n African Journal on Conflict Resolution - 'Echoing Silences' : ethnicity in post-colonial Zimbabwe, 1980-2007

Volume 7, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1562-6997


In spite of its rare entry into both official and public discourses about contemporary Zimbabwe, ethnicity, alongside race, has continued to shape and influence the economic, social, and political life of Zimbabwe since the achievement of independence in 1980. In this article we argue that whilst post-independence Zimbabwe has since the days of the Gukurahundi war (1982-1986) not experienced serious ethnic-based wars or political instability, there is serious ethnic polarisation in the country and ethnicity remains one of the challenges to the survival of both the state and the country. This ethnic polarisation is to be explained mainly in terms of the broader failure by the state to develop an effective response to the political economy of ethnicity inherited from the colonial past. As with most postcolonial African nationalist governments which have come to be haunted by ethnicity, such as Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and most recently Kenya and South Africa, the postcolonial government of Zimbabwe has largely remained reluctant to engage ethnicity as an issue in both politics and the economy, particularly with regard to addressing historical and contemporary factors that continued to make ethnicity an important issue in people's lives. The nationalist government's state-building project, especially its coercive mobilisation and nation-building projects of the early 1980s, paid little attention to the ethnic configuration of the inherited state, as well as the structures and institutions which enacted and reproduced ethnicity. Such neglected processes, structures and institutions included unequal development of the provinces and the marginalisation of particular ethnic groups in politics, economy and society.

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