Ethno-Nationalist Identity Construction, Mobilization and Conflict in the Great Lakes Region of Africa




Schaerrer, Alexandra

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This thesis examines how three comparable case studies, which each entail the ingredients for ethno-nationalist mobilization and conflict, diverged into different directions. Rwanda became the tragic case of the Great Lakes region, shocking the world with the brutality of its civil war and the genocide that followed, while Kenya has witnessed continued cycles of ethnic-cleansing and ethno-nationalist conflicts. Tanzania alone has managed to remain a relative bastion of stability in an unstable region. The purpose of this thesis has been geared towards theory building, as the key findings that pertain to ethno-nationalist identity construction, nation-state building and ethnic mobilization can logically be generalized to other comparable areas. Each of the cases in this study, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania, is the creation of artificial and arbitrary borders, the splitting of ethnic communities and indirect colonial administration. Through this process, each of the three cases inherited at independence a bifurcated state system, tribalized political identities, and ranked and/or differentiated groups as ‘backyards’ or ‘advanced’. Unlike Rwanda and Kenya, however, Tanzania is the only case where ethnic plurality did not transform into ethnic polarity, eschewing ethnic mobilization and the ethno-national conflict trap. In this thesis I have introduced macro-historical pathways that merged the strengths of different theoretical frameworks in order to tackle the question of why do we not see evidence of ethno-nationalist conflict in comparable cases? In particular, this study has sought to answer the question, of why do we observe different outcomes in regards to the outbreak of civil war and ethnic conflict in Tanzania, despite a worse economic performance to Rwanda and Kenya, increased ethnic fragmentation, the same Colonial history and bifurcated state system and strive for post-colonial independence? Through theoretical frameworks and empirical case studies, this thesis demonstrates that the most important prerequisite to ethno-nationalist mobilization is a). a process of ranking and differentiation, b). a move from objective so subjective ethnic consciousness, c). the ethnitization of the state structure, and finally d). the institutionalization of set structure as the framework for nation-state formation and political competition. In the Great-Lakes region, this process of tribalization, ranking/differentiation and state bifurcation must be viewed in terms of the colonial legacy of indirect rule and the colonial identity construction. Similarly, for Political Outbidding to resonate amongst constituencies, ethnic grievances and ethnic distinctions must exist and be perceived to be true. If this is not the case, elite mobilization along ethnic lines is not possible. Ethno-nationalist conflict is embedded within the struggle for political power and the allocation of state resources and the costs of the state. While not a foregone conclusion, these processes develop politically salient ethnic identities and the increased potential for ethno-nationalist violence. Finally, the decision by political leaders to institutionalize an ethnic bureaucracy and participate in political outbidding as part of the distributional conflict, can transform these potentially violent criteria into actual violence. As a final thought, some of the new security threats regarding the region are examined, specifically in the changed political, economic and social atmosphere of Tanzania. While still positive, this thesis concludes that with increased refugee flows, a move to democratization, evidence of outbidding, and changed political leadership, it is by no means unthinkable for Tanzania to engage in increased political outbidding and the emergence of ethnically based political identities.



Ethnonationalism, Civil war, Mobilization, Ethnic identity, Political outbidding, Africa - Great Lakes