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The social cohesion of multiethnic states is today at risk across the globe. African states have been facing that risk since their independence from colonial rule more than half a century ago. As elsewhere in the world, Africa’s histories of division and contest have sown seeds of political, social, and economic instability. However, Africa is not a place; it is a large continent. There are nearly 40 states south of the Sahara. A few are constantly wracked by instability, while the rest of the continent is experiencing considerable economic transformation. Ethnic conflict is not universal in Africa.
This chapter argues that ethnicity is a universal human characteristic; it is an identity whose moral economy of mutual social relations causes internal dispute more continuously than external contexts cause interethnic competition. Ethnicities are mixed, shared, and subject to constant change in their own self-awareness and their inter-relations with others. The last two centuries of Kenya’s history illustrate this point. In the stateless, precolonial, past, different ways of taming the varied regional environment were the greatest influence on the nature of “ecological ethnicities” that shared ideas, took in each others’ economic migrants, and engaged in little “inter-tribal war”. Under colonial rule, access to scriptural literacy and arguments about how best to resist subjection caused much a sharper, patriotic, ethnic self-awareness. Regional inequalities in development, especially the triumph of agriculture over pastoralism, made ethnicity more competitive – a condition greatly emphasised when independence gave some Africans a centralised coercive power over others. Kenya has only recently adopted a devolved constitution that may defuse this often lethal competition but it is as yet too early to say.
This chapter is about contestations in the South African society – its past, present and future. It provides historical accounts of formation of ethnic and race identities and offers some evidence that South Africans became less exclusive of people in other race groups during the early years of post-apartheid period, but have reversed this accomplishment over the last 10 years. The chapter then holistically examines inequality in the post-apartheid period; namely, at national level, between and within ethnic and race groups, and measured by income and by self-assessment of an individual’s life satisfaction. It identifies “inequality hot spots” on this basis, which need to be addressed if a more cohesive society is to be nurtured in the country. Finally, the chapter finds tentative signs of the emergence of a common citizenry, a national identity, which would also be needed for South Africa to transition to a cohesive society.
This chapter considers whether there is a trade-off between growth and equality, as economists sometimes assert, differentiating between vertical inequality (among individuals) and horizontal inequality (among groups). Most evidence challenges the supposed trade-off, suggesting greater equality increases growth, especially sustained growth. Inequality among individuals tends to limit human resources, while inequality among groups can lead to violent conflict, and both constrain growth. Greater equality also supports other desirable objectives, including better nutrition, less crime, and better health. The impact of growth on equality is analysed. This depends on how far earnings are spread via employment; and the redistributionary effects of tax and government expenditure. Labour-intensive activities tend to improve distribution, while capital-intensive ones, heavy reliance on minerals for exports and rising skill requirements tend to worsen it. For horizontal inequality, the impact of growth varies according to group location, economic specialization and policies, illustrated by the experience of Ghana, Peru, Malaysia and Northern Ireland. The chapter surveys policies likely to improve vertical and horizontal distribution, with examples drawn from many countries. Finally, the chapter considers the political conditions needed to support equalising policies.
This chapter suggests that social, political, institutional and demographic changes already observable in Africa hold out the possibility of national futures in which the manipulation of ethnic difference could cease to be the main route to political power. In the first of four sections it is argued that, although ethnic allegiances are powerful there are other, situational, identities round which human interests may gather. It is shown, secondly, that there is no single model or measure that can reliably relate ethnic diversity to economic development or the nature of governance. Since the early postcolonial years of “nation-building”, third, many civil society organisations have arisen in Africa, to promote not only ethnic interests but also such heterogeneous group identities as the urban poor in mega cities, women (often peacemakers), youth, and HIV/AIDS sufferers. While, finally, these organisations, including Pentecostal churches, may be led by “big men”, they nonetheless diversify and complicate the “big man” politics of ethnic difference that has rarely met such competition until now.
Today, the cohesion of multi-ethnic societies is at risk across the globe. Throughout history, to the present day, African countries have been facing this challenge. Historical inequalities and social division undermine cohesion and sow seeds of instability. How can Africa build a future where ethnic and other differences are a strength, a driver of growth and development, rather than sources of division and instability? Drawing together historians, economists and political scientists, each an authority on Africa, this book delivers a comprehensive study of that question through an exploration of the continent's divided histories, to understand where Africans stand now, and to reflect on how they might now work towards a more trusting society. Numerous case studies, statistical expositions and theoretical reflections bring conceptual clarity to the often poorly understood processes and contexts of social cohesion, not only in Africa, but across the developing and developed world.
There is growing consensus in the development economics literature that ethnic diversity is a very significant factor in explaining Africa's poor economic performance. Ethnic Diversity and Economic Instability in Africa challenges this conventional wisdom. Drawing on the insights of historians, anthropologists and political scientists as well as development economists, this book questions whether ethnicity is the most useful organising principle by which to examine the economic development of Africa, arguing that it is a more fluid and contingent concept than economic models allow. Instead, the authors explore the actual experience of ethnicity in Africa and propose new methods of measuring ethnic diversity and inequalities. Finally some tentative conclusions are reached regarding appropriate policy reforms.