Multiculturalism is not a homogeneous concept or practice. According to the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, it is based on the necessity to deal with diversity in ways that respect the various claims made by minority groups. For others, such as Adam Kuper, it can refer to a loose form of cultural pluralism. There is no unifying theory of multiculturalism as there is not only one practical approach to it!
In Africa, the concept is certainly not a topic of debate at the time. There are many reasons to it, but it is undoubtedly connected to the fact that African societies are intrinsically multiethnic and multicultural. Diversity is not a new thing in Africa! Indeed, African States were formed by colonialism usually to serve the interests of the colonists and, therefore, with little attention paid to the precolonial ethnic allegiances and other forms of belonging. These different histories play a critical role in the extent to which the concept of multiculturalism may be relevant in the African context.
First, in the process of nation-building following independences, the official discourse was much more about nation-building than actually taking into account each ethnic group. We know to what extent this has raised so many debates and tragic wars…But the question was raised: how to help so many diverse people, with so many subnational forms of belonging, to really become citizens of a country, and by extension, of Africa? Indeed, it is highly necessary to make African people feel that they are citizens without contradicting their cultural pluralism which makes a nation’s (and our continent !) true wealth.
This is the reason why dealing with minorities has become a major preoccupation of the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations (CHR) : it is a “special issue”. Indeed, we need to deal firmly with it as discrimination faced by minorities remains a big threat to Africa. Too often, minorities are marginalized or excluded. We cannot accept that situation: this is the battle horse of the Commission. And it should be the battle horse for all of us. Indeed, we need to embrace diversity through the promotion and implementation of international human rights standards on the continent.
Thus African people need to be educated to multiculturalism, in a positive way, because it has a profound influence on what our future is going to look like…and Africa is so multicultural that we need to make it a force instead of a weakness! On the condition that the notion is correctly taught (which means to actually promote diversity and contradictory perspectives), we will build tolerance for tomorrow. And tolerance means stability for Africa. But let me remind one thing: multiculturalism has absolutely nothing to do with assimilation as assimilation implies the eradication of difference in favour of the dominant culture. It is precisely this kind of cultural chauvinism that multiculturalism seeks to oppose. Therefore, people must be linked together in respect and appreciation for others in the country they belong to. This is how Africa will advance in the future : considering human perspectives rather than political ones.