By Mussie Delelegn Arega1
Fostering diversity dividends
The same as business, trade and economic development, ethnic diversity can be a powerful tool, if properly harnessed, to address our collective underdevelopment and backwardness. Diversity dividend is a synergetic gain for all, which can only be achieved by harnessing the caliber and talents of everyone in a society to maximize societal gains without labels of ethnicity, language, caste, or religion. Building public institutions for inclusive governance and prosperity, is vital to harness diverse assets and resources as well as multiple identities to maximize development outcomes and social welfare while minimizing risks of marginalization, uncertainty, and conflicts. Bridging ethnolinguistic and religious gaps in multiethnic nations is critical for socioeconomic development and for the formation of social or national capital as opposed to ethnic capital.
As we learn from the extensive essays contained in “From the Rubble”, there was a tendency to denigrate social justice, moral or ethical values as “Western ploy” to undermine socialism and communism which are the desirable ethos of Soviet Russia. There was rampant denialism of the importance of these values and societal norms to foster solidarity among the various peoples and regions of the Soviet Union. SSA, which has been consistently lamenting about its continued marginalization in global trade, investment, and output as well as the global systems of governance, cannot afford entertaining marginalization based on ethnolinguistic and religious grounds. As much as the sub-region demands progressive and beneficial integration into the global economy, it must ensure inclusive political narratives and system of governance by developing a “diversity framework or architecture”. Before demanding equality, equity and distributive justice from the global economy and governance architecture, countries in SSA should first strive to grant these to their own population under inclusive political narratives and development agenda. They should stop demanding equality and social justice from the global north while they are denying the same social values to a large portion of their own population. Domestically unified political and development agenda is key for SSA’s regional and global integration.
Therefore, fostering inclusive politics and maximizing diversity dividend must be part of the development policies and strategies of SSA. This is because that development does not know ethnolinguistic and religious identities. Nor do global warming and environmental disasters. These are collective challenges nationally, regionally, and globally that can only be addressed and resolved collectively. Therefore, SSA’s economic viability and relevance requires a change from the current dominant paradigm of zero-sum-game towards win-win paradigm, which fosters and maximizes diversity dividend. One ought to pay tribute to white South-Africans who not only participated in anti-apartheid demonstrations but also joined the struggle for free and equal South Africa. The global movement of “Black Lives Matter”, which drew colorless congregations and demonstrations worldwide as well as the mass anger and demonstrations in France on the wake of the killings of a French national of Arab origin by the country’s policeman deserve recognition. All these positive occurrences and movements reaffirm that solidarity and unity in diversity are the only cures to our myriads of socioeconomic, environmental, and political problems. As much as multiracial societies endeavor to foster solidarity dividend, SSA must strive to address ethnic divisions, marginalization, and interethnic conflict by fostering diversity dividend to the benefit of “the sum of us” instead of “some of us”.
Conclusions and the way forward
The key messages from this piece are that: (a) socioeconomic underdevelopment, backwardness and inability to meet basic needs as well as the need to break multiple dependency syndromes (traps) of SSA require unifying political narratives; (b) SSA should multiply and enhance collective actions and efforts centered on ethnolinguistic and religious plurality, harmony and equality to reverse its marginalization in global trade, investment, output and decision-making processes; (c) political leadership and educated elites of SSA have primary responsibilities to reeducate the public to reset moral values and mindsets towards collective development and social (national) capital formation, away from ethnic capital formation; (d) foster cross-ethnic communication to harness diversity’s dividend by ensuring equal access to productive resources, quality education, health infrastructure, including electricity, ICTs; (e) ethnic identity based narratives should not take away common value systems and undermine unity in diversity, shared history and common destiny; and (f) SSA’s development policies must factor ways and means of ensuring inclusive growth by fostering public institutions that remove distortions and differentiation (discrimination) based on ethnicity, language or creed. Conversely, erroneous political narratives should not divert the attention of policymakers and the public at large away from addressing collective challenges and multiple deprivation rampant in SSA.
Building on these key messages and with the view to harnessing diversity dividend the following concrete steps and measures are necessary:
First, there should be an acknowledgement or recognition that ethnic identity- based politics lead to marginalization and exclusion of many others in vital decision-making processes. There should also be a wider consensus that marginalization leads to inequality, policy distortions, grievances and cycles of protracted conflicts which are among the biggest barriers to socioeconomic revival, growth, transformation, and development. Ignoring or denying the devastating impacts of marginalization for long may lead to terrible consequences to societies at large, including those perceived to be exclusively benefiting from ethnic identity-based political narratives and systems.
Second, there should be well-informed, conscious, transparent, and accountable processes to foster solidarity and collective commitments of citizens, as well as foster institutionalized mechanisms to permanently address inter-ethnic tensions and grievances. This is fundamental because the consequences of identity-based politics are too complex, dangerous, and colossal for the public institutions alone to effectively address them. Although governments have primary responsibilities, addressing ethnic fragmentation, polarization and consequential devastating conflicts requires actions from all stakeholders at all levels (national, sub-regional, regional and global levels).
Third, decisively break the link between political leadership (and state machinery) and ethnic entrepreneurships. This is because such an undesirable bondage can pose enormous challenges for building consensus and forging public alliances against ethnic divisions and ethnic-based political narratives. Ethnic entrepreneurs and profiteering “prophets” are culprits of unbalanced distribution of resources and unfettered access to productive resources. These happen often at the expense of their own ethnolinguistic and religious groups or other competing ethnic groups, gradually building mistrust between states and the public at large. Studies and empirical evidence provide incontrovertible evidence that ethnic entrepreneurs are behind further ethnic fractionalization. They use all available channels, including formal & informal organizations, religious associations, village elders and self-help grassroots as main vehicles of self-enrichment. They can be dangerously powerful to the political establishments to manage or control them. They can also be costly to societies in economic, political, and social terms as they wield enormous powers that may lead to a feeling of marginalization by those who are not benefiting as much or at all. They even go as far as deliberately damaging the reputation of the political machinery to create fear and a sense of “divide and rule” among the public at large.
Fourth, there must be deliberate policies and clear rules and regulations to guarantee equal access of citizens to productive resources, education, health, infrastructure, institutionalized incentives, and capital. Not only publicly funded projects and institutions but also private projects and programmes financed through public-private partnerships (PPPs) should provide public goods without discrimination based on ethnolinguistic or religious labels.
Fifth, political and public discourses, educational systems (including at higher institutions of learning), research and development (R&D) institutions, formal and informal organizations must espouse civic duties. This paves the way for fostering cross-ethnic communication, mutual coexistence, and social cohesion. Zero-sum-game approaches centered on self-enrichment and “exclusionary preferences” will not be sustainable in the long-run. Governments of SSA must seek ways and means of addressing social injustice, inequality, and inequity. They also need to develop legal and institutional mechanisms to effectively deal with ethnic-based diatribes, incitation and hatemongering particularly by political leaders, officials including army and security personnel, ideologues, exclusionist elites including academic or policy advisors, and, more importantly, ethnic entrepreneurs.
Sixth, governments of SSA should play a leading role and assume primary responsibilities to create enabling conditions to foster interethnic communication, cultural exchanges and social (national) capital. They should devise policies and strategies to fight social fragmentation, marginalization, and exclusion. This should be done with the view to reducing risks and uncertainties facing citizens at large without ethnolinguistic or religious differentiation. They must also foster public institutions and administration by favoring meritocracy, expertise, and competence in the delivery of public goods and services eliminating ethnic-based and quota-driven career systems. They should not let their primordial policymaking functions and institutional authorities be overtaken or undermined by profiteering hypnotizers who use extreme poverty for the objectives of extortion and extraction of scarce public resources. This is key in rebuilding vibrant and capable state institutions as well as in regaining public confidence and trust in political governance. Fostering public trust and confidence in political leadership is critically important to the management of economic resources and facilitates social cohesion and coexistence among the various social, religious, linguistics or ethnic groups.
Finally (seventh), there is an urgent need for SSA to harness the potential of its own intellectuals, academic, researchers, scientific and technical communities (at home and in diaspora). These can serve as the source of knowledge, expertise, and experience for policymaking to achieve inclusive development. There are citizens of the sub-region working in reputed global innovation labs, cutting-edge technological centers such as Silicon Valley, prestigious universities, and world-class research global institutions. These vital competences and resources, if systematically harnessed can change socioeconomic and political dynamics of SA for the better. Ignoring or undermining such untapped capital for a long time can be fatalistic or detrimental to the overall progress of the sub-region.