Thursday, October 28, 2010

Identity Crisis: Does Ethnicity Kill Growth?

Over the course of my trip I’ve thought a lot about ethnicity, democracy, and their relation to poverty – from hearing an Indian friend in Pune tell me he sometimes wishes there was only one party so the newly elected would stop filling its pockets every time, to Mozambique, where a close friend was an organizer for the opposition party – but I’ve never really put together coherent thoughts. These barely qualify as such.

The primary issue behind the civil wars and postponed elections in Cote d’Ivoire is one of identity, and thus who is allowed to vote and stand in the elections (above, citizens are finally getting their voting card and IDs after years of using expired ones...more on that later). Immigrants have come into Cote d’Ivoire for years from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso to work on cocoa plantations and live mostly in the Muslim north. They primarily support opposition leader Alassane Ouattara (a former IMF director...a smart dude), a Muslim himself who has had his nationality questioned by President Gbagbo, preventing him from running in the past and serving as the root cause of the civil wars. Outtara has since proven his Ivoirian status and is now allowed to run in this election, to the chagrin of Pres. Gbagbo. The minorities have their man.

I snooped around the slums of Yopougon for several days with Cisse, my translator, looking at the issue and how it has affected the growth of the country and the lives of average citizen. Taking specifically the case of minorities and the surrounding discrimination, I met one individual named Bakayoko Moussa. A Muslim northerner from Boundiali, he moved to Abidjan in 1978. But, he explained, “In 2002, everything changed. People started to point us out as foreigners.” Despite being an Ivoirian, his ethnicity made him stick out, so much so that at highway police checkpoints he was accused of providing false papers.

But Bakayoko’s experience goes much deeper than that. After my interview questions were concluded, as usual I asked if he would like to ask me a few questions or add anything. He had apparently lowered his guard to me. He said, “I will add something important that’s on my mind. For this problem, the identity crisis, my younger brother was killed. He was 21. He was among the martyrs [who died because of being a foreigner or being perceived as a foreigner]…They took a knife and wrote his name on his body and then they took a hammer and broke his knees. This happened in the streets.” Bakayoko explained that with the police out searching for his brother, “he crawled and got under a car. He wasn’t dead overnight”, but after being rushed to the hospital by his family and receiving a transfusion of blood Bakayoko thinks may have been purposely tainted by the government hospital, he died shortly after.

I heard other stories like this of wrongful persecution, of neighbors turning on neighbors, like Djakaria Outtara, pictured with his son Peledene. Still patriotic about his country, he is now trying, for the second time, to get a green card to the U.S. The first time he failed it cost him the $140 application fee, which took nearly two years to save for. I met a surprisingly large amount of people trying to emigrate to the U.S. and Canada, more so than in other African countries I’ve been. It’s amazing to me what Ivoirians have been through and what they’re willing to do for any opportunity.

As I walked around, two questions kept coming into my mind. The first was: Does ethnic diversity harm growth? I did some reading, and without jumping to conclusions about causation, we can say that yes, the more ethnically diverse a country is, the lower the growth rates. Moving from complete ethnic homogeneity (think Korea and Hong Kong) to complete ethnic heterogeneity means a drop in annual growth of 2.3%. Fourteen of the 15 most ethnically diverse countries are in Africa (Cote d’Ivoire has 60 tribes), and eight classified high-income countries by the World Bank are among the most ethnically homogenous. Economists William Easterly and Levine found not only this, but that “greater ethnic diversity increases the likelihood of adopting poor policies and underproviding growth-enhancing public goods.” In other words, bad governance.

With that, my next question was: Can democracy improve on this standard of governance and promote growth in ethnically diverse countries? I’ll touch on that in an upcoming post.

1 comment:

  1. Wow man, really interesting questions posed...enjoying the reading.