Ethnic and cultural diversity is an ideal discussed among many experts, economists, and analysts because of its potential to aid the stability and socio-economic development of nations. In the common public perception, ethnic and cultural diversity means the various ethnic and cultural backgrounds of people living within the same territory and their experiences that define the history and evolution of ethnic groups within that territory. To economists and financial analysts, it could mean how the inclusion of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds could help develop new ideas and establish new business relationships to foster the growth of their respective nations. However, regardless of the different characterizations of the term, what remains obscured is how members of diverse ethnic and cultural communities manage to peacefully interact in day-to-day exchanges. Co-existence, or more specifically, “peaceful co-existence,” is a term that is no less important than diversity. It is not enough to have representatives of different ethnicity or cultures in one room; what matters is how they handle their differences to establish a peaceful co-existence.
Despite the growing global recognition that ethnic and cultural diversity plays an indispensable role in the interconnected world, the concept is still underdeveloped in many countries. Rapidly developing economies find themselves in a particularly vulnerable position. Ethiopia is emerging as one of East Africa’s fastest growing economies and the country has the potential for even greater economic growth through stability and true inclusion. However, like many other emerging economies, it faces resistance from the powerful institutions that have historically held much of the social and cultural power needed to make changes, according to Girma Z. in an article published in The Ethiopian Herald in 2017.
India alternatively is country ripe with ethnic diversity and its diversity has served as a model of peaceful co-existence for the last 60 years. According to India’s Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee, a civilization as multicultural and complex as India would have never survived without granting its nations and groups equal cultural and religious opportunities (Mukherjee, P., 2006). The result of cultural connections and interactions provides a vast space for the exchange of goods and services, communication and learning, and other activities needed for to enter into a higher level of development for a country’s economy. As shown in India, what anchors the term of ethnic and cultural diversity is the power of institutions coupled with the critical role of the government placing these ideals into place within the communal mindset of its people to promote peaceful co-existence along ethnic, religious and cultural lines.
Ethiopia should utilize India’s methods of institutional governance and peaceful co-existence between ethnicities. Applying India’s mindset towards ethnic and cultural diversity to fit Ethiopia’s unique political, social, economic, and cultural approaches could help provide the impetus the country needs to promote the country to the next level. Shared governance activities have been proven to be particularly effective in bringing diverse ethnicities together to work toward common goals. Inclusive governance is the key that Ethiopia currently needs to set and implement a new peaceful agenda – something that is usually attained once a country reaches the highest echelon of social and economic development. A truly inclusive governance has the potential to replace the legacy of mistrust and suspicion among different ethnic groups in countries with less-than-positive histories.
The institutions and agents in place within these countries with checkered histories are in a position to unify polycentric ideologies empowering diverse ethnic groups to voice and address their concerns while taking into account the needs and concerns of everyone. By being polycentric, Ethiopian institutions can develop a new multicultural mindset which as history shows, trickle down into the public forum creating a more unified and stronger Ethiopia. The issue that remains is implementation because by adopting a unified philosophy, there will be actors from different ethnicities, cultural traditions and interests interlocked for their own personal gains and reasons.
The solution is to implement inclusiveness in a manner requiring all representatives of the country’s governance (both federal and regional states) to operate according to the same principles and to espouse identical values. Ethiopia’s civil servants come from a diversity of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. By mobilizing their resources to promote peaceful co-existence, they can influence the decisions and behaviors of their incumbents toward cultural awareness, cultural competence, tolerance, and recognition of ethnic and cultural diversity as the powerful driver behind economic growth.
Education is likely to become a priority area for Ethiopia, as the country begins to facilitate the path of peaceful co-existence and this is where India’s governance lessons play valuable roles. In the process of developing into its own global power, India implemented an education policy aimed to promote inclusiveness, equality of culture and religion, and cultural competence. Implementation of the education policy challenges countries as it did with India at the grassroots level, but was successfully done. This level of success that India attained in respect to their development shows other developing countries such as Ethiopia that peaceful co-existence can become a reality through grassroots movements. It is not enough to have a formal policy; the citizens of a country need to play roles to implement these ideas because the effects these changes affect the behaviors and decisions of Ethiopian citizens.
Peaceful co-existence requires strong institutions, comprehensive policies, and a national effort. It does not happen overnight. Peaceful co-existence requires strong institutions and comprehensive policies to govern the complex relationships among diverse ethnic groups.
Proof of India’s inclusive policies and economic growth show that peaceful co-existence is possible and can help nations grow. India’s own successes and achievements can provide a framework for building a polycentric society in Ethiopia as a foundation for continuous economic growth. However, without changes in mindsets, good governance and the cooperation of the institutions in place to help push the agenda into reality, peaceful co-existence and the resultant economic prosperity will not be realized.
Ed.’s Note: Samuel Alemu is a partner at the ILBSG, LLP. His partner at the ILBSG, LLP, Praveen C. Medikundam, contributed to this article. They are both admitted to the bar associations of New York State, United States Tax Court, and the United States Court of International Trade. Samuel can be reached at [email protected].
Contributed by Samuel Alemu