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Ethnicity – a curse or a blessing

06.11.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Modern day African states are made up of people of different ethnic origin who by history through assimilation or raids were co-opted into already existing territories. Despite the popular belief that Africa is just one big continent of a single ethnic group, there are over 3 000 different ethnic groups speaking more than 2100 different languages in all of Africa. Ethnicity is more than just skin colour or physical characteristics, more than language, song, and dance. It is the embodiment of values, institutions, and patterns of behaviour, a composite whole representing a people’s historical experience, aspirations and a world view.

Deprive a people of their ethnicity, their culture and you deprive them of their sense of direction, purpose and eventually their identity. It is imperative to note that in as much as African states composed of the various ethnic groups have managed to co-exist, battles have been bought, genocides committed, crimes against humanity carried out. It is with so much sadness that a people with a rich culture and diversity can wake up to fight one another with so much hatred.

In Rwanda the Tutsis and the Hutus fought each other in a genocide in 1994 that claimed the lives of approximately 500 000 lives. In Zimbabwe the infamous Gukurahundi which claimed lives of an estimate of about 20000 Ndebele people after a state sanctioned wipe out was carried in 1983-1987 is another example of ethnic clashes. The term Gukurahundi to mean ‘The wind that wipes away thrash’, was used as a political tool to wipe out what the Shona people called dissidents, but which was in actual fact a political power struggle. Most civil wars borders on the tribal conflicts across Africa.

An attempt to look for tangible reasons as to why these ethnic groups that have risen against each other can be a daunting task. One might ask, if the energy used by these waring groups been directed at building a progressive Africa where would we be? The question follows through Africa’s vast riches in minerals, wildlife, cultural diversity and its potential to boom. However enemies of progress have watched with glee as these progressive nations have taken up arms against one another in a battle of supremacy.

This culture of ethnic groups has not stopped but has reared its ugly head in recent years taking the form of Xenophobia in particular South Africa. Brother has arisen against brother, to the extent of burning the other alive. Listening to reasons offered by those committing these heinous crimes leaves a lot to be desired. There is a lot of hate being passed around, with South African nationals chanting that foreigners are denying them opportunities in their own land and such should go back to their country of origin. It is sad to note that with the advent of globalisation, people have been travelling to various countries, some to acquire business opportunities, some to offer a particular skill set required. And these nationals contribute economically to the success of host countries. As such it is clear testimony that is ethnic groups are able to see past their ethnic divide, they have the potential to make Africa great and the world at large.

Despite burying the hatchet among warring ethnic groups, connotations and residue traits of hatred still exist among certain tribes. Some openly admit hatred towards a certain tribe while others have not healed emotionally from the atrocities committed. In some instances no one has admitted to commandeering such atrocities and offering a public apology so that countries can move on, thus anger and hatred lie dormant, which hinders progress. In order to show that it is possible to work together and achieve progress, African tribes have come together to fight settlers in their different countries in the periods between the 1850s-1994.

Today African states enjoy their sovereignty to joining forces and fighting the different settler regimes threatening their peace. If only these ethnic tribes could stir up such a spirit to spearhead developmental issues in their various countries, Africa can be great. At regional level organs such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) have been formed to empower Africa, fight poverty and spearhead development.

However, if ethnic groups in their respective countries cannot work together how then can countries at regional level work together. It is up to ethnic tribes to embrace one another, appreciate one another, and empower one another that so as to drive development. Tourists travel far and wide to appreciate and be fascinated by the various cultures of these different African tribes. It is sad to note that it takes travellers from other continents to appreciate and envy what African tribes have. It remains to be seen how the leadership be it chiefs, district and provincial and eventually governments tackle the ethnicity debacle.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit : google image/illustration

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