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Kenya can learn from China on minorities and the marginalised

Thursday October 17 2019

Uighur men

This photo taken on April 16, 2015 shows Uighur men praying in a mosque in Hotan, in China's western Xinjiang region. PHOTO | GREG BAKER | AFP 

OTIATO OPALI
By OTIATO OPALI
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On October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong, leader of the Communist Party of China that had just vanquished the Kuomintang Party following the Chinese Civil War, formally proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the new capital.

Seventy years later today, the Chinese have progressed by leaps and bounds through transformations accompanied by high levels of industrialisation and urbanisation, which has influenced every aspect of their society, culture and economy.

ETHNIC HARMONY

While the Chinese have achieved remarkable economic development, it’s the manner in which they’ve developed ethnic harmony out of more than a billion people and numerous ethnicities that is often overlooked and which Kenya can draw vital lessons from.

Post-Independent Kenya has been bedevilled by incommensurate levels of development that have seen people in the marginalised largely Muslim northern frontier district get the short end of the stick.

The fact that our politics is structured around the popular vote makes it worse for ethnic minorities as they do not have the numbers to vote one of their own into powerful positions.

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Successive governments have paid little attention to these communities, leaving them in a perpetual state of underdevelopment.

Let us look at China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, a home to more than 25 million Chinese of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

The central government’s deliberate efforts to uphold ethnic harmony and its policies to build lasting stability and long-term prosperity even among minorities has resulted in Xinjiang enjoying its best period in history, marked by social stability, economic development, ethnic unity and religious harmony.

HUGE PROGRESS

Since the founding of new China, Xinjiang has witnessed profound changes and achieved huge progress. Statistics show its total economic volume increased 8.3 per cent a year on average from 1952 to 2018.

The region has also achieved a remarkable feat in eliminating abject poverty, especially in 2014-2018, when a accumulative 2.31 million people were lifted above the poverty line. Next year, Xinjiang will join other parts of China in reaching the goal of eliminating poverty.

The region is poised to embrace a stronger development momentum by riding the high tide of the country’s Belt and Road Initiative. It is actively pursuing connectivity with neighbouring countries and enhancing economic cooperation with countries in West and Central Asia, Europe and even Africa.

But such success would not have been achieved without the central government’s policies of building lasting stability and long-term prosperity. It took measures to improve the living conditions of its marginalised people, including developing tourism and renovating rural residents’ houses and protecting ethnic cultures.

ECONOMIC PROWESS

Even some First World countries like the United States that boast unmatched economic prowess and impeccable religious and civic freedoms have not come close to achieving the balanced development between ethnic minorities witnessed in China.

The minority African-Americans continue to suffer police harassment, economic marginalisation and racial discrimination. And while religious liberty and tolerance are central to America’s founding and national story, different faith groups like Catholics, Jews and Mormons have suffered discrimination at various points in US history.

Today, Muslims bear the brunt of religious persecution in the US with many claiming to have suffered discrimination.

The hard stance adopted by the current American government against immigrants, especially ‘economic refugees’ from South America, only proves that they still have challenges with inclusivity.

Like China, Kenya can ensure that hitherto marginalised areas are transformed into income-generating areas enjoying economic prosperity and religious and cultural freedoms.

Mr Opali is communication specialist. [email protected]

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