News

    African Constitutions Push to Recognize Group Rights.

    In Africa, recent constitutions have included provisions to protect group rights. Supporters say the move helps promote national unity by bringing formally disenfranchised groups into national politics.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    William Eagle

    Most African countries have a number of religious, linguistic and ethnic groups – and many of those say their concerns are not taken into account by those in power. Some recent constitutions have provisions to encourage nation-building, including measures to guarantee the voices of alienated or disenfranchised groups are heard.

    The move toward greater inclusivity can be seen in constitutional support for group rights.

    Winluck Wahiu is the project manager at the Constitution-Building Processes Program at the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, or International IDEA.

    He said the constitutions of South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia offer provisions that protect group rights.

    Ethiopia recognizes the territories of many ethnic groups, and says citizenship is defined by belonging to one of them. Uganda and Ghana acknowledge the cultural autonomy of traditional kingdoms, and South Africa names 11 national languages to be included in all government transactions.  In Nigeria, the constitution requires that the country’s ethnic composition be reflected in political parties, universities and the military.

    On the political periphery

    Wahiu said Kenya’s 2010 constitution recognizes the rights of what it calls “marginalized” peoples, including nomadic pastoralists like the Turkana and the Masai.

    "Which is to say the Masai have the first claim on taxes that are paid by tourists who go to the world famous Masai Mara [game and wildlife reserve]," he explained. These are recognized as rights only the Masai have, because they are the ones that traditionally have a claim on the land and they are the ones who have been marginalized by the state in terms of development philosophy since independence which focused resources in the capital."

    Kenya's 2010 constitution recognized the rights of marginalized groups such as Masai pastoralists that live along the border.
    Kenya's 2010 constitution recognized the rights of marginalized groups such as Masai pastoralists that live along the border.

    Also among the marginalized groups recognized by the Kenya constitution are ethnic Somalis. They, like the Masai, straddle several borders in the Horn of Africa.

    "Don’t forget that in Kenya at least since 1967, the northern part where you have Somalis has been put under emergency law," he said.

    "It’s been governed through martial law which started when the Somali communities there sought succession through violence in order to join Somalia.  And so this is the first time we are waiving martial law and recognizing them as citizens of the country and allowing them to move and settle anywhere else in the country -- not just saying they have to be contained in that part of Kenya.

    "[Also] you’ve got groups that have settled in Kenya from South Sudan," he continued, "but the country has never recognized their citizenship since 1963…so under the new constitutional dispensation, they are now allowed to apply for  citizenship, which is to say that their status as citizens who have settled in the country is going to be regularized."

    Individual vs. group rights

    In other African states,  citizenship is extended to all people living within the territory, but without an emphasis on group rights.

    This is the case in Mali, where the last constitution before the military coup in March emphasized individual rights, with little recognition of economic or social differences in the country’s various administrative units.  The constitution’s philosophy is summed up in its motto,  “one people, one purpose, one faith.”

    Wahiu said in practice, the approach tends to favor educated citizens near the capital, but ignores the needs of traditionally disadvantaged rural groups, including the Tuareg of the north-central Sahel region  They’ve often lacked the political power to get state support for affirmative action, the distribution of tax benefits or recruitment into the civil service and army.

    "The Tuareg felt the very definition of Malians as citizens ignored the factor of social inequality and second class citizenship status of the groups in the north," said Wahiu.

    In recent weeks, Tuareg rebels have widened their control over northern Mali. In the capital, the military overthrew the elected government and suspended the constitution.
    In recent weeks, Tuareg rebels have widened their control over northern Mali. In the capital, the military overthrew the elected government and suspended the constitution.

    "Now, this is something that is repeated all over Africa where groups claim that using language which is neutral --  that everyone is a citizen -- belies the fact that some groups have been disadvantaged for quite some time and that you need to recognize them specifically so they can claim special remedies.

    "They want measures," he said, "like affirmative action, positive discrimination, claims on national resources that come to them directly so that their position can be improved, their welfare can be improved, to be economically brought up to par with the rest of the community."

    Burundi and Rwanda: similar problem, different solution

    Group rights, at least among ethnic groups,  are also not emphasized in Rwanda, where divisions between Hutu and Tutsi led to civil war and genocide in 1994.  The country’s constitution does not recognize ethnic or linguistic differences. It instead calls for the eradication of ethnic divisions and the promotion of national unity.

    Rainer Grote is a senior research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg and an adjunct professor of law at the University of Gottingen, Germany.

    He said Rwanda’s approach to national unity and group rights is the the opposite of neighboring Burundi, where the constitution guarantees that state structures and organs include members of the main ethnic groups.

    "The first [approach followed by Rwanda]," he explains, "says ethnicity is a divisive issue that should be banned from national politics including constitutional politics, so no mention should made to it in the constitution at all.'

    "The other approach adopted in Burundi is that ignoring these kinds of dividing lines within the political community does not help and that it’s necessary to create confidence, an atmosphere of trust where you acknowledge these existing divisions. You reflect them within the supreme bodies of the state by reserving a quorum of seats for each major group of the population, by providing for a collective presidency in which all major groups shall be represented and so on."

    Backlash

    Sometimes, recognition of group rights can lead to a backlash. Wahiu said it may occur when the drive for greater rights involves widely dispersed ethnic groups with separatist elements.

    "These ethnic groups that straddle borders," he said, "have always been seen suspiciously by the mainstream groups within these countries as people who want to dismember the country -- and there is resistance toward territorial autonomy schemes.  [Some believe] by holding claims for example of the Somalis to govern themselves in those areas you are giving them an impetus to start demanding secession – to form their own greater Somalia."

    Wahiu says granting more local sovereignty can also create conflict with the national government.

    For example, he said the Masai in Kenya would rather use fees from tourist areas to strengthen their cultural way of life, rather than to comply with central governmental directives that may undermine it.  In Kenya, this includes mandatory universal access to primary education.

    "They put the money into land-buying schemes," he said, "so they can have more land to graze their cattle as they move up and down which means they are buying land from the neighboring communities.  Much of this land used to belong to them in the first place, it was just alienated in the 1960s and converted into settled agricultural land.  As people move from the rural countryside to the cities, the Masai are finding there’s an opportunity to buy these lands."

    Other countries, like Zambia and Ivory Coast do not recognize groups who moved there decades ago as migrant workers. There, citizenship is tied to landowners who can trace their claims to pre-colonial times. Botswana does not recognize the rights of indigenous Bushmen or their claims to lands.

    Wahiu said countries need to address such group tensions with national legal and political institutions. He said solutions to the problem are often not possible when a constitution says such claims can’t exist in part because all citizens are already nominally equal.

    That approach can be dangerous, he warned, and can lead to war or some other form of rupture in society that can set back a country’s overall economic development.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Ugandai
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    February 12, 2016 9:29 PM
    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video Refugees in Kenya Vie to Compete in Rio Olympics

    In Kenya, refugees from other African nations are training at a special camp and competing for a limited number of slots in this year's Rio Olympics under the flag of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Ngong, this is a first in Olympic history.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.