Manipulating clan or ethnic political identity for power
It is power relations and the various manifestations of the system of oppression that matter. It is not ‘difference’ that is the problem, it is dominance justified by appeals to constructed differences that is the problem.
Sunday, August 04, 2013
The narrative about the political conflict in Somalia has been characterized as “clan power struggle” by the official media for years and the collusion between local politicians and external forces to gain power has been down-played. Local political opportunists in Somalia continue to use “clan identity” to garner support for selfish personal interests, while the Somali government fights against brutal sectarian conflict. Just as in colonial days, the manipulation of “clan or ethnic” identity by external forces and the subservient role of local politicians to gain power continue. Currently, the Somali State is being rehabilitated from the grasp of clan-nationalists who are ferociously fighting for the creation of clan territories under the guise of “states”. In this effort, the clan-oriented politicians continue to entrench clan identities while undermining the emergence of national government in Somalia and closely working with neighbouring countries of Kenya and Ethiopia in this effort. Can Somalia overcome clan-nationalism?
This paper argues that the answer to clan or ethnic violence phenomenon lies in the colonial institutional legacy that created these “clan or ethnic” political identities but also inflamed by the present neo-liberal economic agenda which seeks to expand its influence and capacity to maximize wealth. That is, colonial powers have socially constructed political identities by assigning certain groups “clan or ethnic” identity as a tool for dominance and in this effort institutionalized them. Lerner explains that in the process of constructing identity, “in the case of clan or ethnicity, cultural, linguistic and historical different experiences are used as the basis of assigned differences.” In the case of Somalia and Rwanda such differences do not exist as people in both countries share common language, culture and history. However, these constructed identities are further used as a class by the colonial powers through a sustained effort to entrench these “clan or ethnic” distinctions by offering access to economic and educational resources to one “clan or ethnic” group while denying these goods to others. Moreover, these established political identities do not in themselves cause mass violence. Modern mass violence as experienced by the people of Rwanda and Somalia emerge when local politicians with external military and financial support create fear and insecurity by exploiting the “clan or ethnic” identity. In this context, the “clan or ethnic” identity is capitalized as a tool to galvanize massive support for political power-grab in a scheme that brings together internal and external forces to realize mutual interests.
Somalia has experienced extreme “clan” violence following the end of the Cold War in 1990, destroying all state institutions, rendering Somalia a “failed state” (Lennox, 2008). Similarly, Rwanda has experienced massive clan or ethnic violence in 1994 which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of its people in a political struggle between the two main contending “tribes, the Hutu and the Tutsi” (Prunier, 2001). These power struggles do not generally involve political ideology or competition of ideas but rather involve in the killing and the defeat of the opposing group. We have witnessed both in Somalia and Rwanda mass violence committed, not by armies only, but by civilians as well. The motivation behind this violence has been traditionally explained in terms of economic insecurity in relation to resource control (Conteh-Morgan, 2003). Conteh-Morgan (2003) explains that most of the “25 million war-related deaths in developing nations in the last half century could be attributed to violent conflicts underlined by significant overtones of identity or ethnonationalism”. He maintains that the sources of the conflict are “political and socioeconomic that manifest themselves along ethnic identity lines”.
Similarly, Staub (2001) argues that political, economic and social crisis create psychological difficulties for individuals which often lead to “groups turning against others”. In this context, feelings of losing control over personal needs and security make people afraid and create competition for scarce resources and lead to disconnect with others. In this difficult time, people tend to “turn to some group for identity and connection” as they seek to address their conditions. Both Staub and Conteh-Morgan fail to account for the historical connection between political identity and colonial legacy with respect to the institutionalization of discrimination.
These analyses assume a contention between social classes in which violence is geared towards those who are presumably in power who have control over the market and the economy. This view fails to account for the historical formation of the state which creates and informs clan or ethnic political identities. In contrast, Tripp, et al (2001) examined the colonial influence on the political organization and institutions of Africa today and contend that the colonial powers instituted “an ethnic template on the territory”, imposing tribal leadership with administrative boundaries necessitated by the desire of efficient colonial occupation. As a result, the emergent local ruling class as an “intermediary delegated authority” have gained vested interest in accepting this new institutionalized clan or ethnic/tribal administrative boundaries and continue to reproduce it. These boundaries are not only physical but also psychological as this representation is not only a status but also entitlement for the entire clan or ethnic/tribal group. According to Tripp, for example, Zanzibar was under British rule during colonial period (1890-1963) and has instituted a system that favoured the minority Arab Omanis, turning them into “clients of the colonizer” to consolidate its colonial hegemony and in addition poisoning the social relations of future generations. Many states in the developing countries still continue today to uphold these institutionalized discrimination and nepotism and it is a major cause of identity based violence in Africa as evidenced by the recent communal violence in Kenya.
First, this paper intends to uncover how the colonial powers constructed systems of dominance and the role these inherited colonial institutions play in clan or ethnic violence as these institutions produce political identities that play critical role in the complex social relations in Africa, particularly when these identities are politicized. Second, I’ll explain the role the neo-colonial external forces play in the clan or ethnic and tribal mass violence to perpetuate their economic and political dominance as an extension of the colonial institutions. In this view, I will focus on the historical processes of Somalia and Rwanda that gave rise to their social and state institutions, the role of state repression to perpetuate these institutions as well as the influence of the post-cold war neo-colonial forces to stir societies to demand democratic institutions. In doing so, theories on conflict as instruments of analysis will be applied holistically as the scope of this study is broad as it connects the social, political and economic spheres at the national and international levels. Finally, this paper calls for more study on the relationship between the international globalization agenda which uses neo-liberal economic policies as its tools and the increasing internal wars in the developing countries.
Impact of Colonial Rule in Rwanda
At an ominous meeting that took place at the Berlin mansion of Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck in 1884, the foreign ministers of 14 European countries and the United States of America decided the fate of the African people (Blij and Muller, 2003). The European colonialists “laid claim” to all Africa and partitioned Africa among themselves, unilaterally drawing up the political geography of Africa. Like the rest of the African countries, Rwanda was one of the countries given to a European colonial power, namely Germany. Ignorant of the advanced social order of the Kingdom of Rwanda, Germany named Gustav Adolf von Gotzen as the Governor of East Africa (Malvern, 2000). Visiting Rwanda on May 4, 1894, Gotzen found out that Rwanda was ruled by a King and there was a developed administrative structure which included a well functioning taxation system. The Germans opted to work through the existing power structure in Rwanda and supported the expansion of the Kingdom throughout Rwanda, believing that such a policy would lead to Rwandan loyalty to Germany.
After the First World War Belgium was awarded to become the new custodian of Rwanda to undertake the League of Nations mandate to offer “tutelage” to the Africans who were regarded as lacking “the capacity to build stable states and a durable law and order.” According to Malvern, “Belgian rule was harsh and … forced labour was applied to the Hutu masses, particularly for road building, routine beatings and corporal punishment were administered on behalf of the colonial master.” Moreover, Malvern writes that “in 1933 the Belgian administration organized a census and teams of Belgian bureaucrats classified the whole population as Hutu, Tutsi or Twa… Every Rwandan was classified and given an identity card.” The Rwandan people spoke the same language and had functioning social relations before they were divided into tribes by the Belgian colonizers. Malvern further explains that a group of four UN ambassadors visiting Rwanda in July 1948 were surprised at the “social and political control in the country … the ambassadors pointed out that the Rwandan customary system in place contained all the elements necessary for democratic development.” This system had a mechanism in place for every individual to have his or her concerns heard. Local concerns were heard by the local leaders regularly.
The Belgian colonizers favoured the “Tutsi” classified group, giving them greater access to education and administrative training. Malvern uncovered that the Tutsi classified group mainly produced “agronomists, doctors and vets, and between 1945 and 1954 out of 447 students only sixteen were Hutu classified …with education and training, the divisions in society became more pronounced.” This division and favouritism was instrumental in cementing the bitterness towards the Tutsi classified group.
Lerner argues that “discriminatory systems of dominance are constructed” to set one group against another so those in power can maintain their privileged position. In this view, Lerner redefines clan or ethnicity from a feminist perspective as follows:
Clan (sic) or ethnicity and class are processes through which hierarchical relations are created and maintained in such a way as to give some men power and privilege over other men and over women by their control of material resources, sexual and reproductive services, education and knowledge. Such control over others is maintained by a complex weave of social relations among dependent groups, which offers each group some advantages over other groups, sufficient to keep each group within the dominance system subordinate to the elite.
From this perspective, the power relations as instituted by the colonizers where the Hutu was defined as subordinate to the Tutsi is key to understand the violence that gripped Rwanda for so many decades. The Belgian colonizers created and maintained the Tutsi favoured status to further its colonial interests as this was a design followed by every European colonizer in Africa. This concept is known as divide and rule. It sets one group against another in a design to create division among colonized societies to guarantee colonial domination. However, this domination policy has continued over the decades and it is being applied as a political instrument in the current international order. For instance, in the recent Iraqi war terms such as Sunni and Shi’a were successfully reintroduced, the British Empire’s colonial clan or ethnic manipulation to create tension among the Iraqi people, leading to political polarization and violence.
Comparing the U.S. Iraq policy with the British Empire, Chua writes: “When the British Empire’s turn to deal with nation building, the British engaged in divide-and-conquer policies, not only protecting but favouring clan or ethnic minorities, and simultaneously aggravating clan or ethnic resentment.” The United States, Chua explains, decided to favour “an ethnic” majority. Chua suggests that these actions have created resentments among the colonized peoples, which caused mass violence after the colonialists have left. This is how Chua puts it: “As a result when the British decamped, the time-bombs often exploded, from Africa to India to Southeast Asia.”
The Somali experience
The Somali state has collapsed in 1990 after twenty years of oppressive dictatorship that started in October 1969 after a brief democratic system exercise. After the downfall of the military regime in 1990, the opposition forces were disturbingly unprepared for the maintenance of law and order and have completely failed to restore state institutions. In the mayhem that followed, each faction in the opposition forces unilaterally claimed victory over the regime, causing the country to descend into a civil war. Lewis contends that this catastrophe was brought about by what he calls “of out-of-date kinship loyalties, unfitting for the modern age and hostile to progress.” In this view, he asserts that the Somali genealogical kinship traditional system in which Somalis have managed their social relations for centuries can be attributed to the destruction of the Somali state. Lewis contends that the clan identity, given its long-standing sense of belonging, has evolved into clan-nationalism. Samatar rejects this view. In contrast, he argues that the “the opportunistic methods by which groups and individuals have marshalled support to gain or retain access to public support has finally destroyed the very institutions that laid the egg.” In this context, political competition among individual politicians and groups whose goal is to misappropriate public resources seek to garner clan support. Thus, struggles to state power have degenerated into civil war.
The centrality of kinship, to make sense of the contemporary Somali politics and its propensity to mass violence in Somalia has been stressed by many scholars. Others have also pointed out the need to acknowledge the evolving nature of culture and identity. In this context, there is a need to look at the political and economic dynamics of a given historical point in time and space. Understanding the conflict in Somalia can’t be explained without properly acknowledging the role of local politicians and without its global and regional context and reducing it to a kinship or tribal conflict underestimates the complex nature of the conflict.
Andrew Tulumello explains, given the fragmented nature of the warring factions in Somalia that were fanning the violence during the civil war, one could easily see that the different militias from the same clan were killing one another, leading to only conclusion: the conflict was about power and it “revolved around personalities who use kinship, money, and food to form a patronage network with militia and neighbourhood gangs.” In this context, the clan identity was misappropriated by local ambitious politicians for political power and the people or clans had no collective role in mass, as it were, along clan lines to participate in the killings.
Moreover, due to Cold War politics, Somalia was supported financially and militarily by the United States during 1980’s in a critical period when the Somali regime was committing gross human rights violations. This financial aid sustained the Somali state. Blakely writes,
American aid to Somalia had averaged $20–$50 million per year and peaked at $100 million in 1986. This aid, though small by Western standards, was sufficient for the regime to maintain internal order and allow Somalia to function as a political unit. The money produced balance in a subsistence economy and helped keep the peace. Even as late as 1987, a consortium of Western donors was considering funding a long-term, large-scale rural electrification scheme based on the construction of a hydroelectric power station near the town of Bardera. The sudden and unexpected withdrawal of foreign aid and foreign investment in 1989 triggered the collapse of the Somali government.
Many dictators in Africa relied on this aid to continue their oppressive rule in Africa and once that aid ceased, state collapse ensued as was the case in Somalia. In addition, colonial legacy was also a factor in the conflict in Somalia. Somalia was partitioned and colonized by Italy, Britain and France. As a result, the European powers have created artificial borders which led to boundary disputes between Somalia and Ethiopia and Somalia and Kenya as they ceded Somali territory to both countries. This regional conflict has been a source of conflict among these neighbouring countries for the past several decades and in some instances they went to full scale war over border conflict. Somalia and Ethiopia, for instance, went to war in 1977-78 over border issues. Both Kenya and Ethiopia have been involved in the conflict in Somalia since the Somali state collapse as they pursue their state interests. In this context, both countries have been seeking a friendly government in Somalia to thwart any future border disputes with Somalia. Both countries continue to pursue militaristic agenda in Somalia to achieve this objective by supporting militia groups in Somalia. Additionally, Ethiopia has invaded Somalia in 2006 to prevent an Islamic nationalist alliance government in Somalia. Many analysts underscored the United States’ involvement in this invasion. Recent released WikiLeaks documents confirm this fact. Somalia’s continuing lack of institutional unity has little to do with internal conflict and more to do with external influence. Robinson points out that the United States pursues stability at the international “economic, social and political arrangements within each country”. Any threat to this framework is seen as a threat by the United States and must be crushed. Robinson explains that “when these arrangements are altered in ways that are perceived as detrimental, the United States attempts not to pursue stability, but to destabilize.” In the case of Somalia, a new Islamic group was seen as a threat and Ethiopia’s army was sent in to ‘destabilize’ Somalia.
Moreover, Somalia’s geopolitical location is significant source of conflict. Being a gate-way to the largest maritime international trade in the world through the Indian Ocean, doorway to the red sea, and the Middle East, Somalia is an important country with untapped natural resources including oil reserves. There are currently the naval forces of the United States, Canada, China, Russia, the EU, Japan, South Korea, and India in the Somali Sea waters to carry out the UN Security Council mandate to fight Piracy, while over 8,000 African troops are in Somalia as peacekeepers. Yet, illegal fishing, and toxic waste dumping in Somalia continue. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the former UN envoy for Somalia has confirmed that the UN has reliable information that European and Asian companies are dumping toxic waste, including nuclear waste, off the Somali coast. Many Somali fishermen lost their livelihoods as a result.
Rwandan 1994 tragedy
When Rwanda became an independent country on July 1, 1962, there were already grave social tensions among the Rwandan people. The “Tutsi” communities were under attack since 1959, creating “120,000 refugees”, and an estimated 20,000 “Tutsi” deaths.
Gregoire Kayibanda, the first president of independent Rwanda has institutionalized a one party state system that continued the colonial clan or ethnic based system that favoured one group over the other. In this case the “Hutu” over the “Tutsi”. On July 5, 1973 Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, the minister of defense, took power through a coup, killing 40 politicians in prison who worked with the former regime. Habyarimana’s rule has solidified the “clan or ethnic” divisions among the Rwandans as he has constituted an clan or ethnic quota system which gave his “Hutu clan or ethnic” group a 60 percent of the university and civil service positions. Others such as the “Tutsi” group were given a 9 percent quota and were prohibited from the army. Violence against the “Tutsi” became the norm throughout Habyarimana’s rule. By 1994, there were close to half a million “Tutsi” living in Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and the Congo. The Rwandan government refused to take them back.
Fujii writes that, the genocide was no homegrown project. It was sponsored and conceived from above, by a small group of powerful extremists in President Habyarimana’s regime. These mighty few objected to the power-sharing terms of a recently signed peace agreement between Habyarimana and the RPF. Through genocide they sought to maintain their monopoly on power.
Fujii goes on, “The killings and murder began on April 6, 1994, shortly after unknown assailants shot down a plane bringing back the Rwandan President from a trip.” Fujii underscores the speed with which the killings were carried out:
“Within hours, specially trained militia, soldiers, and Presidential Guard began going door to door with lists of targets, which included anyone, not firmly in the extremists’ camp. The killers dispatched their victims with gruesome efficiency. Militia simultaneously set up roadblocks across the city to prevent escape, killing anyone with a Tutsi identity card and anyone who looked Tutsi.”
In this context, the killings were well planned, encouraged and participated in by extremist politicians and their supporters. The “clan or ethnic” identity has been used as a mobilizing tool by Rwandan politicians and were themselves enabled, supported and guided by foreign forces to defend mutually beneficial arrangements. In this case, the Rwandan extremist politicians intended to keep their grip on the political levers with French support, while the RPF was determined to replace the Rwandan government with Ugandan and American support.
When president Museveni came to power by force in 1986, he had about 3000 “Tutsi” fighters among his “14,000 fighters” (Klinghoffer, 1998). A year later, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (PRF) was organized to topple the Rwandan government and to repatriate all Rwandan refugees. Klinghoffer writes,
“The most important figures in the RPF were Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame, both Tutsi. They had become refugees as children and had met Museveni when he was working against the Amin government from Tanzania during the seventies. They had fought Obote of Uganda with the National Resistance Army of Museveni and were appointed to prominent posts once Museveni became president of Uganda.”
The Ugandan government openly supported the RPF invasion of Rwanda and reportedly provided weapons and logistical support. The RPF crossed into Rwanda on October 1, 1990 with about 7,000 fighters. In response, the Rwandan government started to demonize the RPF as “Tutsi elitists with superiority complex who admired the Nazis and sought to reestablish Tutsi kingdom.” Many “Tutsi” were arrested as RPF sympathizers. In addition, there were attacks on “Tutsi” civilians, leaving approximately 600 dead. These attacks were encouraged by local officials and in some instances, participated in the violence.
France, with the intent to protect and continue its sphere of influence in French speaking African countries, came to Rwanda’s help with military and training assistance. The French were particularly concerned about the RPF leadership who were English speaking as they grew up in the Ugandan and Tanzanian refugee camps. The RPF military leadership was trained in Britain and United States as members of the Ugandan army. As the situation in Rwanda became more volatile, France acted in self-interest and the French military supplied the Rwandan army with weapons, ammunition, and training and took charge of their counterinsurgency operations.
According to Klinghoffer, Credit Lyonnais, a French bank, approved $5 million to Rwanda in order to purchase “Egyptian rifles, anti-personnel mines, plastic explosives, mortars and artillery.” Klinghoffer further asserts that the President of Rwanda’s inner circles including his own relatives were involved in the creation and the planning of the extremist interahamwe death squads who were anti-Belgian and pro-French. He writes, “It should be added that Hutu extremists were notoriously anti-Belgian, but pro-French, and that this sentiment proved to be crucial when mass violence erupted in April 1994.”
This paper sought to situate the actions of agents whether they are states or otherwise in an effort to understand the “clan or ethnic” violence phenomenon such that took place in Rwanda and Somalia. In both cases we discover that “clan or ethnic” identities were politicized to achieve certain goals. Local politicians with assistance from external forces colluded in unison in pursuit of selfish interests. In the case of Rwanda, we witnessed how the Rwandan government elites organized militias to carry out plans to divide the society along “clan or ethnic” lines in order to stay in power, while the French state made utilitarian “rationale” choice to maximize its interests in Africa. This interest is in connection with the Eurocentric colonial approach which is pursued by many former colonial powers to expand their economic base and influence. Resource extraction and expansion of economic base were the driving force behind the colonialization of African states and these objectives provide the thrust of today’s neo-colonial operations in Africa. Tools such as “clan or ethnic” divisions, application of neo-liberal economic policies or promotion of democracy in Africa are capitalized to intervene in these countries. Moreover, the state and economic collapse of Somalia and the continued violence can be traced back to the division of Somalia by the colonial powers as well as the lack of development due to this fact. The colonial legacy has created a system of dependence on foreign aid and lack of development. As a result, Somalia has descended into economic and social chaos as soon as soon this aid was withheld in the post Cold War. In this context, “clan or ethnicity” does not cause “clan or ethnic” violence. The development of political institutions and how these institutions evolve and mediate social and economic relations constitute the basis for analysis to understand “clan or ethnic” violence. Clan or ethnicity in both Rwanda and Somalia are socially constructed identities for political and economic purposes as cultural and linguistic differences are merely not there and the colonial powers had to invent one. In this effort, access to education, political and economic power to one group has created two classes as the bases of assigned differences. In this view, there are external power relations and material benefits associated with this political configuration and repression is used to reinforce these stereotypes. This domination model is reproduced across time and space. Robinson (1996) contends that identity based political conflicts in developing countries are exacerbated by the forces of globalization, especially after the end of the Cold War as they “stir” societies to demand for reforms and democratization in the hope that the colonial and authoritarian political structures would be replaced by new institutions that would “mediate social relations within and between nations in the world system”. Such a move is unpredictable as the potential always exists that a new hostile power structure might arise in these countries. To preempt any radical political change in the developing nations, the United States has developed a range of policy instruments to preserve its economic domination in the current global order. Central to these policy instruments, Robinson argues, is the “launching of democracy promotion intervention operations” which is designed to provide the US an opportunity to shape the social and political order of the targeted nations in its mission to advance its national and international capitalist interests. In the context of Rwanda and Somalia, violence was in response to political power with external connection and not violence emerging from clan or ethnic differences.
This paper suggests that transformation of the colonial structures is necessary component to prevent clan or ethnic and tribal violence but the design to achieve this may be best accomplished through local consensus without foreign interference. Foreign or external forces intentionally create winners and losers in their state interest, causing long-lasting social and political conflicts. In this effort, more study may be necessary to come up with the right answer.
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