Playing Ethnicity in Development Chessboard

In some country, ethnicity has become important feature in nation building. Whether it can be positive or negative element depending on many aspect such as social, culture, religion and tradition. Post independence however proved to be more difficult for countries which their borders and boundaries were divided by colonial power. In this case, Tarek Osman argues that the ignorance of the complexity of ethnicity origin and religious historical conflict has brought some dreadful consequences. In this case, Osman suggests that Sykes-Picot hand made national borders using pen and ruler is simply one of reason prolonging Middle East political and civil unrest.


In modern world, defining ethnicity can be simple as tick boxes in registration form and ethnic category in some country passport or identification card. So, What’s definition of ethnicity? Who have right to define it? Max Weber tends to focus on the subjective nature of ethnicity rather than objective shared descent. This can described as similarities of physical types or customs or both, or because of memories of colonisation and migration. Many modernisation theorists neglected ethnicity in their development theories, as argued by Hettne, with assumption it will fade away along development process. This however creates what we call as ethnic fragmentation. Easterly and Levine argue that ethnic fragmentation helps explain factor behind poor education, political instability and insufficient infrastructure.

During independence struggle, anti-colonialist struggles tend to disassociate with ethnic identities and placed nation’s interest above all would gained them full support against colonial suppression. Take look at India for instant. However we can’t afford to reject that ethnicity played vital role in some countries in their way to independence. In Southeast Asia, when British Colonial trying to introduce Malayan Union in the then Malaya, it main ethnic Malays formed a movement to oppose the proposal which later inspired independence aspirations, due to their understanding that Malayan Union will jeopardize their right as origin people and reduce  Malay monarch’s power. While it neighbour Indonesia, main ethnic Java played vital role towards independence through coercive struggle from the Dutch and the Japanese. Java island was the launch pad for their armed struggle, guided by inspirational military general such as Sudirman.

Rwanda and Yugoslavia have been exemplary of how far ethnicity hate and grunge provide fatal blow to nation’s state building. Single ethnic dominance in government has caused suppressed dissatisfaction and a small incident or conflict easily sparked inter ethnic tense confrontations. If ethnicity represents chess piece in ‘development chessboard’, every move made by the player must be made carefully, any mistake would definitely end the game on the losing side.


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