Home News The Identification Matrix and Modern Battle in Sub-Saharan Africa

The Identification Matrix and Modern Battle in Sub-Saharan Africa


The id matrix that exists in a lot of sub-Saharan Africa is superbly advanced in addition to dangerously divisive. Along with creating alternatives for fluidity (McCauley, 2017), communication (Lewis & Larson, 2017), and interdependence (John, Mohammed, Pinto, & Nkanta, 2007), id classes are additionally marred with years of violence and exogenous inference (Horowitz, 1985; Mamdani, 2001). An African might be black, a girl, Kenyan, Kikuyu, Christian, and a farmer. Every of those distinct identities come into play in moments of essential decision-making. Totally different identities assume which means in numerous socio-political contexts, and a person might foreground one id at sure moments and others elsewhere (Elliot, 2018; McCauley, 2017). Every impacts a person’s life possibilities, and the socio-economic and political alternatives which can be accessible to her. Every has its personal relative autonomy, but by some means 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 id. 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 during which African conflicts are sometimes over-simplified and framed via an ethnic lens (Bowen, 1996). My analysis means that such tendencies danger obscuring our understanding of the advanced roles totally different id classes can play in all conflicts. I’m significantly within the position of ethnic id in conflicts usually coded as “non-ethnic,” whereby the position of ethnic ties is commonly missed.

Even amongst teams that don’t mobilize alongside ethnic traces, shared ethnic id can play a robust position 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 seem like freed from ethnic issues contain factions and alliances constructed round ethnic loyalties” (Deng, 1997). Certainly, although lots of in the present day’s conflicts aren’t pushed by ethnicity, neither is ethnicity even essentially the most salient macro-cleavage, people concerned however have a number of overlapping social and political identities whose salience might be activated otherwise below totally different circumstances (McCauley, 2017).

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

Equally, the much less recognized ISIS-affiliated group in Mozambique, recognized domestically as Shabab (no recognized connection to Al Shabab in Somalia), can be stated to have initially mobilised extra rapidly amongst explicit ethnic teams (specifically, the Mwami folks 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 position of ethnic ties, and the methods during which ethnicity maps onto different id 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, might be higher understood via a complicated evaluation of how ethnicity and different id 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 nations the place Kanuri are a minority’ (Maryah, 2017). This stigmatisation might be so rampant that in my final go to to Maiduguri, a person who was not Kanuri, however had comparable face markings, advised 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 totally different id 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 id 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 inside the discipline have prompted the query: ‘why are you taking a look at ethnicity, this battle is just not ethnic?’ Highlighting the position of ethnicity (alongside different id classes) in ‘non-ethnic conflicts’ is to not cut back all social and political dynamics to ethnic politics. Quite, the objective is to raised perceive the advanced social and political relationships that undergird mobilization, group viability, and battle penalties, and to reveal the advanced methods during which social and political identities overlap. In scrutinizing each faith and ethnicity via 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 Brooking.edu: https://www.brookings.edu/articles/ethnicity-an-african-predicament/

Elliot, G. (2018). Ethnicity, Nationwide Identification and the State: Proof from Sub-Saharan Africa. B.J.Pol.S. 50, 757–779.

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Maryah, Z. U. (2017, November 28). ETHNICITY AND RADICALISATION: UNDERSTANDING THE KANURI FACTOR IN BOKO HARAM INSURGENCY. Retrieved from Medium: https://medium.com/@Lopmaidx/ethnicity-and-radicalisation-understanding-the-kanuri-factor-in-boko-haram-insurgency-2b5a0d2b6afe

McCauley, J. (2017). The Logic of Ethnic and Non secular 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, Subject 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 Evaluation Vol. 98, No. 4, 529-545.

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

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