What is ethnic diversity according to experts

Where the ethnic diversity is greatest

The fewer different ethnic groups live together in a country, the greater the chance that it will be governed democratically. This is the conclusion of a study. It also shows how the mixing came about.

In a study from 2002, researchers at Harvard University investigated the question of which countries in the world have the most ethnic groups - and what is associated with great diversity. To do this, they first had to compare a wealth of existing data. How people perceive their own ethnicity and that of others is difficult to measure because this perception is subjective. The researchers therefore decided to take into account the individually perceived ethnicity. The decisive factor was to which ethnic group people around the world assigned themselves - and not to which ethnic group they were located by outsiders.

The Washington Post condensed the most important findings: The researchers counted a total of 650 ethnic groups in 190 countries. To measure the degree of ethnic diversity in a country, the researchers worked with quotas: What is the probability that two randomly chosen residents of a country will give a different answer when asked about their ethnicity? The higher the chance, the more heterogeneous the country is. The findings can be compared by region. These are the most important results:

African countries have the highest ethnic diversity.

Ethnicity varies most in sub-Saharan Africa. Uganda is by far the most ethnic-rich country in the world. In second place is Liberia. The first 20 places on the scale of ethnic diversity are all occupied by African countries. The reasons for this can be found, among other things, in the continent's colonial past. The Europeans emphasized the ethnic differences in Africa in order to secure their own power. A well-known example of this was the rifts between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, which culminated in a genocide in 1994. The European powers also divided Africa into territories without taking into account local conditions such as tribes and ethnic groups. When they finally left the continent, the arbitrary borders remained. This pushed different ethnic groups into the same nations.

European countries are ethnically homogeneous.

The idea of ​​the nation state, national identity linked to ethnicity and nationalism all have their origins in Europe. The European borders shifted extensively and regularly over the centuries. The fact that most of the major ethnic groups have their own country is the painful result of several wars in the recent past (world wars, Balkan wars). In most of Europe, ethnicity and nationality are almost the same - but there are still exceptions such as the Walloons and Flemings in Belgium.

The two Americas are often heterogeneous.

The countries of the new world are in a middle position in this regard; they are ethnically heterogeneous. The reasons for this are immigration and, in some countries, the mix of indigenous people and immigrants. The exceptions are south of the continent: the Argentines and Chileans mostly originally come from the same countries in Western Europe. One interesting finding concerns the north: Canada is more ethnically diverse than the United States and Mexico.

There is a great diversity in the Middle East.

From Morocco to Iran there is diversity; the Middle East is anything but uniform. Only in North Africa there are large Berber minorities and diverse ethnic groups from Sub-Saharan Africa - especially in Libya. Jordan and Syria are also heterogeneous. In turn, large Kurdish, Arab and Azeri populations live in Iran. This country is one of the most ethnically diverse in the entire region.

Diversity can be related to conflict.

And what is the connection with great ethnic diversity? According to the study, it correlates strongly with the geographical latitude and a low per capita GDP. Therefore, according to the scientists, it is difficult to disentangle the effects of these three variables. The researchers nonetheless formulated potential political implications of ethnic diversity:

According to this, a strong democracy correlates with homogeneity. In certain cases, diversity can weaken democracy. In fragmented societies, for example, one ethnic group often restricts political freedoms in order to have control over other groups. In more homogeneous societies, on the other hand, it is easier to govern more democratically because ethnic conflicts are weaker.

Ethnic diversity has political consequences.

In general, it does not matter whether ethnic differences are defined through physical attributes (skin color, facial features) or through social conventions (language, cultural norms) or through social conception (self-identification, identification by others).

Independently of this, the core message can be stated: If people identify themselves permanently with a specific group, then they form potential communities of interest that can be manipulated by the political leadership. In these cases, politicians often choose to mobilize certain ethnic groups (“we”) while excluding others (“they”). They can also use their hatred of a minority to pursue their own political goals.

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