biafra war remain a case in point. Such a situation deters direct foreign investment into sub- Saharan economies. In many instances potential foreign investors have shelved investment initiatives initially earmarked for sub- Saharan countries because of the unstable and volatile social and political conditions caused by ethnicity. Furthermore, ethnicity leads productive human beings into channel their energies into ethnic clashes instead of using them to develop their country. The 1990s have been typified by a resurgence of ethnic cleavages that now play marked roles in shaping national development efforts in sub-Saharan Mrica. The problem of ethnicity has resurfaced with much vigour in the wake of the economic recessions that countries in the sub-continent of Africa are currently facing. Adekanye (1995:366) argues that the economic austerity measures being implemented by various governments in the sub-region, like SAPs have reinvigorated ethnicity. He asserts that an analysis of the interaction between SAPs and rising ethnic tensions seems to reaffirm a number of long-standing propositions from ethnic conflict studies: that differential economic development acts as an important catalyst of conflict between ethnic or regional groups within a given state.
The coincidence of frustrating political and economic conditions with ethnic jealousies or of socio-economic classes with ethno-regional groupings, tends to intensify inter-ethnic conflicts. Indeed SAPs have revealed intense conflicts between different classes and ethnic groups for the minimal social and economic resources existing in their countries and access to avenues of upward social, economic and political mobility.
Whither sub-Saharan Africa?
THERE ARE several contentious issues that need to be re-explored when confronting problems created by ethnicity. Firstly, the time has come for Africans candidly to revisit the authenticity of post colonial boundaries. The clause in the Organization of African Unity charter which stipulates that boundaries created by colonialists be respected, stemmed in part from questionable motives. Some of the post colonial leaders who had entrenched this clause were tyrants or military dictators who merely sought to emasculate the spirit of regional autonomy.

In retrospect it can be noted that the quest for regional autonomy had surfaced after the post colonial state could not offer a lucid formula towards the realization of an African nationhood. One route that could be taken is the redefining of national boundaries in the light of contested areas. For instance it is clear that Sudan is made up of two distinct and separate entities in terms of religion, physical landscape and culture. Regional self-government could be a viable alternative given the fact the so-called unitary state of Sudan has been effective only in creating conditions for social dislocation. The central government could guarantee regional autonomy in matters of local concern, whilst the centre could oversee the security of the country. As regards areas which are not dominated by people of a particular ethnic group such as urban conurbations or those dominated by migrant workers, there would be no problem if the government clearly articulates a national agenda that celebrates ethnic diversity as opposed to ethnic acrimony. A lucid national ideology that harmonises different ethnic groups would be profound as different groups would not see ethnicity as a viable recourse vis-à-vis opportunities and life chances.

The question of regional autonomy must be soberly examined if any headway in development is going to be made in sub-Saharan Africa. Regional autonomy or federalism, whatever it may be called, could nip problems of ethnicity, corruption and nepotism in the bud. This type of government would also enhance-popular participation in development as ordinary community members would add their voices to the decisions taken by their leaders or even take decisions which their leaders would be obliged to respect. Policies would be more responsive to local needs as proper needs assessments would be conducted by the regional government as opposed to the central government. This would unlock the creativity and zeal of citizens of sub-Saharan countries, which has been deliberately thwarted in the post colonial state. The over centralized post colonial state in Africa has been a total failure.

Secondly, it is important to bear in mind that politicians have been using the ethnic card for political expedience. One redeeming aspect in this whole episode of sub-Saharan ethnic rivalries could be the creation of stable institutions that at least guarantee responsive leadership. Ordinary Africans have allowed themselves to be ruled by politicians with questionable credentials whilst those with skills have left the continent for greener pastures in Europe or America.

Lastly, Africans have to face their problems squarely and acknowledge their mistakes. It is ludicrous always to blame some hidden enemy when in actual fact most of the tribulations of sub-Saharan Africa are self- inflicted. It is also high time that Africans begin to discard unprogressive traditions. This is because Africa is already part of the global village. People can ill afford to continue living as if they are still in pre-industrial times.

DEVELOPMENT is fostered, among other things, by an enabling environment. This should ideally engender peace and stability and guarantee the security of people and the optimal
Utilization of both human and natural resources. There are many reasons that have been put forward to explain sub-Sahara's economic malaise. The author had briefly touched on some of them in the early part of the discussion. The main argument in this paper was that ethnicity’s ability to throw the development agenda of sub-Saharan countries into disarray has been downplayed or even glossed over. Both politicians and academics choose to deal with the consequences of ethnicity and not with the root cause itself. Development will remain a pipe dream if the problem of ethnicity is not given adequate attention by all who envisage the re-awakening of the sub-continent of Africa. Some possible options were proffered by the author. There are many other strategies that could be employed to stem ethnicity, but there has to be a clear political will to do so from sub-Saharan governments. Only then can these countries begin to engage in the processes of development without any ulterior motives.