How division and exclusion foster ethnic poverty.
Sub-Saharan African countries are the most ethnically diverse in the world. In every African country there are more ethnic groups than in most countries in the world.
In fact, the 20 most ethnically diverse countries in the world are all African.
An ethnic group is a social group that shares a common and distinctive history, culture, region, religion or language.
The reason for this diversity in Sub-Saharan African countries is mainly that almost all of them were carved out of colonial territories regardless of ethnic boundaries.
The region is also home to 40% of the world’s extremely poor people (about 276 million people who survive on less than $1.90 a day).
Ethnic poverty occurs when there is systemic poverty for an ethnic group.
We looked at the link between ethnicity and poverty in a chapter of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Encyclopedia.
Goal 1 is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere and the encyclopedia is the first comprehensive publication addressing the goals in an integrated way. Our chapter has provided an overview of research on ethnic poverty in developing and developed countries.
We focused on ethnic poverty because some people are more likely to be in poverty due to ethnic differences in education, employment, entrepreneurship, and access to infrastructure.
Members of ruling ethnic groups sometimes distribute resources to their fellows to the detriment of national growth.
Moreover, different ethnic groups do not always agree on the goods and services to which public money should be spent. Inadequate public spending contributes to increasing poverty.
Differences and favoritism often make it difficult for inter-ethnic groups to take action, such as the fight against poverty. While the poverty rate has declined in Africa, it has not declined fast enough to keep up with population growth.
The work for the encyclopedia shows that African nations, among others, would do well to consider including diverse ethnic groups in transparent governance structures.
Poverty and inclusion
The five countries with the lowest GDP per capita are in Africa: Burundi, Somalia, Mozambique, Madagascar and Sudan. And two African countries have the highest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world. These are Nigeria (with 98.9 million people living in extreme poverty) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (64.9 million).
Poverty goes beyond a lack of income and material resources. This is seen in hunger and malnutrition, and in access to education and other basic services. It is also a question of social discrimination and exclusion from decision-making.
Different ethnic groups are likely to have somewhat different economic interests – if only because they come from different parts of the country and may specialize in different economic activities. Thus, they will have different interests in public spending.
Their governance styles may also differ historically. Not all look like Western-style democracy.
Ethnic wars and genocides have also slowed progress towards poverty eradication. Conflicts in Liberia, Somalia, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Chad, among others, have led to civil wars exacerbated by a struggle over ethnic identities and resources.
African countries can better represent the interests of their many ethnic groups by engaging them in formal and informal governance structures that reflect diversity.
Formal governance structures could be political roles that take ethnic groupings into account. Informal structures could be local committees that pursue projects of interest to the ethnic community. Traditional village chiefs could also be useful whenever these chiefs can be held accountable.
Rather than just a standardized national approach to poverty reduction, more is needed to promote local participation that can address specific ethnic issues.
How to reduce ethnic poverty
Our review showed that to reduce ethnic poverty, ethnic minorities should have better access to education, resources, infrastructure and opportunities.
- provide educational, agricultural and vocational training to particular ethnic groups
- offering business training and support to ethnic minorities
- provide investment incentives in ethnic minority areas
- improve industrial development and transport infrastructure in areas plagued by ethnic poverty
- pursue a balanced urban and rural socio-economic development strategy.
Mauritius and Botswana are examples of sub-Saharan countries that have used it to reduce poverty. In fact, Mauritius managed to eradicate extreme poverty in 2017 by diversifying its economy and following this strategy.
We also suggest reducing ethnic conflict by:
- promote peaceful dialogue and the settlement of disputes
- promote trade according to historical ethnic criteria
- political reforms to favor the poorest ethnic groups.
African nations need governance structures that effectively manage the challenges faced by diverse ethnic groups.
These governance structures should strengthen inter-ethnic cooperation, particularly in economic management.
They should embody the principles of participation, inclusion and consensus building among the many ethnically defined social groups in Africa.
Tolu Olarewaju, Lecturer in Management, Keele University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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