The wish to write this article came while reading through a book titled “Islam in Religion and Politics: Perspectives from South Asia” edited by Asim Ray. The chapter on ethnicity issues in Pakistan and the corresponding repercussions on ethnic conflicts of Pakistan enthused me to think through the concept of ethnic fractionalization. A part of the reason behind this enthusiasm is from the drive to explore the causality that explains the mystery of human beings staying together or not staying together. This is one of the most mysterious aspects of life which are often not guided by any natural laws. As a human being I have most of the time felt confused, or dialectic about this mystery. Whenever that confusion has come I have tried to read something dealing with the anthropocentricity of human civilization.
It is from that state, I thought to start reading behavioural science, political science literature dealing with human conflicts, bondings and ethnicity one year back. Those readings have nurtured the growth of this write up the initiation of which happened with a preliminary googling that revealed an index called “Ethno Linguistic Fragmentation Index/ Ethno Nationalist Exclusion Index”.
This index is a simple extended version of market concentration index which shows the likelihood whether two people chosen at random will be from different ethnic groups. It is an extended form of simple Herfindahl concentration index.
The closer the value of the index to 1 the larger is ethnic fractionalization. The index value for some of the countries that suffered from conflicts generated from resource curse challenges is close to 1.
However, according to some literature ethno linguistic fragmentation index is not able to capture the multidimensional aspects of ethnic fractionalisation. So a better way to address that is through an index of ethno nationalist exclusion which brings out state centric differences in ethnic fractionalization in a country.
This kind of index has been applied in studying the ethnic fractionalization in many resource rich countries where conflicts have arisen in resource abundant areas.
But the numbers do not reveal and get into the intricacies of several factors (including the cultural and emotional ones) that play a critical role in creating ethnic fractionalization and corresponding conflicts. Also often the numbers don’t talk about the human element that is very important in guiding the implications of ethnic fractionalization.
The next sections of this article entails some of the factors that explains ethnic fractionalization starting with some definitional aspects of ethnic fractionalization.
1 Ethnic fractionalization
In order to address the issue of ethnic fractionalization the concept of ethnic divide has to be pondered and understood first. An ethnic divide could originate between people and communities, groups due to their lineage to various religions, caste, culture, language and rule by which they are governed.
With respect to the definitional aspects of “Ethnic Fractionalization”, Horowitz has defined ethnic fractionalization on the basis of indicators like appearance, religion, language and any combination of these ones.
Max Weber suggested that ethnicity is defined by belief structures in a community or in a group with a common descent that is demarcated by tribe, race, casts, religion, language, and nationality. Different theories exist that tries to explain how an ethnic fractionalization in a community could lead to conflicts. These theories include - the primordial sociality; clash of cultures; ethnic security dilemma ; mobilization of ethnic groups. Each of these theories tries to explain how differences in ethnicity causes conflict in a particular situation.
According to primordial sociality theory, a human being sees any bondage with a particular ethnicity in a collective way and perceives the bondage to be given from outside in a coercive way. The clash of culture suggests that ethnic fractionalization emanates from belonging of human beings to different civilization origins. Ethnic security dilemma arises when human beings from some ethnic groups suddenly are in a situation when they have to protect themselves for their own survival because of a certain adverse event say like an oil spillage affecting communities. In such a situation, human beings from one group of ethnic origin in the presence of other ethnic groups goes through a philosophical, introspecting discourse driving them to think that each community should protect themselves and their ethnic community first as they visualize the human beings from other groups, ethnicity in a competitive frame of mind.
Ethnic fractionalization is a kind of variable that arises out of social construction. Such social construction is often developed to push forward the political goals of institutions and other identities that could contribute to ethnic fractionalization for short term political gains. All these factors create differences in ethnicity and belief structures amongst people.
Governance of conflicts arising from such belief structures have to analyze how such costs can affect belief structures of the people of different ethnicities leading to conflicts. Political economy of governance institutions driven by people of different ethnicities could also exacerbate such feuds. Often religion also can also contribute in shaping up ethnicity.
Religion has played a prominent role in creating ethnic fractionalization in some select countries. Tensions and mistrust could often arise owing to a difference in the lineage of the people to different religions. Many intra community conflicts in countries have resulted owing to mistrust that has an origination in the different belief structures arising from belonging to various religions.
Many of these people have belonging to various religious institutions to which they belong before Christianity and Islam spread in these countries. In these countries the social process and the legal regimes did not facilitate a mix of the two different ethnic identities arising from different religious structures.
In addition to religion, institutions also play a role in the ethnic fractionalization.
Strong government and political institutions with a welfare philosophy for people of all groups and an objective of ethnic fractionalization reduction might have been able to tackle problem. Powell (1982) shows that an association exists between ethnic fractionalization and instability of institutions. Powell suggests that in a region with an increase in ethnic fractionalization, the propensity of instability in the institution goes up.
Once that instability goes up, chances of reduction of ethnic fractionalization goes down. Also role of formal institutions play a key role towards enhancement of fractionalization.
But other than formal, informal institutions also have a strong role to play towards ethnic fractionalization. Informal institutional structures play a key role in binding and hindering the transmission of ethnic heterogeneity to potential conflicts. Such informal institutional structures have also helped in cross ethnic tie ups through a structure called “cousinage”. Cousinage has happened because of historical alliances of families between various ethnic groups through the basis of patronyms. This cousinage has facilitated social interactions between various ethnic groups and has played a key role in binding them together.
To illustrate cousinage, one could say that somebody in a community group in Mali, belonging to Keita surname could easily interact with another person with a surname of Coulibaly even if they have not interacted earlier. Cross ethnic interactions bounded by informal institutional structures have prevailed in these countries and helped in maintaining strong bondage between human beings.
Also transethnicity play a key role towards determination of conflicts. Studies done by Easterly and Levine (1997), Posner (2004) suggest that the effects of these transethnicities on socio economic variables of the communities have been adverse leading to larger ethnic fractionalization.
Larger ethnic fractionalization could lead to a delay in creation of public goods dealing with health service, education and infrastructure owing to large transaction cost that could arise due to ethnic fractionalization.
To eradicate this condition, larger effective institutional intervention for governance is required. In the presence of ethnic clouting and rent seeking in governance positions, quality of infrastructure service provision could go down.
However as a contrast, the picture has been very optimistic in some African countries. For example in countries like Malawi, Namibia institutions have worked well.
In Malawi, groups belonging to Chewa, Nyanja, and Tumbuka language are the largest. But inspite of that no dominance of groups has happened. Similarly in Namibia, although the ethnicity belonging to Ovambo is the dominant segment of the population, the other ethnic groups are given importance in terms of their representation in the institutions. Dominance of groups have been eradicated to bring in effective institutional intervention.
Some other explanatory factors
Inter community factors of fractionalization is frequently influenced by the nature of ethnic competition. According to Dion Douglas (1997) ethnic competition gives rise to germination of ethnic conflicts. In a drive for competition, lower trust levels are developed that impinges communities of various ethnicities from forming social networks.
Such social networks could happen through larger inter ethnic cultural exchanges, frequent social gatherings and bondage between the groups. One of the essential requirements for such bondage requires creation of a value system of respect for each others ethnic customs, rights, rituals.
Often absence of such a value system hinders creation of a space for social networking. This is further facilitated by the drive of each ethnicity giving larger space to their own culture, customs without providing sufficient space to the other ethnic culture and customs. Such an action is also often incentivised by a drive to have monetary and control of power that could maximize the ethnic capital.
Therefore, each ethnic group in the process of maximizing ethnic capital becomes narrowed in their own ethnicity and reduces overall social capital that leads to a larger fractionalization.
Cultural factors that create fractionalization amongst ethnic communities include the differences in language, living style, day to day actions and their affinity to various ethnic cultural preferences by birth. Mostly between the ethnic tribes there is a pattern of sticking to the cultural heritages that any generation has imbibed from earlier generation by birth. This affinity to a lineage by birth could often act as a hindrance towards cultural homogenization of various ethnicities and can lead to fractionalization. It is felt that creation of platforms for cross cultural exchange at regular intervals across various ethnic community domains could be one of the ways to bridge the differences in the cultural attributes of the communities. This could therefore pave a long way towards reduction of ethnic fractionalization.
Demographic and institutional factors are also posed to contribute to ethnic fractionalization process. Failed institutions are being thought to be one of the key factors towards ethnic fractionalization.
According to Sambanis and Elbadawi, (2000), too much of diversity in ethnic groups necessarily won’t allow to create conflict if the institutions are working well as they won’t allow groups to cohesively create a conflict.
According to them when an ethnic group has a larger dominance to the extent of 60% of the population then it has sufficient power to create conflicts. But below that extent, with the existence of many ethnicities if the institutions are functioning well then even with the presence of ethnic fractionalization, conflicts could be checked.
Ethnic fractionalization within and between communities could act as a mechanism to facilitate, enhance the distrust and could contribute towards larger distress and dissent which therefore raises the degree and chance of a conflict. Such distrust could arise because of various intra community and inter community sociological constructs. Additionally, historical, institutional, cultural factors would also play a critical role in the formation, extent and persistence of the distrust.
There is a critical role of governance oversights, efficient functioning of institutions, homogenous wellfaristic polity with a larger holistic accommodative social welfare goals that could reduce such distrust and conflict. Participatory decision making at the community level, effective and efficient democracy with equal weightage to all ethnicity are some of the ways by which these community conflicts could be addressed.
While doing that policies have to be streamlined and those policies have to consider how each of the indicators affecting ethnic fractionalization is influenced through policy actions. The formulation of such a policy would involve dedicated participation from all groups, ethnicities and stakeholders.
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