With all the ethnic vitriol being spewed within the last few weeks-the latest being Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode’s bitter truth about the Igbo– I’ve wondered what exactly our ethnic diversity has brought us as a nation. The average Nigerian would describe our ethnic diversity as nothing but an anchor on Nigeria. And over the last decade, not-so-average Economists have researched the effect of ethnic diversity and come to similar conclusions. Montalvo and Reynal-Querol (2004) find that ethnic (religious) polarization has a large and negative effect on economic development through the reduction of investment, the increase of government consumption and the probability of a civil conflict. Mauro (1995) shows that a high level of ethnolinguistic diversity implies a lower level of investment. Easterly and Levine (1997) show that ethnic diversity has a direct negative effect on economic growth.
So, yes, the laymen and economists including me have concluded that the diversity of nations such as Nigeria tends to hamper economic growth; as ethnic fights over resources trump the development of a national agenda. But in my quest to develop a positive perspective on our national woes, I’ll give a few reasons why our ethnic diversity (much like our oil) should be a resource, not a curse in Nigeria.
First, differences in culture and upbringing create an eclectic mix of experiences that are valuable to any economy. Innovative ideas spawn more easily in an environment with diverse perspectives: perspectives that are more likely in an environment with different cultures. In contrast, homogenous environments might lack the necessary mix of cultures to arrive at radical and incisive insights. Adler (2002) notes that diversity in multicultural teams is associated with positive group outcomes such as increased levels of innovation, creativity and problem solving. Hennessey & Amabile (1998) suggest that diversity, when combined with an understanding of individual strengths and weaknesses, and working relationships that are founded upon sensitivity and trust, enhances creativity and problem solving capability.
Second, the heterogeneity of population ensures that product adoption/ market penetration are never binary circumstances (one or none). In contrast, binary circumstances are more likely in a homogenous market, where one’s product either succeeds or doesn’t. For example, a completely Igbo nation would most likely not have a market for amala. Such a market has a demand quota naturally placed on it. Moreover, with diversity, one can also take advantage of price discrimination, i.e. selling to different groups in accordance with their purchasing power.
On an interpersonal level, people with eclectic backgrounds are regarded as more charismatic, circumspective and empathic than those with monochrome upbringings; qualities that are essential to great leadership.
A catch to all these benefits is that they cannot be enjoyed if we continued on the path of ethnocentrism. Until we stopped being insular nations within one bigger nation, our ethnic differences will be a double-edged sword hacking away at our progress.
For those who don’t quite buy my argument of seeing the presence of other ethnic groups as a positive, I’ll give you something to ruminate on. Short of a genocide; Igbos, Yorubas, Hausa/Fulani and other ethnic groups will indefinitely exist in Nigeria. None of these ethnic groups are going anywhere. That’s something Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode and all you ethnic bigots will have to deal with…or get anurisms over. The sooner we all began to let go of our prejudices, the sooner we’ll start to cohesively tackle other pressing national issues.