Negative ethnicity is nurtured through language, stereotyping and deliberate exclusion of members of society. But this can be reversed through cultural engineering, a process of deliberately engaging language, attitudes and cultural practices in order to change them.
Before the 1980s, conversations on gender were not systematic and coordinated. However, over time gender perspectives have been incorporated in international and national affairs and there is greater consciousness of gender sensitive language. Political and social life can no longer ignore gender matters because of the conscious conversations that have been held over the last two decades.
Although, ethnicity is an important defining factor of African political, economic, social and cultural life there has not been a rigorous conversation about it. Community sensitive language has not been crafted and ethnic stereotyping abounds. Quite often, ethnic emotions are invoked to acquire and maintain power without concomitant efforts to change the economic life of citizens.
Despite being a multiethnic state Ghana has not experienced ethnic rivalry like the one experienced in many parts of Africa and is realizing political, economic and social growth.
How is Ghana managing ethnic diversity? We invited a scholar to shed light on what Ghana did and is doing to build a progressive multiethnic state. In contrast, Rwanda and Uganda have in the past experienced ethnic driven violence and in the case of the former the 1994 genocide shocked the world. Rwanda is in the process of reconstructing itself and over the last decade has taken bold steps to diffuse ethnic tensions.
Uganda has always had tensions between the North, South and West and since independence successive governments have been accused of favoring the President’s region of origin. Tensions over land between the Baganda and other communities are worth serious reflection. The violence in northern Uganda is about resources and feelings of exclusion from the center of power under Yoweri Museveni.
Although Tanzania has over the years attempted to build a sense of nationhood through Kiswahili and the philosophy of ujamaa na kujitegemea (socialism and self reliance) , the country has recently manifested tensions between mainland and the Islands which are home to a predominately Muslim Swahili population. Many people in Pemba and Unguja feel excluded from political and economic activities because they are not from the mainland.
In all eastern African countries, presidential and parliamentary elections have tended to be violent, albeit to varying degrees.
This conference opened up the possibility for deep non-disruptive debates and case studies about politically motivated violence, seen in ethnic terms, especially during periods of elections. The conversations we hope will contribute in reducing the chances of a recurrence of violent ethnic conflict. Moreover, participants thought together about other identities, such as professionalism and gender that can be harnessed and mobilized for national good.
Efforts to dissolve the ethnic question in the pursuit of nationalism have, ironically, contributed to the deepening of the consciousness of ethnic differences in the public sphere.
In most post colonial states, the state has very limited autonomy from competing ethnic interests and is a space of potential conflict as ethnic groups or coalitions of ethnicities seek to control it and its resources. Moreover, the bureaucracy provides many opportunities for patronage positions and public resources to distribute.
Thus the state and its institutions become ethnicized, ethnic networks are established and ethnic gate-keepers are assigned responsibilities in strategic positions of power and influence in the public and private sectors.
The Objectives of the Conference were:
- To facilitate regional reflections on ethnic diversity as a resource for eastern Africa
- To explore the opportunities and challenges that multiculturalism presents to African nations
- To discuss ways in which a national identity can be cultivated and enhanced in a multi-ethnic situation;
- To publish the deliberations for wider dissemination in the region and the diaspora.