Contrary to common assumption, major forms of large-scale organized political violence in sub-Saharan Africa have declined in frequency and intensity, and the region is not uniquely prone to the onset of warfare. African civil wars in the 2000s and 2010s are less common compared to the mid-1990s. The character of warfare has also changed. Contemporary wars are generally small-scale, fought on state peripheries and increasingly across multiple states, and involve factionalized insurgents who typically cannot hold significant territory or capture state capitals. Episodes of large-scale mass killing of civilians are also on the decline. That said, other forms of political violence that receive less attention in the academic literature are increasing or persistent. These include electoral violence and violence over access to livelihood resources, such as land and water. Geopolitical shifts since the end of the Cold War are a leading candidate to explain the changing frequency and character of warfare in sub-Saharan Africa. New global priorities, including changes in external state funding opportunities for insurgents, an emphasis on change through elections, investments in conflict mediation strategies, and the rise of China are hypothesized as critical factors shaping the new patterns of warfare.
Kate M. Carter and Scott Straus
Candice Ortbals and Lori Poloni-Staudinger
Gender influences political violence, which includes, for example, terrorism, genocide, and war. Gender uncovers how women, men, and nonbinary persons act according to feminine, masculine, or fluid expectations of men and women. A gendered interpretation of political violence recognizes that politics and states project masculine power and privilege, with the result that men occupy the dominant social position in politics and women and marginalized men are subordinate. As such, men (associated with masculinity) are typically understood as perpetrators of political violence with power and agency and women (associated with femininity) are seen as passive and as victims of violence. For example, women killed by drone attacks in the U.S. War on Terrorism are seen as the innocent, who, along with children, are collateral damage. Many historical and current examples, however, demonstrate that women have agency, namely that they are active in social groups and state institutions responding to and initiating political violence. Women are victims of political violence in many instances, yet some are also political and social actors who fight for change. Gendercide, which can occur alongside genocide, targets a specific gender, with the result that men, women, or those who identify with a non-heteronormative sexuality are subject to discriminatory killing. Rape in wartime situations is also gendered; often it is an expression of men’s power over women and over men who are feminized and marginalized. Because war is typically seen as a masculine domain, wartime violence is not associated with women, who are viewed as life givers and not life takers. Similarly, few expect women to be terrorists, and when they are, women’s motivations often are assumed to be different from those of men. Whereas some scholars argue that women pursue terrorism for personal (and feminine) reasons, for example to redeem themselves from the reputation of rape or for the loss of a male loved one, other scholars maintain that women act on account of political or religious motivations. Although many cases of women’s involvement in war and terrorism can be documented throughout history, wartime leadership and prominent social positions following political violence have been reserved for men. Leaders with feminine traits seem undesirable during and after political violence, because military leadership and negotiations to end military conflict are associated with men and masculinity. Nevertheless, women’s groups and individual women respond to situations of violence by protesting against violence, testifying at tribunals and truth commissions, and constructing the political memory of violence.
Manus I. Midlarsky
To understand the relationship between religion and genocide in time of war, one needs to distinguish between sacred and secular political religions. Among the genocidal events inspired by political religions based on sacred texts are the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the Sack of Magdeburg, the British Civil War in Ireland, and Bosnia. I also examine several groups pursuing a genocidal agenda claiming religious justification: al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Civil religions and secular political religions discussed are the French Revolution, Italian Fascism, Nazism, and Stalinist Communism. Lacking the restraints found in traditional religions, secular political religion is most dangerous. Large-scale genocides are best explained by diachronic processes entailing subordination followed by gain and then loss by the perpetrators. The presence of loss in various forms is found in virtually all cases. Emotions that typically do not influence routine politics—such as anger and fear—are engaged. All of the cases, even those of minimal loss, are influenced by international events. Without the presence of war, genocides like the Holocaust, and those of the Armenians and Tutsis, are inconceivable. Even as an exclusionary ideology, traditional religion is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for all forms of genocide in time of war. But religion can be an enabler that together with other antecedents can lead to genocide. Sacred religious sites can be sensitive locations whose violation inspires violence. Radicalization of religious leaders can occur when their religion appears to be under attack, especially during or following a period of widespread violence.
Anita Isaacs and Rachel A. Schwartz
Since the mid-20th century, the Guatemalan military has played a prominent role in the country’s political life. Yet, this was not always the case. During Guatemala’s first century of independence, the armed forces operated largely as the pawn of personalist rulers and oligarchic elites, utilizing coercion to quell labor unrest and impose order in the countryside. Developments during the Cold War era, however, transformed the Guatemalan military into a centralized source of political and economic power and the key protagonist in domestic politics. Following World War II and on the heels of popular uprising, nationalist junior army officers ushered in a series of popular reforms, which included land redistribution. A 1954 CIA-orchestrated coup supported by the Guatemalan oligarchy and reactionary military factions toppled Guatemala’s “Democratic Spring,” reversed the reforms, and paved the way for four decades of hardline military rule. The subsequent rise of a leftist insurgent movement and the outbreak of armed conflict (1960–1996) gave the armed forces a pretext to dramatically expand their power. They consolidated formal political control over the Guatemalan state and pursued a counterinsurgent campaign, which escalated into genocidal violence in the predominantly Mayan indigenous highlands. Pulled between the political protagonism of civil war and the subordination to civilian rule required in liberal democracy, the Guatemalan military struggled to redefine its institutional identity with the end of armed conflict. It lurched reluctantly toward peace and democracy following a split in its ranks between a moderate institutionalist faction and right-wing groups wary of ceding political control. Despite peace accord provisions to reduce the military’s size and budget and to confine its institutional activities to external defense, military officials, particularly those from intelligence, continued to wield extraordinary control in the postwar era. Challenging the strictures of peace and democracy, they have fought to maintain key interests, notably impunity for war crimes, political decision-making influence, and wartime sources of illicit enrichment.
Political regulation of ethnicity has been a core dimension of state-building in Africa, and a set of different macro-political strategies was applied in African postcolonial states to deal with ethnic heterogeneity. One set of strategies consisted in attempts to completely eliminate political manifestations of ethnicity, violently through genocide (Rwanda, 1994) or mass expulsions of ethnic minorities (Uganda, 1973), consensually through secession of autonomous provinces (Eritrea, 1993; South Sudan, 2005), through legal instruments that ban the political expression of ethnic identity such as party bans, or via coercive variants of assimilation (Rwanda, 2001). An opposing option promoted the formal recognition of ethnicity through consociationalism (Burundi, 2005), ethnic federalism (Ethiopia, 1995), ethnic minority rights (Mauritius), or hegemonic control (apartheid South Africa). Many African countries have instead opted for an informal accommodation of ethnic identity in politics, which combines the pursuit of civic nationalism and ethnic party bans with a de facto recognition of ethnic group rights through informal power-sharing, centripetal institutions, or variants of federalism which shift resources and competencies to subnational levels. The choice of strategies is, however, constrained by how interethnic relations have been shaped in the process of postcolonial state-building. Both strategies of elimination and of formal recognition are applied in ranked societies where one racial or ethnic group managed to take control of the state and in which class corresponded with ethnic affiliation. South Africa, which also belonged to this group, seems to be the only country where a liberal model of civic nation is pursued along with a strong recognition of the country’s diversity in the political and constitutional architecture.