Minority rights in plural societies


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AT no other period in recent African history have the issues of peaceful coexistence of groups and the rights of minorities, especially ethnic minorities, been of such importance to governance in the continent. Africans saw independence as an opportunity to bring about new dispensations that would (i) enhance peaceful coexistence of groups; (ii) provide participatory, accountable and transparent governance structures; and (iii) maximize entrepreneurial effort and the creation of wealth that people need to deal more effectively with massive poverty and deprivation.

The new dispensations were expected to enhance the ability of each ethnic group to maximize its values without infringing on the ability of others to do the same. Each ethnic nationality was supposed to be granted a significant level of autonomy and allowed to pursue its interests within the legal and political boundaries set by the state. Ethnic mobilization to capture resources, however, was not expected to be destructive or violent since the government was to have provided, at the federal level, structures (e.g., well-defined and enforced property rights regimes, especially in environmental resources; efficient and effective institutions such as an independent judiciary, a professional civil service, and so on) for the peaceful resolution of conflict.

Unfortunately, the decolonization process did not adequately prepare the African peoples and the colonies for independence. The critical domains – which had been structured to serve primarily the needs and interests of the Europeans – were supposed to be transformed properly so that they could effectively and fully serve the needs of Africans in the post-independence society. This was never carried out since decolonization was a reluctant and opportunistic process in which the departing Europeans failed or refused to help the Africans develop more effective laws and institutions for their new societies.



Perhaps more important was the fact that constitution making in the pre-independence period was dominated and controlled by (i) the colonial state; (ii) resident European entrepreneurs, including settlers – especially in colonies such as South Africa and Southern Rhodesia; and (iii) a few Europeanized indigenous urban elites. These three groups were not well informed on social, political and economic conditions in the rural sections of the colonies.

This top-down, non participatory approach to constitutionalism resulted in institutional arrangements that have since contributed significantly to poverty and deprivation in the African countries. The benefits of post-independence economic growth have accrued primarily to ruling elites and their foreign benefactors. The bulk of Africans, especially historically marginalized groups and communities, have received virtually no benefits, but have been forced to bear most of the costs of the perverse economic programmes that have been promoted by the ruling elites as they seek more ways to enrich themselves.

Groups like the Ogoni of Nigeria are a good example of minority ethnic nationalities that have been devastated by the opportunism of national leaders and their foreign collaborators. While the mining of petroleum from the Ogoni lands has enriched Nigeria and provided many industrialized economies with essential raw materials for production, the process has totally destroyed the Ogoni ecosystem, imposed on the people enormous environmental costs, and denied them most of the revenues obtained from the sale of the oil.

The Ogonis, of course, are not the only indigenous minority group in Africa whose welfare has been affected negatively by the post independence political opportunism of their national leaders. The marginalization of indigenous groups is a continent-wide problem, made possible by the institutional arrangements adopted at independence (see, e.g., Mbaku 1997).

In this paper, we argue that the most effective way to protect the rights of minority ethnic groups is to develop and adopt institutional arrangements that guarantee minority rights and enhance the ability of these groups to have significant input into policies that affect their lives. If the appropriate institutional arrangements are provided, groups will still compete, often very intensively, for resources, but such competition would not involve violence.



Africans, especially those whose traditions, cultures, political and economic systems, and values had been destroyed by colonialism, their property rights abrogated, and their ability to support themselves subverted by colonial policies, saw decolonization and independence as an opportunity to reconstruct their societies and provide themselves with institutional arrangements that would enhance their ability to maximize their values. The post-independence dispensation was expected to be some variant of constitutional federalism in which individual political units (expected to be ethnic nations) would be granted significant levels of autonomy – allowing them to choose their own governance systems and have significant control over the allocation of their own resources.



During the colonial period, peaceful coexistence had been achieved through violence – usually the colonial state using its comparative advantage in the employment of violence to force groups into compliance. Effective government, as has been argued by many public choice theorists (see, e.g., Gwartney and Wagner 1988, p. 30), should be a ‘consensual arrangement designed for the mutual betterment of all.’ Such a government must be designed by the people themselves and should not be imposed externally. Unfortunately, constitution making in these new countries was dominated by a few individuals and groups, with significant national political opinion denied participation. As a consequence, the outcome was non-consensual institutional arrangements which failed to reflect the needs, aspirations, customs and traditions of the African peoples.

Below we shall examine, briefly, two examples of how poor constitution making at independence resulted in the marginalization and colonization of some indigenous minority groups by others.

Laying the Foundation for Apartheid: the South Africa Act of 1909 (9 Edward VII, c.9): In 1908, white representatives of four of Britain’s southern African colonies (Cape of Good Hope, Natal, the Transvaal, and the Orange Free Colony), decided to convene a convention and determine if the territories should unite to form a single polity and what the nature of the union would be. They met and deliberated for six months and produced a document that was cast in the form of a draft bill and sent to the colonies’ administrative centres for approval. After it was ratified by the governments of the four colonies, delegates were selected and sent, together with the bill, to England to seek enactment by the British Parliament.



In September of 1909, the British Parliament approved the draft bill as the South Africa Act (9 Edward VII, c. 9). It went into effect on 31 May 1910 establishing the Union of South Africa. Although the bill was an act of the British government, it was actually a constitutional compact developed exclusively by white representatives of the four colonies. The majority black population (Africans, coloureds and Asians) was neither provided facilities to participate nor allowed to even engage in any discourse about the process. Since only whites, who were in the minority, were allowed to participate in constitution making, the outcome was constitutional rules which were unlikely to reflect the values, interests, traditions, and expectations of the majority of the people of the new country.

In fact, as the evidence would later show, the dispensation that came into effect in 1910 did not allow all South Africans to maximize their values, but served as an instrument to advance the interests of the white minority (Cowen 1961, pp. 43-63). For example, despite the fact that Africans constituted the majority of the people in the four colonies, no African language was included in the official list of national languages. The National Parliament eventually passed laws that effectively prevented all blacks from participating in the political affairs of the new country and limited their economic involvement to activities that enhanced the welfare of whites.

The domination and control of constitution making by whites provided the framework within which the system of apartheid later developed and became entrenched in South Africa. Beginning with the passage in 1911 of the Mines and Works Act, the National Parliament put into effect several laws that entrenched and enhanced the concept of white supremacy, and promoted a policy of permanent non-white inferiority. When the Afrikaner dominated National Party recaptured the government in 1948, it formally established the policy of apartheid through the consolidation of laws that had been passed in the country since 1911, effectively putting the black population under a form of internal colonization that lasted until 1994 (Doxey 1961, Davenport 1977, Hutt 1964, Parker 1983, Sowell 1993).



Constitutionalism and the Recolonization of Anglophone Cameroonians: In 1884, Germany founded a colony called Kamerun on the Cameroon River district along the Gulf of Biafra. In 1914, World War I started in Europe and by 1916, French and British expeditionary forces had overrun Kamerun and partitioned it into British and French zones of influence. Britain received two narrow discontinuous portions (British Southern Cameroons and British Northern Cameroons) of Kamerun – along the eastern border with Nigeria – and the French took nearly four-fifths of the territory. The French portion was granted independence in January 1960 as the Republique du Cameroun (LeVine 1964, Rudin 1938).

In United Nations’ supervised plebiscites, British Northern Cameroons opted to join the independent Federation of Nigeria, and British Southern Cameroons decided to form a union with the RŽpublique du Cameroun on 1 October 1961 called the Federal Republic of Cameroon. Ahmadu Ahidjo, the president of the RŽpublique du Cameroun, became the first executive officer of the federation (LeVine 1964, Enonchong 1967).



In May 1972, Ahidjo abolished the country’s highly centralized federalist system, replaced it with a unitary political system and changed the name of the country to the United Republic of Cameroon. By this time the country had abandoned multiparty politics and the Cameroon National Union (CNU), which had been founded in 1966, was now the country’s only legal political party. On 6 November 1982, Ahidjo voluntarily resigned his position as the country’s chief executive and handed the government to his prime minister, Paul Biya (Kofele-Kale 1986; Mbaku 1993).

Cameroonians had two opportunities to arm themselves with appropriate institutional arrangements: first, when the UN Trust Territory of Cameroons under French administration gained independence in 1960; and during the union between British Southern Cameroons and the Republique du Cameroun in 1961. A brief examination of constitution making in the former German territory will help us understand why the institutional arrangements adopted by the RŽpublique du Cameroun and by the Federal Republic of Cameroon were inefficient and not viable foundations for the construction of effective, transparent and accountable governance structures.

The decolonization of the UN Trust Territory of Cameroons under French administration has been examined by many scholars (see, e.g., LeVine 1964; Joseph 1977; Welch 1966). Our main objective in this section is to examine the process through which the RŽpublique du Cameroun developed its constitutional rules and how it resulted in the adoption of rules that enhanced the ability of the post-independence ruling coalition to engage in political opportunism.



The first constitution of the Republique du Cameroun was drafted by the consultative committee, created by Law No. 59-56 of 31 October 1959 (Enonchong 1967, p. 80). In proper constitution making, membership in the constitution drafting committee must reflect the character of the society to be governed by the rules selected. In addition, these individuals must be elected either directly by the people (i.e., the relevant stake-holders) or selected by their elected representatives.

Unfortunately, constitution making in the French administered territory was not conducted in the appropriate manner. For one thing, the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC), then the territory’s largest and most important indigenous political organization and the only one representing a significant part of national political opinion, was not allowed to participate in constitution making. The decision by colonial authorities to exclude the UPC from participation in the preparations for independence, especially in constitution making, effectively denied the bulk of Cameroonians an opportunity to select their own institutional arrangements.

UPC policy was to withdraw an independent Cameroon from the French community in an effort to minimize the influence of French entrepreneurial and commercial interests on the post-independence economy. On 13 July 1955, French colonial administrators proscribed the UPC party and effectively forced it underground. The banning of the UPC was designed primarily to (a) eliminate its ability to determine the pace of decolonization; and (b) make certain that it did not become the governing party in the post-independence period. Since the UPC was, at the time, the colony’s only true nationalist political organization and the only one with the wherewithal to evolve into a national movement, the proscription inflicted significant damage on political developments in the territory.



Of course, there were other indigenous political parties in the colony at the time of the banning of the UPC. Unlike the UPC, however, these other political organizations were considered by most Cameroonians as elitist and primarily as vehicles for the maximization of the interests of ethno-regional elites. On the other hand, the UPC was considered the ‘people’s party’ – one that represented the interests of ordinary Cameroonians, especially those whom colonialism had exploited and brutalized. The UPC’s strong and unwavering support for immediate independence and reunification (with the British administered territories) without preconditions, attracted the support of many non-elite elements, the majority of whom were no longer willing to accept their continued poverty and marginalization.

The rural and urban poor resented the privileges enjoyed by many indigenous elites and felt that these individuals were not genuinely interested in independence, especially since many of these urban-based elites appeared to side with the French view that decolonization had to be gradual and autonomy granted only when colonial authorities were satisfied that Cameroonians could govern themselves. UPC leaders, on the other hand, publicly and vehemently condemned Europeans for their extravagant lifestyles, all of which were made possible by the continued exploitation of the indigenous peoples. The party’s public pronouncements betrayed its desire to rid Cameroon society of the French and establish a new dispensation that would enhance the ability of Cameroonians to rule themselves and control their own destiny (LeVine 1964; Joseph 1977).



What the consultative committee produced turned out to be a thinly disguised copy of the constitution of the French Fifth Republic (1958). That constitution making, the most important part of a transition to democratic governance, was not taken seriously is evidenced by the fact that the territory achieved independence on 1 January 1960 without a constitution! It was not until 21 February 1960 that a constitution was presented to the people for approval. The opposition, led by the outlawed UPC, encouraged Cameroonians to reject it. The results of the referendum on the draft constitution appear to support the claims made by the opposition. As many as 531,000 votes were cast against ratification and only 797,498 votes cast in favour of adoption (LeVine 1964, p. 221).

It is important to note here that during the campaign for ratification the UPC party, the main opposition group, was still banned and as a consequence was unable to launch an effective effort to educate Cameroonians on the deficiencies of the document. On the other hand, supporters of the document could legally operate and had access to virtually all state resources.

Since the constitution is the primary basis for mutual coexistence and the foundation for building the country’s institutions (e.g., a professional and neutral armed force, a properly constrained police force, an independent judiciary, an efficient and representative legislature, etc.) and its governance structures, the relatively strong vote against adoption should have alerted the new leadership to the fact that process was very important and that the new constitutional compact had serious shortcomings and was likely to generate a lot of problems for governance in the new country (Mbaku 1998, 1999a, b).



During the second year of independence, President Ahidjo turned his attention to reunification with the British Southern Cameroons which was not yet independent. Reunification offered Cameroonians an opportunity to engage in the type of constitution making that had eluded them during decolonization activities in the French administered territory. This time, all relevant population groups could elect representatives and send them to meet in conference and design a voluntary agreement that would define their relationship with each other in the new nation.

Leaders of the Southern Cameroons believed that the expected union with the RŽpublique du Cameroun would be a loose voluntary association between political equals, each (constitutionally) allowed to retain a significant level of its political and economic autonomy. In such a union, each composite unit would be allowed to (a) retain its own institutions; (b) manage its own resources; and (c) maximize its values. Unfortunately, many constraints were to make it impossible for such a federation to become a reality.

First, as has been argued by several scholars (e.g., Stark 1976), John Ngu Foncha and members of his delegation, who negotiated for the Southern Cameroons, were severely inexperienced, had very few resources, and did not have the technical support needed to engage in proper constitutional negotiations. Second, the RŽpublique du Cameroun, the other partner in the union, was already an independent country with an international character, its own established laws and institutions, and a government. In addition, it had significantly more resources, including technical assistance from the French government. Third, most Southern Cameroonians, who were still resentful of domination by Nigerians when the territory was administered by Britain as part of the colony of Nigeria, overwhelmingly supported reunification.



Fourth, the conditions for the independence of the territory set by the UN significantly reduced Southern Cameroons’ negotiating ability and made it virtually impossible for it to enter the constitutional negotiations as an equal partner to the Republique du Cameroun. Fifth, the RŽpublique du Cameroun leadership, as well as its benefactor, France, seemed to be quite satisfied with the institutional arrangements then in existence in the country. As a consequence, they were not likely to allow institutional changes that could have weakened the power of the central government or reduced French influence in the region.

Not all RŽpublique du Cameroun constituencies, of course, were satisfied with the existing laws and institutions. Increasing political violence in the immediate post independence period and the country’s decision to maintain a strong French military presence, especially in areas considered to be UPC strongholds, were indicative of the significant level of dissatisfaction with institutions that were viewed by many people as exploitative and oppressive and designed to create and maintain privileges for the ruling elite.



Finally, as has been argued by several scholars (e.g., Kofele-Kale 1987) and as the evidence has since indicated, the Anglophone elites who negotiated on behalf of Southern Cameroons were primarily interested in monopolizing power in an autonomous Anglophone state. Thus, they showed no interest in working hard to secure federal rules which would have guaranteed transparency and accountability in post reunification government. They wanted an autonomous state which they could control and as a consequence, were easily duped into accepting Ahidjo’s promises of autonomy for the former British administered territory instead of insisting on proper constitution making with full and effective participation by the people they were supposed to be representing.

The British Southern Cameroons was offered two options for independence. It could gain independence by either merging with Nigeria or the RŽpublique du Cameroun. Given the fact that Nigeria and the RŽpublique du Cameroun were already independent countries, it was not likely that these countries would set aside their institutional arrangements and engage in the kind of constitution making that would have allowed Southern Cameroons to select rules favourable to its values.

Unfortunately, the constraints placed on the colony by the UN and the UK, political inexperience and a certain level of ineptitude and opportunism on the part of its leaders, lack of resources, and the fact that the territory entered the negotiations as a colony made the constitutional environment non-competitive. For example, the Southern Cameroons delegation could not, in response to opportunism by the RŽpublique du Cameroun, employ the threat of exit – and subsequent existence as a sovereignty – since UN conditions for independence had precluded such an option.



Given the fact that Ahidjo and his delegation dominated and controlled the pre-unification constitutional deliberations, it was not surprising that the outcome was not a federalist document. Instead, a list of ‘Transitional and Special Dispositions’ was inserted in what was basically the old constitution of the RŽpublique du Cameroun, supposedly to keep each unit’s laws and institutions in place until additional negotiations could be undertaken to turn the new union into a fully functioning federation.

Many Southern Cameroonians feared that Ahidjo’s proclivity toward centralized governance would force the union into a unitary state and cause the English-speaking state to lose its autonomy. Such fears were to prove prophetic. For example, at reunification, the new federated state of West Cameroon (former Southern Cameroons) was asked to surrender most of its sources of revenue – including customs duties, to the central government in YaoundŽ in favour of temporary appropriations from the latter. The federal government was expected to engage in discussions with West Cameroon leaders to put into place structures that would ensure the state’s fiscal autonomy. Such a discourse, however, never took place and the state eventually became totally dependent on the central government for all its finances.

The dependency effectively destroyed the political autonomy that was supposed to have been granted the federated state as part of the federalist governance system that had been established through reunification. The constitution adopted at reunification did not provide the state of West Cameroon the wherewithal to exist as an autonomous political unit. In addition to the fact that the fiscal relationship between the state and the central government was not made explicit in the constitution, customs taxes, which had been the state’s major source of public revenue, now accrued to the government in YaoundŽ. As a consequence, the federated state found itself unable to function without continuous subventions from the central government (Benjamin 1972, 1980).



Many of these problems could and should have been anticipated and dealt with effectively during constitutional deliberations. It is at this stage that the relationship between political jurisdictions (in a federation) are defined and elaborated in the constitution in order to avoid the kinds of problems that led to the recolonization of West Cameroon and the destruction of its institutions. Of course, the constitutional environment in existence at the time made dealing with these problems virtually impossible even if Southern Cameroons leaders had anticipated them (Bayart 1978). However, it must be noted that Southern Cameroons leaders had different objectives from those of the people they were supposed to be representing.

As mentioned earlier, the leaders were not interested in an Anglophone state with transparent, accountable and participatory governance structures – that is a state in which the government was significantly constrained and popular participation was constitutionally guaranteed. Instead, they desired an autonomous political jurisdiction within the federation which they could control politically and as a consequence, have the opportunity to exploit economically for their own benefit.



Despite the unfavourable constitutional environment in Foumban, there were opportunities for a representative and less opportunistic delegation to secure federal rules that would have been more favourable to the Southern Cameroons than the ones that became the federation’s new constitution. Such rules might not have been ideal but would have been significantly more in line with Southern Cameroons’ values and needs than the Foumban Constitution of 1961.

Resource allocation was controlled and directed from the centre with the benefits of exploiting local resources accruing entirely to the central government. Pervasive political opportunism, including corruption, has ensured that public revenue allocations are skewed in favour of the politically dominant groups and those (e.g., the military) that have the wherewithal to threaten regime security. Many local communities, which are endowed with significant amounts of natural resources, remain extremely poor and deprived as exploitation of these resources continues to primarily benefit members of the ruling coalition and their supporters.

For example, despite the fact that revenues from oil wells in the Anglophone western part of the country have, since the mid-1980s, comprised a very significant part of the national budget, the region remains essentially underdeveloped and destitute. West Cameroon’s resources are being exploited for development in other parts of the country while the people are further impoverished and forced to live in a severely polluted environment.



The relationship between constitutionalism and the protection of the rights of minority groups can be summarized by two schools of thought. First, many scholars believe that modern constitutions can empower minority, disadvantaged and historically marginalized groups and significantly improve their ability to participate in governance and in economic processes. Constitutionalism can establish institutions of democratic accountability and provide avenues for all groups to resolve their conflicts peacefully (see, e.g., Brennan and Buchanan 1985; Buchanan 1975; Buchanan and Tullock 1962; Congleton 1994). Second, another school with opposing views of constitutionalism argues that the latter cannot deal effectively with such problems as ethnic ‘cleansing’, political violence, religious bigotry, and the political opportunism that is undertaken by many ethno-regional ruling coalitions in the developing countries.

One can take this skepticism of the ability of constitutionalism to deal effectively with ethnic conflict and the protection of minority rights as a point of departure and view constitutional arrangements as not permanent and determinate, but structures that can be changed or reconstructed to deal with new realities as they arise (Tiruchelvam 1999). Throughout Africa, constitutions have failed to uphold democratic values and human rights, including the rights of minority groups. In several instances, constitutions have been used to support and enhance the exploitation of indigenous groups and the marginalization and/or colonization of many communities (cf. the apartheid constitution in South Africa; the reunification constitution of 1961 in Cameroon).

In addition to the fact that such uses of the law have destroyed the faith of many African people in the constitutions of their respective countries, they have also forced a new discussion on the increasing disparity between constitutional theory and real life constitutional practices. In fact, in the last several years, questions such as (i) ‘What use is a constitution if it is only going to be ignored by the country’s leaders?’; and (ii) ‘What is the point of writing a constitution when we know that whoever is elected president will simply manipulate the rules to allow himself to remain in power indefinitely and plunder the economy for his own benefit and that of his supporters?’have become quite pervasive in the literature on African political economy.



Part of the problem arises from the fact that many of those who are skeptical of the value of the constitution to African societies believe that the dominant mode of constitutionalism in the continent today is Eurocentric and came with colonialism. While there is some truth to that, especially when one considers the fact that most of the constitutions in the continent today are either based on some European model or are a copy of the constitution of the African country’s former colonizer, it is very important to understand that constitutionalism in Africa is not a gift of colonial rule. Constitutions in Africa should not be considered remnants of colonial rule and as a consequence, a measure of modernization.

Constitutionalism, especially if it is understood as the process of developing institutional arrangements for a society, predates colonial rule. Well developed rules, although quite often implicit and thus not written, were a very important part of pre-colonial African societies. The job of modern constitutional discourse in Africa is to reconcile both sides – taking into consideration the complexities of today’s societies and the mobility of populations – and produce a set of institutional arrangements for the modern state that provides structures for peaceful coexistence, while preserving the values of each side and making them intelligible to the whole society.



Writing about constitutionalism in Asia, Tiruchelvam (1999) laments about the growing gap between ‘elite discourse and popular consciousness’ (pp. 4-5). He argues that one of the most important failures of constitutionalism in the immediate post independence period in India and other countries in the region was the ‘inability to take the conceptual vocabulary of rights, institutions and impersonal power into the everyday vernacular discourse of village or small town India’ (p. 5). To underscore this point, he points to C.K. Raju’s revelation that the first five words in the Indian Constitution – sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, and republic – cannot be translated into any Indian language (p. 5).

This argument applies equally to many African countries. In fact, throughout the continent, the independence constitutions were written in the language of the former colonizer. In the case of many of the former French colonies the independence constitution was usually a copy of the constitution of the Fifth French Republic (see, e.g., LeVine 1964). Had such rules been developed from the bottom-up, starting at the village level, the constitution, even if written in a European language, would have reflected local values and lent itself more to being understood by the people. Unfortunately, given the constitutions as they were, it was not likely that the majority of the people would understand them, let alone relate to them in the same fashion in which they did to their own traditional rules.



Thus, the most important problem with constitutionalism in Africa today is not that constitutions are incapable of resolving ethnic problems, or effectively securing minority rights, or that the ordinary people are not sophisticated enough to understand and appreciate them. The problem lies with the process through which these rules have been selected. Process is very important since it has a significant impact on the outcome – that is, the type of constitutional rules selected. The process must be inclusive, bottom-up, and participatory enough so that the people, through participation, would identify with the results, claim ownership of them, and therefore would be willing to fight to defend them.

Pre-independence constitutional discourse in most African countries was dominated by a few elites. The bulk of the African peoples – the main stakeholders – were not enfranchised and provided facilities to participate in the process. As a consequence, the outcomes of these deliberations were rules that did not reflect the people’s values, interests, traditions and cultures, and were generally not understood by them.

The above discussion points to the fact that long-term solutions to violent ethnic conflict and pervasive problems of governance, and the exploitation of minority ethnic groups in Africa must be found in state reconstruction to provide more effective institutional arrangements – those that (a) adequately constrain the state and the ability of civil servants and politicians to engage in opportunism; (b) enhance indigenous entrepreneurship and wealth creation; (c) guarantee individual and groups rights, including those of minority groups; (d) support the development and sustaining of a viable civil society, which will serve as a check on the exercise of government agency; and (e) generally enhance peaceful coexistence.

Within the appropriate set of rules, no group or individual would be placed at a competitive disadvantage or advantage simply because of such ascriptive characteristics as race, ethnicity, wealth, geographic location, etc. To minimize exploitation and abuse of minority groups in Africa, it is necessary to establish and sustain within each country, fair, predictable and efficient structures – including well specified and enforced property rights regimes – that can allow all individuals and groups to compete for both economic and political resources. Thus, given the appropriate structures for resource allocation, ethnic conflict need not deteriorate into violence (see, e.g., Kimenyi 1997, 1998, 1999).



Today, Africa and Africans are preparing for the new century. As they do so, they face many problems. The two most important of them are (i) how to create enough wealth to deal with mounting problems of poverty and deprivation; and (ii) how to deal effectively with destructive and violent ethnic mobilization. The latter problem can be viewed from two perspectives: how to make certain that the rights of ethnic minorities are not abrogated or trampled by the majority; and how to effectively prevent the majority from engaging in behaviour that exploits and marginalizes the minority.

Since most African colonies began to gain independence in the 1960s, living standards in Africa have either failed to improve or done so only marginally. In addition to massive poverty, destructive and violent ethnic mobilization has also become endemic to the region. Such violence derives from two main sources: (i) minority ethnic groups whose rights have been abrogated and forced to remain, permanently, on the periphery of society; and (ii) majority or politically dominant ethnic groups (usually ethno-regional ruling coalitions) whose desire to monopolize political space and the allocation of resources has forced them to engage in violent mobilization to keep other groups out of markets.



This paper has argued that the most effective way to deal with destructive ethnic mobilization in Africa is to provide each country, through proper constitution making, institutional arrangements that properly constrain the exercise of government agency and thus minimize political opportunism, enhance indigenous entrepreneurship and wealth creation, and provide governance and economic structures that do not place any group at a competitive disadvantage in the competition for resources. If each African society provides itself with these types of institutional arrangements, ethnic mobilization need not be violent or destructive.




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