Home > News > International Conflict and Identity Choice in Sub-Saharan Africa
123 views 2 min 0 Comment

International Conflict and Identity Choice in Sub-Saharan Africa

- January 28, 2009

bq. Here we present the first cross-national, multi-level analysis of the effects of international and civil conflict on individual identity formation. Using Afrobarometer survey data from over 31,000 respondents in 16 separate sub-Saharan countries, we test our theory of how conflict affects the likelihood an individual will identify themselves as a member of their ethnic group rather than their nation. We find that international conflict exerts a strong influence on the likelihood and content of individual self-identification, but this effect varies with the type of conflict. International conflict leads the majority of individuals in targeted countries to identify themselves as citizens of their country. Individuals in countries that are initiating territorial disputes are more likely to self-identify as members of a particular ethnic group, however. Perhaps surprisingly, we find that the effect of civil conflict is inconsistent across models. Indeed, civil conflict only matters for individual identity formation when international conflict is fully specified in the multi-level model. That conflict has variegated effects on identity formation suggests the relationship between international conflict and identity formation is not endogenous. Further, the temporal controls we use to test the identity models confirm that self-identification with an ethnic group follows rather than precedes conflict. We discuss the importance of our theory and findings for the international conflict and identity literatures in some detail.

That’s from this paper by Doug Gibler, Marc Hutchison, and Steven Miller. A few weeks ago, I posted on the increasing patriotism of Iraqis and whether this trend derives from hostility to the American military presence. Obviously, this paper is related. Their findings suggest no straightforward relationship between conflict and identity. Instead, the effects depend on the type of conflict and whether an individual belongs to the dominant ethnic group in a contested territory. An interesting next step would be to extend the analysis beyond Africa.

In the meantime, however, the findings here are worth considering as the US and other states grapple with foreign policy challenges (e.g., in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) that simultaneously involve an external military intervention, indigenous civil conflict, and layers of ethnic, national, and other identities.