Thursday, May 30, 2024

What makes “marginalization” a critical issue? (Part 2)


By Mussie Delelegn Arega

Trade-offs, values, and policy options

Modern and progressive politics is the outcome of trade-offs, dialogue, compromise, and exchanges of value between political elites and societies (the electorate). While political elites under unified national political agenda get supports of the majority (in free, civilized, and democratic societies), they also give back to societies collective security, justice, economic wellbeing, equal opportunity and access to education, health, and soft and hard infrastructure. This confirms that relations between inclusive political regimes and the public are not “zero-sum games” where one gains at the expense of others. Rather it is a “non-zero-sum-game” or “win-win” for all. Contrary to national identity-based political narratives, political systems that are centered on ethnolinguistic or religious identity-based political architectures, directly and indirectly, feeds on or survives on ethnolinguistically or religiously biased allegiance, dominance, and “extractive entrepreneurship”.

Prejudice and discrimination, based on ethnolinguistic and religious identities, also reinforce persistent inequalities. They can lead to heightened systemic risks and structural vulnerabilities, multiple deprivation, and leading to devastating conflicts. This is to say that the trade-off in ethnic identity-based political systems or regimes is built on “zero-sum- games”. Evidence shows that “developmental states”, envisioned on the mobilization and recalibration of all productive resources including labor and capital for inclusive growth, transformation and development are those opting for non-zero-sum or win-win trade-offs. To make this sustainable, such states put in place consultative, inclusive, transparent, accountable and non-partisan public administration and governance structures.

The worst consequences of ethnolinguistic and religious fragmentation and fractionalization is the erosion of societal values, built over centuries. This can be deduced from postings on social media by Ethiopians of different or competing ethnic backgrounds. The postings, often consist of vengeance, hateful scribbles, and horrifying pictures of indiscriminate ethnically motivated killings of children, women and the elderly. For many of us, this behavior is shocking because one would not have expected such inhuman conduct before the introduction of ethnic identity-based political system in Ethiopia. In the Rwanda Genocide of 1994, which is still fresh in the minds of those born prior to mid-1980s, local media fueled mass-killings and the Genocide. Whereas the international community and their mass-media completely ignored or remain oblivious to what was in the making.

The current social media, which runs on emotions than reasoning; on hate than love or mutual respect can be a destructive force. On top of this, social media is without appropriate censure, self-censure, and accountability. It is without collective societal norms and values that may fuel further interethnic divisions, conflicts and structural or systemic animus. Likewise, ethnolinguistics-based or religiously affiliated media outlets such as those widely and openly operating in some countries, often with the direct support of ethnic-based political parties, ethnic entrepreneurs or ethnically formed regional states, may inflict more harm than good on social capital formation, inter-ethnic and cross-cultural communications.

Furthermore, ethnic-based institutions and service providers may also create an unbridgeable rift between and among the various ethnolinguistic and religious groups. Instead of correcting erroneous historical perceptions and narrowing divisions between them, they may intensify and aggravate fragmentation. Likewise, in ethnolinguistic and religiously diverse countries, which adopt identity-based political systems, political elites invariably design public institutions. They also tend to define institutional portfolios and allocation of public resources to fit their ethnolinguistic political agenda. This means that policy advisors, experts and technocrats are chosen based on their ethnic identities, ignoring meritocracy, expertise, experience, and professional backgrounds. Consequently, the legitimacy and accountability of functionaries in such systems exclusively focus on narrow ethnolinguistic or religious interests instead of protecting and promoting collective national interests.

Moreover, the political cadres and leadership in archaic tribal political systems do not entertain words such as challenges, problems or failures in the policy and intellectual discourses. Failure is success; lagging behind is collective progress; deprivation is communal prosperity; hunger, malnutrition and diseases are socialist health, etc. Negative but factual words or phrases are considered irritating to the ears of the political elites in such systems. For instance, while programmes and projects have no financial and technical resources to implement, the final assessments and reports are always crowned with flowery phrases such as “resounding success”, “great achievements” or “excelling success stories”, etc. Most often, they tend to build positive images even if there are glaring fallibility, systemic decay, and malfunctioning.

In some countries in SSA’s, religious establishments are not spared from inter-ethnic divisions, disagreements, and tensions. As we have seen from the recent tensions within the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, the terrible divisions within the oldest church in Africa show that there is no limit to ethnicity and ethnic-identity-based governance system. This is an indication that narrative that began as ethnic can quickly descend to religious or linguistic fractionalization, polarization, and conflicts. What we observed in EOTC also demonstrate the erosion of long-established common societal values such as believing in One God. In Rwanda’s 1994 Genocide, post-Genocide evidence demonstrates that the Catholic Church encouraged or silently witnessed the actions of its members, massacring Tutsis, including those sheltered in the Church itself. Boko Haram (Jama ‘at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wa’ l-Jihad) poses unprecedented challenges in Nigeria and neighboring countries.

Religious institutions are usually known for nurturing and building value-based systems. Teachings that we knew from biblical studies such as that “God Created Human-beings in His Image”, have been conveniently interpreted, misinterpreted, and replaced by “some are more in the image of God than others”. In all these and in the midst of the growing animus between societies (often along ethnolinguistic or religious lines), what is more worrying is the “appalling silence of many reasonable and seasoned people”,. Deafening silence on episodes of coup d’états in west Africa shows a zero-sum-game with an apparent general feeling of “West Africa’s problems are not the problem of Africa or the rest of the world”.

In the Sudan, the inability of African countries, regional entities, and the wider international community to bring warring factions to negotiate peaceful settlement is the reflection of utter failures of the existing regional and global governance architectures. In Ethiopia, there was intense mobilization and overwhelming support to the wars in Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions (and now in Amhara region) along ethnic lines. There was complete silence of the regional bodies and international community to avoid the tragic conflicts. The confluences of national mobilization for the war efforts based on ethnic identities and the silence of the international community has put into question the legitimacy of the domestic political agenda and the trust in national, regional and global institutions to resolve grievance, political crises and conflicts.

Resetting moral, cultural, and value-based systems and revamping moral teachings as well as re-examining mindsets to seek lasting solutions for SSA’s development predicaments have become more persuasive today than ever before. Many governments in SSA still believe that advocating for social justice, societal values, fairness, equality, and ethical values tantamount to anti-state behavior and anathema to the ethnic and ethnolinguistic-based political systems that are currently prevalent in the SSA region.

Win-win trade-offs and respect for social and ethical values can only function in systems that have vibrant institutions, legal means and instruments that serve all citizens equally (without discrimination of any form). Institutions and legal instruments function well when complemented by moral obligations engrained in societal value systems. My constant fear is that ethnicity in SSA is not only destroying the unity of purpose, but also society’s moral-based value systems with disastrous consequences to our collective progress and survival. Shared history and destiny should have been the raison d’être of SSA’s societies. Ethnic divisions should not have taken away common value systems, heroism, and knowledge systems-tacit or technical. Therefore, SSA’s elites must facilitate the way towards unity in diversity. It is imperative not to let ethnic identity-based politics emerge as a new tool of “divide and rule” in the face of sub-region’s socioeconomic malaise and suffering, undercutting capacities to invest, innovate, grow, and develop as free nations.

Mussie Delelegn Arega (PhD) is Acting Head of Productive Capacities and Sustainable Development Branch in the Division for Africa, LDCs and Special Programs at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of UNCTAD or the United Nations. The author can be reached at ([email protected]).

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