Why ethnicity is rising again

There is a recognition that the colonial philosophy of divide and rule through indirect methods intensified ethnic, religious and geographical divisions. Colonial authorities favored some groups over others either in compensation for their role in suppressing resistance as in Uganda or because of racial resemblance as in Rwanda and Burundi. Consequently Baganda in Uganda, Batutsi in Burundi and Rwanda and Bahima and Bahororo in south west Uganda benefited disproportionately. They got educated, good jobs and gained tremendous political, economic and social power over the majority – the commoners.

The struggle for independence based on democracy and majority rule reversed colonial arrangements in many countries. In Uganda and Rwanda, for example, commoners – by virtue of their numerical superiority – captured power and corrected colonial injustices. Allocation of development resources, jobs in the cabinet, civil service and public enterprises were reorganized to bring about ethnic and geographical balance.

In Zambia, former President Kaunda used to argue that he had appointed so and so from one province over so and so from another province because he wanted to achieve regional balance. In Cote d’Ivoire the late President Houphouet-Boigny played a carefully ethnic balancing act that kept the country together.