A new survey says over half of the top 20 countries in the world where people are most under threat of genocide or mass killing are in Africa. Minority Rights Group International issued those findings as it launched the first ever online database of the world’s minorities and indigenous peoples.
Mark Lattimer, executive director of group, spoke from London, to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the survey’s findings.
“The most dangerous states in Africa, countries such as Somalia or Sudan, have grave problems that we’ve all read about and listened to on the media. But I think that what few people understand is just how those conflicts have been spreading over the last few months and how dangerous that trend is. What we’re seeing is that the ethnic dynamics of conflict, whether it’s in Darfur or Sudan or the inter-clan and inter-ethnic violence in Somalia, are spreading across borders. And whole new communities are being affected and now are under threat, for example, communities throughout Eastern Chad or in the Central African Republic and indeed now in the Ogaden in Ethiopia,” he says.
As for the violence that broke out in Kenya following last December’s disputed presidential election, Lattimer says, “The problem in Kenya is slightly different. We’ve had a contested election, but it’s not widely understood the extent to which the violence in Kenya has actually been about long standing tensions or conflicts over land ownership and land use that have now, because of the insecurity in the country, come to a head. And many groups, armed groups, see it as an opportunity to try and settle old scores and or to grab land while they have the opportunity.”
Lattimer says that the phenomenon is increasing. “If one looks at the spread of conflict across the world, particularly in Africa, it’s very clear now that in perhaps three quarters of the world’s conflicts most of the killing is targeted at particular ethnic or religious groups. That’s not to say that ethnic differences start conflicts, but I think once a conflict becomes ethnicized, once politicians start to use ethnicity as a mobilizing factor the conflicts become very much harder to resolve. And there is also the danger of them spreading to similar kin communities across borders. And that’s what we are now seeing on an increasing scale in Africa and also around the world,” he says.
Why, in this day and age, are attacks on religious and ethnic minorities still able to take place? Lattimer says, “I think it is partly because the government’s concerned, but also the international community, simply don’t have the knowledge or the tools to know how to deal with some of these situations. Many countries don’t have diversity management as one of their skills. And the international interventions that have taken place have often frankly made the situation worse rather than better. There is a tendency for the international actors, and this of course was the case in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, to apportion everything by ethnicity, to effectively divide up power by ethnicity. And the danger with that as we saw in Bosnia is that you end up with governments which are split ethnically and where fault lines and tensions between communities are entrenched. So, I think it’s very important not just for governments, but also for the international western actors or the international community, to start to realize that ethnic factors in conflict need to be thought through very carefully. We need to have solutions, which help to integrate communities, as well as to punish those who use hate speech.”