Sub-national identities are politically relevant in many Asian and African countries, irrespective to their political system. The vote tends to be guided by clanic, ethnic, religious or regional identities, and political parties are organized along primordial loyalties. Identity politics is invoked to justify ingrained power relations or, for those groups who are discriminated against and excluded from economic and political power, to further their interests. Unequal power relations and state-sponsored discrimination result in many instances in ethnic and religious strife, which is endemic today in some countries, including those that have recently undergone, or are undergoing, a transition to democracy or to a more substantial democracy. In fact, several empirical studies stress that democratic political competition in ethnically diverse countries often leads to instability and violence. In post-Taliban Afghanistan ethnic identity has remained a contentious issue dividing the population and feeding into the anti-government insurgency, and the post-conflict reconstruction has fallen prey to pre-existing tribal and ethnic dynamics. In Kenya, where presidential elections were held in March 2013, two politicians considered by the international community responsible for the worse ethnic violence in the country’s history won the elections. In Georgia, after the Rose Revolution in 2003, religious minorities have felt more secure, and legal reforms in 2011 have further protected them, but religion remains politically contentious, and manipulation of the religious sentiments for political purposes has not totally abated. In Palestine, clanic identity affects the discourse of governance, public administration and economic development and, above all, state-building, fuelling internal political divisions. In Libya, tribal institutions are playing an important role in providing order in the post-Qaddafi’s political vacuum and could be absorbed into a democratic framework. In Afghanistan and Pakistan tribal and ethnic identity has merged in Pashtun areas with radical movements and undergone a process of Islamization.
Read the ISPI Studies Democratic Transition and Sub-National Challenges