We should have drawn lessons by now about neg­a­tive eth­nic­ity

Nairobi Law Monthly - - Briefing - 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.


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 in­ter­marry 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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