The identification matrix that exists in a lot of sub-Saharan Africa is fantastically complicated in addition to dangerously divisive. Along with creating alternatives for fluidity (McCauley, 2017), communication (Lewis & Larson, 2017), and interdependence (John, Mohammed, Pinto, & Nkanta, 2007), identification classes are additionally marred with years of violence and exogenous inference (Horowitz, 1985; Mamdani, 2001). An African could be black, a lady, Kenyan, Kikuyu, Christian, and a farmer. Every of those distinct identities come into play in moments of vital decision-making. Totally different identities assume that means in numerous socio-political contexts, and a person might foreground one identification at sure moments and others elsewhere (Elliot, 2018; McCauley, 2017). Every impacts a person’s life probabilities, and the socio-economic and political alternatives which can be obtainable to her. Every has its personal relative autonomy, but in some way nonetheless connects a person to particular rights and privileges from which others could also be excluded (Olurode, 2004).

The examine of battle in sub-Saharan Africa has usually centred round a slim conceptualization of identification. Specifically, students of political violence working within the area have lengthy referred to as consideration to the importance and utility of ethnic ties for rebel organizations (Horowitz, 1985) (McCauley, 2017; Weinstein, 2007). This has led to a bifurcation of African wars as both “ethnic” (such because the civil wars in Burundi, Ethiopia, and Chad), or “non-ethnic” (seen in Somalia, Nigeria and Mali) conflicts. This bifurcation leads Bowen (1996) to query the reductionist nature through which African conflicts are sometimes over-simplified and framed by way of an ethnic lens (Bowen, 1996). My analysis means that such tendencies threat obscuring our understanding of the complicated roles completely different identification classes can play in all conflicts. I’m notably within the function of ethnic identification in conflicts usually coded as “non-ethnic,” whereby the function of ethnic ties is usually missed.

Even amongst teams that don’t mobilize alongside ethnic strains, shared ethnic identification can play a strong function in facilitating communication, broadening networks, and making a shared sense of neighborhood and objective. This phenomenon has led Deng to argue that “just about each African battle has some ethno-regional dimension to it. Even these conflicts that will look like freed from ethnic considerations contain factions and alliances constructed round ethnic loyalties” (Deng, 1997). Certainly, even if a lot of right this moment’s conflicts aren’t pushed by ethnicity, neither is ethnicity even probably the most salient macro-cleavage, people concerned nonetheless have a number of overlapping social and political identities whose salience could be activated in another way underneath completely different circumstances (McCauley, 2017).

My need to unpack the connection between identification, ethnicity, and battle, stemmed from a rejection of earlier dualisms. Additional gasoline got here from current work carried out by Janet Lewis, who discovered that teams that kind in ethnically homogeneous areas have been extra possible to achieve turning into viable than teams that kind in additional heterogeneous areas (Lewis, 2017). This additionally appears true for numerous ‘non-ethnic’ extremist teams. Regardless of their projected spiritual ideology, Boko Haram, shaped in Borno State, Nigeria, is estimated to be made up of 70-80% Kanuri members (Pieri & Zenn, 2016).

Equally, the much less identified ISIS-affiliated group in Mozambique, identified regionally as Shabab (no identified connection to Al Shabab in Somalia), can also be mentioned to have initially mobilised extra shortly amongst explicit ethnic teams (specifically, the Mwami individuals in Northern Mozambique). What impact does ethnic homogeneity and mobilization have on how every group operates, and on its members’ interactions with the broader inhabitants? And even perhaps extra importantly, what impact does ethnic homogeneity and distinction have on civilian resistance efforts?

I argue that overlooking the function of ethnic ties, and the methods through which ethnicity maps onto different identification classes in seemingly “non-ethnic” conflicts can result in flawed inferences about armed group mobilization. Furthermore, the stigmatisation and scapegoating of complete ethnic teams, and heavy-handed responses in direction of them from battle adversaries, could be higher understood by way of a classy evaluation of how ethnicity and different identification ties are activated in numerous political contexts.

In Northern Nigeria, for instance, younger Kanuri males ‘suffered gross molestations and violations of their rights in all of the Chad Basin international locations the place Kanuri are a minority’ (Maryah, 2017). This stigmatisation could be so rampant that in my final go to to Maiduguri, a person who was not Kanuri, however had related face markings, instructed me how he all the time made positive he had ID that proved he was not Kanuri to keep away from mistreatment from authorities. The salience that completely different identification classes tackle in numerous areas, time-periods, and socio-political contexts have essential implications for a way we perceive armed group mobilization, and the repertoires, patterns, and disproportionate results of violence on sure populations. Overlooking these patterns can additional distance explicit teams from the state, doubtlessly fuelling recruitment, grievance, and perceptions of marginalization.

Whereas I name consideration to the significance of ethnic identification in conflicts in Mozambique and Nigeria respectively, I do not counsel that ethnicity is the driving issue behind both or any battle. Nonetheless, myriad conversations with senior students throughout the subject have prompted the query: ‘why are you ethnicity, this battle just isn’t ethnic?’ Highlighting the function of ethnicity (alongside different identification classes) in ‘non-ethnic conflicts’ is to not cut back all social and political dynamics to ethnic politics. Relatively, the objective is to raised perceive the complicated social and political relationships that undergird mobilization, group viability, and battle penalties, and to show the complicated methods through which social and political identities overlap. In scrutinizing each faith and ethnicity by way of the lens of social and political group and energy, my forthcoming analysis goals to situate our understanding of spiritual battle inside socio-historical context and advance our understanding of mobilization, resilience, and the group of violence.


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Deng, F. (1997, June 1). Ethnicity: An African Predicament. Retrieved from

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John, I. A., Mohammed, A. Z., Pinto, A. D., & Nkanta, C. A. (2007). Gun Violence in Nigeria: A Give attention to Ethno-Spiritual Battle in Kano. Journal of Public Well being Coverage quantity 28, 420–431.

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Mamdani, M. (2001). When victims grow to be killers . New Jersey: Princeton College Press.


McCauley, J. (2017). The Logic of Ethnic and Spiritual Battle in Africa. New York: Cambridge College Press.


Pieri, Z., & Zenn, J. (2016). The Boko Haram Paradox: Ethnicity, Faith, and Historic Reminiscence in Pursuit of a Caliphate. African Safety Quantity 9, Difficulty 1.

Posner, D. N. (2004). The Political Salience of Cultural Distinction: Why Chewas and Tumbukas Are Allies in Zambia and Adversaries in Malawi. The American Political Science Overview Vol. 98, No. 4, 529-545.

Weinstein, J. (2007). Inside Riot: The Politics of Rebel Violence. New York: Cambridge College Press.

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