Socio-economic dominance of ethnic and racial groups: the African experience

Socio-economic dominance of ethnic and racial groups: the African experience

Ethnic and racial factors in African power politics

This paper argues that socio-economic dominance based on ethnic and race factors is a long standing phenomena in Africa, which was instigated by colonial rule and perpetuated by elite interests in capital accumulation and political power during the post-colonial era. The report looks at experiences from a range of countries, including Zimbabwe, South Africa, Rwanda and the Congo.

It finds that ethnic dominance-building strategies have tended to focus on the control of access to limited resources. This is due to the generally weak economic performance of African countries, dependence on the state for basic social and economic resource accumulation and social services, the over-reliance on agricultural resources (land, water, etc) for livelihoods, and negative external transfers. Because the African economy continues to depend on primary production (especially agriculture and mining) dominated by traditional exports with limited overall employment capacities in the secondary economic sectors, competition tends to be focused on the scarce education and employment opportunities, and for natural resources, primarily land.

The paper aims to:

  • develop a conceptual framework examining ethnic and racial socio-economic dominance in Africa
  • identify the historical and specifically colonial roots of ethnicity and socio-economic disparities
  • assess contemporary empirical patterns of socio-economic disparities along ethnic and racial lines, based upon key selected variables
  • analyse the strategies used to mobilize ethnicity and race towards the accumulation of power and economic resources
  • examine public policies and civic strategies aimed at redressing ethnic and racial resource imbalances

Political power through the state has been a key instrument of exclusion, and its maintenance has been sought through extreme measures, including war. External interests have fomented these dominance building process. Limited success has been achieved in redressing imbalances

The paper was prepared as a background report for the 2004 UNDP Human Development Report

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