Can past and present campaigns for ethnic cleansing among some African tribes be attributed to illiteracy? While empirical evidence exists supporting some evidence that illiteracy may contribute a small amount to ethnic cleansing, it is not the primary impetus behind mass genocide. Research shows that campaigns for ethnic cleansing among certain African tribes cannot be entirely prevented with only the eradication of illiteracy because of territorial conflicts, historical grievances and religious intolerance. Shaw (2003) notes that historically, territorial grievances and religious intolerance are among the top reasons for ethnic cleansing throughout the world. Consider the case of Hitler, where mass ethnic cleansing reached its peak, primarily for reasons including religious intolerance, with secondary factors including history and territorial imperialism. It is critical to gather qualitative evidence supporting this theory to attempt to salvage what little hope there is left for African nations that still struggle under the threat of extinction due to political regimes interested in annihilating entire peoples.
This paper will examine the causes of such cleansing or "extinction" in greater details with particular emphasis on territory, history, and religion to provide more historical context for ethnic cleansing in Africa and amongst African tribes. An overview of ethnic cleansing, synopsis of the problem and conclusion are provided.
Ethnic Cleansing Overview
There are many instances of ethnic cleansing throughout history among African tribes, each with specific links to territorial arguments, religious intolerance, or historical causes. While there is literature supporting illiteracy as a plausible cause for ethnic cleansing, it is not cited as a primary cause. Shaw (2003) notes that war and ethnic cleansing or genocide often go hand-in-hand. Throughout history genocide or ethnic cleansing have often accompanied each other. Factors influencing genocide include political, socio-economic factors, and religious causes (Shaw, 2003). Is this the case among African tribes? Hodgson (2002) and Sambanis (2000) suggest ethnic cleansing has historically been problematic among indigenous peoples. Problems including imperialism and territorial struggles have always facilitated a need to extinguish smaller or less powerful indigenous tribes (Hodgson, 2002; Sambanis, 2000). In many countries, this can result from a need to gather resources, power, or political control over a region. There may be other causes as well. Illiteracy may be a factor, if the indigenous peoples do not speak or read the language of the conquering "tribe" or peoples. Consider the most well-known instance of ethnic cleansing, that which occurred in Germany. In this case, religious factors were the most obvious cause; but political, economic, cultural and other factors certainly contributed to the genocide (Shaw, 2003). It is likely that individuals that were illiterate may have actually been spared during this time, because they were seen as less of a threat. However among tribal peoples, illiteracy may prove dangerous, as political motives penetrate civil entities and organizations and push through causes that may prove harmful to ethnic minorities, particularly poor ethnic minorities opposed to wealthy ethnic minorities (Abdul-Jalil, 2006). The political agenda for eradicating indigenous populations may include power and control of natural resources within a region.
Olsson and Siba (2010) conduct an analysis of the ethnic cleansing campaign in Darfur, noting that the local struggle exists because of dwindling natural resources particularly between "African farmers and Arab herders" rather than resulting from illiteracy. This is an example of a conflict resulting from territorial disputes, one that historically has been a problem among many ethnic tribes. In this instance, the researchers explore government attacks of more than 500 civilian villages during counter-insurgency campaigns beginning in 2003, noting that attacks were targeted at villages dominated by rebel tribes primarily and that resource variables particularly capturing water and land quality were primary reasons for ethnic cleansing. Many authors support the notion that the need to capture valuable resources was a primary and valid reason political parties and militia would engage in ethnic cleansing programs (Hodgson, 2002; Emenyonu, 2008; Mann, 2005). Other reasons for ethnic cleansing include political reasons and religious struggles, which can be traced historically.
Mann (2005), a prominent UCLA-based sociologist, claims that different stages of political participation in Fascism is partially to blame for ethnic cleansing. The author expounds on the issue, stating that historically, when authoritarian regimes break down, there is a time when scrambling for power occurs with everyone "trying to exclude somebody else with the else being defined along ethnic lines" which is often the case in Africa (p. 2). Further, the author notes that genocide is a modern phenomenon, typically the "darker side" of democracy often resulting when minorities are tyrannized. Traditionally a democracy is established so that the majority of people are represented, but this can bean that the majority features a people that are literate, well-off, and structured on ethnic and nationalist principles; features of democracy may support ethnic cleansing as people become tempted to "annihilate the enemy" which may include a whole people that are illiterate, uneducated, poor and underserved (Mann, 2005, p. 2). Mann argues that many democratized regimes have been linked to mass murder. Chua notes that democratization is in fact more likely to foster ethnic cleansing than authoritarian governments because while authoritarian governments may weaken multi-ethnic cities and nations, the principles that support democracy sometimes lead to the ideal that enemy minorities exist, creating dictatorships disguised as democracies (Chua, 2004). This is typically only the case with newly embarked on democracies however, not stabilized democracies, because stabilization results in elections and "rule by the majority" as well as "constitutional guarantees for minorities" (Mann, p. 4). But, does this really protect the minority? Typically political instability, fragmenting and "factionalizing" such as that occurring in the Hutus state of Rwanda and others results as Mann (2005) notes in the repression of dissidents and a type of factionalism much like the Nazi state as Mann describes it (p.4). This in turn can result in failed political states resulting in civil wars as occurred in the Congo, and resulting ethnic cleansings at their worst (Mann, 2005). Is this the result of illiteracy? This is not so much the result of illiteracy as it is the result of the "perceived ethnic threat" and a "carefully planned solution in terms of either compromise or straightforward repression" (Mann, 2005, p. 7). The political parties in charge have a desire to overcome any obstacles to the leadership they view as idealistic, and to repress and ideologies that oppose the majority. The simplest way to do so is to cleanse from society that which is perceived as undesirable.
Cleansing undesirable characters from African tribes may include removing religiously unfavorable candidate, or based on history, removing individual that opposed predominant political parties, or those that were not represented among the elite members of society. The individuals perpetrating the innocent typically include: (1) "radical elites" (2) "bands of militants and (3) 'core constituencies providing mass popular support" (Mann, p.9). This is not always the case however, because leaders are not always the ones responsible for ethnic cleansing. Sometimes top-down power results in cleansing, whereas other times peer pressure and coercion from social movements and comradeship can result in ethnic cleansing; the entire vision of what occurs is complex (Mann, 2005, p.9). The factors contributing in these instances include violence, "nationalism and statism" (Mann, p. 9). Individual people contributing to the movement may feel their borders are threatened; they may feel class conflicts; they may feel socialization or feel to be accepted they must accept ethnic "cleansing" and physical violence as a way of life, or attracted to the "machismo ideology" way of life (Mann, 2005, p. 10).
Territorial Conflicts, History and Religious Conflict
Emenyonu (2008) expands on these ideas, suggesting that ethnic cleansing in Africa is not so much the result of illiteracy as it is the result of what he calls an "identity crisis" that exists because of the "quiet agony of imperial humiliation left to the new generation of African leaders and many new-breed post-colonial intellectuals" (p. 2). Many Africans he states hunt for paradigms of what should be in a country where the ethnics feel exiled; they live a colonial "mentality" in a place that should be home, and suffer a "confusion of abuse for a bullish ex-master and the disparaging of the befuddled indigenous replacement that disdains his own cultural base" (p. 1). This is prose at its best, but accurately describes the dilemma of the African citizen; someone that is afflicted with an inability to describe his or her own condition, which is nothing more than a reflection of the impact of many wars in Africa and its effect on the human. The author points out that territorial conflicts, historical grievances, and religious conflicts are not something of the past; in fact they are something that still haunts the African-American to this day. This is the case in South African, Congo, Angola, Algeria, Rwanda, Mozambique, Uganda; Kenya…the list goes on. Emenyonu (2008) states that the list of turbulent histories with war is still raging in many places, the country in fact, is perpetually…