Ethnic Conflict and Integration: the case of Gambela, western Ethiopia

It is reported that more than 80 socio-linguistic groups of various size live in Ethiopia. The relationship among these groups has made up a history of conflict, accommodation and integration. By the 1980s ethnic tension has led to the proliferation of ethnic liberation movements waged against the rigidly centralized and militarist state. With the seizure of power by the ruling EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Forces), itself an ethnic coalition, in 1991, the Ethiopian state has radically been reorganized from a Unitarian to ethnic federal state. Gambela National Regional state is one of the nine ethnic states in the new federal arrangement. The new political establishment has intensely affected inter-group relations, redressing old imbalances while creating new ones.
Gambela is located in western Ethiopia along the Sudanese border. There are five ethnic groups living in Gambela. These are the Nuer (the majority of whom live in the Sudan), Anuak, Majanger, Komo and Oppo. There is also a sizeable settler community from the neighboring highlands who do not form an ethnic group per se but are recognized as a separate "racial" and cultural group by the five Nilotoc groups.
The study will examine modes of interaction among those groups living in the study area which form distinct social entities (not only for linguistic and cultural reasons, but who also pursue different livelihood strategies), analyze factors and processes which generate ethnic conflict, and explore possibilities for peaceful coexistence. This will be particularly examined in terms of the resource equation, opportunity structure, mode of political participation and impact of the civil war in Southern Sudan.
More specific questions include: How do the various ethnic groups interact in access to resources? How do they manage internal variations to compete as groups? Who defines the "rules of the game", and what does the alignment of forces look like? How do individuals manage their multiple identities and cross-cutting alliances. What does the nature of the inter-group boundary look like and how is it maintained? What is the role of history in shaping inter-group relations? How does the mode of imagining local identities function, and who are the opinion makers, particularly in the situation of the Diaspora.
The study also looks at the inter-play between state and society and examines the role of the state in inter-ethnic conflicts as the main mediator and dispenser of resources. This entails an in-depth analysis of the current experiment in ethnic federalism in Ethiopia. I will put emphasis on the fact that Gambella region is a sort of experimental ground of "mini-ethnic-state" in the new federal structure. How does it work? In this regard, the study will examine the new political edifice and the gap between the ideal and the actual and how it is affecting the local opportunity structure in terms of winners and losers.
The current debate on identity will be studied along various axes such as gender, age and regional/local variables. How do the various social groups experience being members of a certain group? Finally, the study aims at shedding some light on the vexed question of promoting social justice. Of particular interest will be the nature and mode of economic interaction among the various groups. The prospect of integration will also be sought in the political sphere, especially in terms of the relevance and consequence of ethnicity as a predominant mode of political mobilization vis-à-vis the current experiment of ethnic federalism in Ethiopia.
Progressive contexualisation will be the main methodology. In order to draw a dynamic picture of the problem, inter-ethnic relations will be located both at the micro/local and macro/national and international arenas. This includes analysis of historical encounters among the groups under question; the resource equation and the local opportunity structure, and the political economy of power at the national level as well as the civil war in the neighboring Southern Sudan.

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