Chaos sparked by ‘ethnic exclusion’

Monday April 20 2009

By GATONYE GATHURA

Last year’s post-election violence was mainly sparked by the feeling that a large part of the population was excluded from access to government because of ethnicity, a new study says.

The study, by the University of California, Los Angeles, and published in the American Sociological Review looked at sectarian conflicts in Iraq and Northern Ireland, tensions in Tibet and ethnic violence in Kenya.

It challenged the perception that diversity is to blame for sectarian conflicts.

“Countries that are ethnically diverse do not experience more conflict than their more homogenous counterparts,” said Andreas Wimmer, the study’s lead author.

“Rather, conflict breaks out when large segments of the population are excluded from access to government because of their ethnicity.”

The study says a country which excludes 80 per cent of its population on the basis of ethnicity is more than three times as likely to have war.

“If you want peace in countries with ethnic conflict, you have to rearrange government to include real power-sharing,” said Lars-Erik Cederman, study co-author.

Wimmer and Cederman spent close to three years building a data set of ethnic power relations in 155 countries based on the expert advice of nearly 100 country specialists.

The specialists were asked to identify the politically relevant ethnic groups in a country for each year since 1945 and estimate the extent of each group’s access to political power, ranging from a total monopoly on power to being powerless and discriminated against.

An ethnic group was considered to be excluded if its members were absent from the highest levels of regional and national government.

The rest

For a handful of countries — both very homogenous ones, such as Korea, and very heterogeneous ones, such as Tanzania — ethnicity was not politically relevant at all. In the rest of the countries, the risk of armed conflict rose in proportion to the degree of ethnic exclusion.

“It’s not that people of different ethnic backgrounds can’t get along because they have different cultures or creeds,” says the release.

“It’s that political exclusion along ethnic lines stirs up trouble,” the study says.