State Building and Democratization in Africa: Faith, Hope, and Realities

By Kidane Mengisteab; Cyril Daddieh | Go to book overview

Nationalists, however, demand recognition of, and respect for, difference. They demand recognition of the rights of an entire group to self-determination -through independence or at least autonomy -- and this group is, by definition, different from all others. Balancing democracy and nationalism thus requires balancing individual and group rights, defending minorities against discrimination without, at the same time, imposing on them an assimilation that they do not necessarily want.

Democracy in multiethnic societies is made possible by recognition of equal rights for all in the realm of basic civil and political rights but also of separate rights for members of each group in the realm of culture and education. More importantly, democracy in multiethnic societies also usually requires some form of special representation for members of minority groups, to make sure that they will not be outvoted in all situations and thus not deprived of their rights by members of the majority.

Such balance between seemingly contradictory requirements has proven difficult to maintain in any country. But some have succeeded, as we pointed out earlier, although tensions always remain. Democratic systems in multiethnic societies are conflict management systems, not conflict resolution ones. The balance is not achieved once and for all, as the United States is discovering at present, when the demand for equality and integration that characterized the civil rights movement of the 1960s is being replaced increasingly by the refusal of minorities to be assimilated and their demand for special treatment. Ideas such as Afrocentric education for the inner cities, Spanish-language education in some areas, or the creation of gerrymandered voting districts for minorities all stem from a common assumption that equality with the majority does not satisfy the rights and needs of minorities.

African countries, as seen earlier, have not even begun the process of thinking how to tailor democratic systems to the ethnic diversity of their population. Despite their multiethnic character, Africans cling to the fiction that the nationstate can be achieved in Africa, if not by creating the nation, then at least by redesigning the state. But it is quite clear that in the foreseeable future African states, old or even new, will remain multiethnic. Only if this reality is accepted can African countries stop the present slide into increasing ethnic conflict and resume the process of creating democratic states, capable of living with their diversity and stable enough to resume the process of economic development. The task ahead for African democrats is to recognize the reality of ethnic diversity and devise conflict management institutions.


NOTES
1
Robert H. Jackson and Carl G. Rosberg, "Why Africa's Weak States Persist: The Empirical and Juridical in Statehood", World Politics 35 ( October 1982): 1-24. See also Robert Jackson more extensive recent discussion of the issue in Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations and the Third World

-95-

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