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Fractured brotherhoods: ethnic identity in multi-ethnic violent political organisations

Micheni, Makena Nyawira (2023) Fractured brotherhoods: ethnic identity in multi-ethnic violent political organisations. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004521


In the literature on political violence in sub-Saharan Africa, ethnic ties have been highlighted as significant and central to insurgent organizations. However, a fixation with ethnicity or 'tribalism' historically led to conflicts being labelled as ethnic in nature, or ethnicity being seen as the driving catalyst of wars in the region. This approach resulted in a false dichotomy in classifying conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa as either "ethnic" or "non-ethnic," limiting our understanding of the role, nuance, and effects of ethnicity in conflicts that are coded as non-ethnic. To address this issue, this project focuses on a "hard" case - the case of Boko Haram - to explore the role of ethnicity in conflicts not typically classified as ethnic. The dissertation examines when, why, and how ethnicity emerges as a mechanism of organization and control within armed groups, surpassing the overarching supra-identity, despite attempts and claims of cross-ethnic reach and appeal. The study finds that, despite professing an ideology that transcends ethnic identity, ethnicity can play a crucial role in a number of key areas, including supplementing religious identity, ideology, or doctrine. Moreover, while Boko Haram was able to create a new shared identity centred around their supra-ethnic Salafi jihadism, for some, the significance of ethnic identity and ties did not disappear, despite the group's transethnic ethos and ideology. In some circumstances, ethnicity became so salient that it influenced group dynamics despite the professed religious basis of the group. The study argues that when group leaders are appointed to leadership positions for reasons that are not contingent on their complete socialization into the group, they are more likely to foster an environment where ethnic factions, identities, and privileges thrive. Given the power they possess, leaders can permit and even propagate potential divisions, siding with co-ethnics when disputes occur instead of maintaining more neutral positions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2023 Makena Nyawira Micheni
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Lake, Milli and Lankina, Tomila V.

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