Review: “The Origins of Ethnic Conflict in Africa: Politics and Violence in Darfur, Oromia, and the Tana Delta” – Tsega Etefa

Tsega Etefa’s “The Origins of Ethnic Conflict in Africa” offers a comprehensive analysis of the root causes of ethnic conflict in Africa. In the three cases studies examined in the book — the Arab-non-Arab conflict in Darfur, the Oromo-Pokomo conflict in Kenya’s Tana Delta, and the Gumuz-Oromo conflict in Ethiopia’s Oromia state — Etefa convincingly argues that ethnic mobilization is a symptom, not a cause, of such conflicts.

For centuries the people of Darfur, the Tana Delta, Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz lived in peace with each other. While violence did happen occasionally, traditional conflict resolution strategies were sufficient to prevent the outbreak of widescale atrocities, even during periods of drought and famine. Thus, competition over resources and primordial ethnic hatred are insufficient explanations for the occurrence of ethnic conflict in these regions, much less ethnic cleansing on a mass scale. Instead, Etefa traces the origins of these conflicts to policies pursued by successive regimes in Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia, thus arguing that these conflicts are inherently political conflicts encouraged by ruling elites.

In the Sudan, Etefa argues that the violence in Darfur is due to the economic and political marginalization of non-Arabs, the neglect of Darfur by successive regimes in Khartoum, Chadian and Libyan-backed insurgents, and the arming of local Arab militias by the Khartoum authorities.

In Kenya, besides being economically and politically marginalized and neglected, authorities have sold huge tracts of land in the Tana Delta to foreign agribusiness, thereby disrupting traditional conflict resolution strategies. With the transition to multiparty elections in Kenya in 1991, politicians have deliberately manipulated local grievances to weaken political rivals, further adding fuel to an already volatile situation.

In Ethiopia, where the states of Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz are engaged in a territorial dispute, state officials have encouraged ethnic mobilization and armed clashes as a means of extending their own state’s boundaries. The federal government in Addis Ababa has also encouraged such violence, in its war with the Oromia Liberation Front, an Oromia separatist organization.

Another fantastic Palgrave book 🙂

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