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African States are the most dangerous in the world for minorities, but South Africa comes top in a global list of best ethnic political representation – new report

20 March 2007

Half of the top twenty most dangerous countries in the world for minorities are in Africa, but South Africa has the most ethnically representative parliament in the world, Minority Rights Group says in two separate surveys in a new report.

Somalia leads a list of countries where minorities are most under threat and African states including Sudan, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi dominate the top 20 list of ‘Peoples under threat’, which is a key feature of MRG’s annual State of the World’s Minorities report. The report will be launched at a press conference at the UN in New York on Tuesday, 20th March at 10:30 a.m.

The report has a separate ranking of minority representation in legislatures which is also led by Africa. South Africa leads the list, closely followed by Namibia and Tanzania.

“Africa as a continent stands out for its contradictions. Three African countries beat established western democracies to boast of the best minority political representation in the world,” says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Director.

South Africa’s post-apartheid policies to ensure representation of minorities have made the country’s parliament among the most ethnically representative of any democratic legislature in the world.

In South Africa, white, coloured and Indian minorities are strongly represented in parliament compared to their population figures but the country has also been successful in politically integrating other communities including Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Tswana and Venda, along with Zulu and KwaZulu, all of whom have political representation.

Similarly in the current Namibian Assembly 10 distinct ethnic groups are represented and the country’s 60 percent Ovambo majority only have 50 percent of seats. Tanzania’s high ranking is a result of the strong representation of people from the island of Zanzibar in their National Assembly.

“But in glaring contrast with this good practice are ten African States included in the top twenty countries where minorities are most under threat,” Lattimer adds.

Conflict, clan violence and threats of state repression are amongst a variety of reasons that these ten African states are seen as dangerous for minorities.

‘A new government in Somalia has raised hopes for democracy, but it is also a uniquely dangerous time. There is the spectre of a return of large-scale clan violence – and groups that supported the old order are now under tremendous threat,” Lattimer says.

Sudan is third in the list – a consequence of the continuing appalling levels of violence in Darfur, targeted at farmers such as Zaghawa, Masalit and Fur tribes, by government forces and Arab militia (Janjaweed), and the continuing failure of the international community to find ways of stopping the violence.

Notes to editors

  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • The report will be launched at a press conference at the UN in New York on Tuesday, 20th March at 10:30 a.m.
  • Details of minority groups in each of these countries can be found in the ‘Peoples under threat’ rankings attached with this release.
  • Interview opportunities are available with: Ishbel Matheson, MRG spokesperson in New York; Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Director, in Geneva. Specialist interviews with MRG experts on particular regions or countries can also be arranged.

For more information or arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].