Moving from thin descriptions to a 'thick description' of the violent transformation of social movements in Africa: a case study of MEND
(Nomura Research Institute)
Paper short abstract:
At the core of a thick description of Ijaw people, the paper finds that intertwined factors which were present in the Niger Delta in the 1990s produced a situation in which systematic use of violence took over the non-violent side of social movements and enabled them to emerge under the label ‘MEND.’
Paper long abstract:
Recent African experiences following the transition to multiparty democracy have demonstrated somewhat enigmatic development of social movements, which have been conventionally believed to be inherently non-violent and democratic by their outcomes. Nevertheless, in a stark contrast to the expectations held by external observers, the bulk of social movements that flourished in and around the 1990s in sub-Saharan Africa dispersed into small fractions with many of them transforming into violent guerrillas, rebel groups, civil militias, vigilantes, masquerades and so forth. Nowhere did this trend draw more international attention than in the oil-bearing region of the Niger Delta. The region witnessed a sudden upsurge in the number of militant groups promoting anti‐state and anti-oil firm ideologies following the end of military rule in 1999, with the most notorious of them all being the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND). It is in this context that this paper attempts to answer the following question; why do social movements in the Niger Delta follow violent trajectories instead of integrating into the mainstream politics of multiparty democracy? At the core of a 'thick description' of Ijaws of western and central Niger Delta, the paper will find that the coexistence of intertwined factors which were present in the Niger Delta in the 1990s produced a situation in which systematic use of violence took over non-violent side of social movements and enabled them to emerge under the label 'MEND.'
Citizenship, violence, and power: re-invention of modern nation-states in Africa