Belonging, Identity, and Conflict in the Central African Republic
“This book convincingly demonstrates that claims to autochthony are only effective through othering and exclusion. It will be important reading for scholars studying the political, social, and economic dynamics of crisis and conflict and their effects on people’s everyday lives.”
On the use of belonging as identity capital and a tool for domination
Political conflict in many parts of the world has been shaped by notions of who rightfully belongs to a place. The concept of autochthony—that a true, original people are born of a land and belong to it above all others—has animated struggles across postcolonial Africa. But is this sense of rootedness from time immemorial necessary to assertions of original being and thus political supremacy? Belonging, Identity, and Conflict in the Central African Republic examines how political conflict unfolds when the language of autochthony is detached from historical land claims.
Focusing on violent struggles in the Central African Republic between 2012 and 2019, Gino Vlavonou explores the social practices, discursive strategies, and government policies that emerged in the relentless project of African state building. Conflict pitted Christian-animist communities, loosely organized as vigilante groups under the name anti-Balaka, against Muslim rebels known as the Séléka. Fighters of the anti-Balaka claimed that they were autochthonous, the “true Central Africans,” reframing their Muslim neighbors as foreigners to be expelled. While the country had previously witnessed episodes of violence, both peoples had lived together relatively peacefully and intermarried. The speed and ferocity with which identity was weaponized puzzled many observers. To understand this phenomenon, Vlavonou probes autochthony as a category of identity that differs from ethnicity in important ways. He argues that elites and ordinary citizens alike mobilize the language of original belonging as “identity capital,” a resource to be deployed. The value of that capital is lodged in what people say and do every day to give meaning to their identity, and its content changes across time and space.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
1 Autochthony without Land
2 Civil Society and Armed Actors on Becoming an Autochthonous
3 The Discursive Practices of Bozizé
4 Autochthony without Land, State Policy, and Mining
5 Autochthony, the Everyday and Dynamics in the Public Market
7. Conclusion: On Mobilizing Autochthony Without Land
Of Related Interest
256 pp. 6 x 9
2 b/w illus.