Playing Different Games

Playing Different Games: The Paradox of Anywaa and Nuer Identification Strategies in the Gambella Region, Ethiopia

Dereje Feyissa
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 254
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Playing Different Games
    Book Description:

    Focusing on ethnicity and its relation to conflict, this book goes beyond sterile debates about whether ethnic identities are 'natural' or 'socially constructed'. Rather, ethnic identity takes different forms. Some ethnic boundaries are perceived by the actors themselves as natural, while others are perceived to be permeable. The argument is substantiated through a comparative analysis of ethnic identity formation and ethnic conflict among the Anywaa and the Nuer in the Gambella region of western Ethiopia. The Anywaa and the Nuer are not just two ethnic groups but twokindsof ethnic groups. Conflicts between the Anywaa and Nuer are explained with reference to three variables: varying modes of identity formation, competition over resources and differential incorporation into the state system.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-089-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xv-xv)
  6. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  7. Introduction The Regional Setting of Ethnic Identification and Ethnic Conflict
    (pp. 1-8)

    This study of the varying ways in which the Anywaa and the Nuer conceive of their own ethnic identity and of the causes of conflict between these two groups is set in the Gambella region, located in western Ethiopia about 780 kilometres from the national capital, Addis Ababa. Currently, this region covers 34,063 square kilometres, and consists of nineweredas(hereafter, districts):¹ Gambella, Itang, Jikaw, Akobo, Abobo, Gog, Jor, Godere and Dimma.² Two features stand out in defining Gambella, not only as a physical space but also as a socio-political unit. First, Gambella is one of the hottest lowlands in...

  8. Part I Theory and Methodology
    • Chapter 1 Theoretical Orientation and Arguments
      (pp. 11-28)

      The terms of the debate in ethnic studies do not allow for a comprehensive understanding of ethnic processes in the Gambella region of Ethiopia. Scholarly discourse concerning ethnicity and ethnic conflict exhibits a high density of polemic, producing what Richard Jenkins (2001: 4826) has described as ‘more heat than light’. What an ethnic group is, how it is related to culture, and when it is mobilized by whom and for what purposes – these questions are still largely unanswered.

      In the literature on ethnicity and nationalism, it is common to distinguish between two general approaches known as primordialism and constructivism;...

  9. Part II The Contrast
    • Chapter 2 The Anywaa Primordialist Ethnic Identity Formation
      (pp. 31-52)

      Once one concedes that the term ‘ethnicity’ refers to a range of phenomena linked loosely by certain underlying family resemblances, in Wittgenstein’s sense, it becomes evident that ethnic groups may exhibit considerable variation in their specific manifestations. This chapter is devoted to a description and analysis of the formation of ethnic identity among the Anywaa – a formation which may be characterized generally as primordialist. In this context, the term primordialism is used as a gloss for the ‘emic’ discourses and practices of the Anywaa themselves: the Anywaa believe that ethnic identity is among the ‘givens of social existence’ (Geertz...

    • Chapter 3 The Nuer Constructivist Ethnic Identity Formation
      (pp. 53-74)

      In this chapter, I describe and analyse the Nuer mode of identity formation, which, I argue, is not primordialist, as among the Anywaa, but constructivist. In this context, ‘constructivism’ is used in an ‘emic’ sense, that is, to refer to the Nuer conviction that ethnic identity is not ascribed but achieved – that being a Nuer is based on cultural competence rather than on shared origins. Hutchinson (2000: 9) anticipates my argument in her distinction between ‘primordialist’ and ‘performative’ aspects of Nuer ‘concepts of identity’. Still, it is important to emphasize at the outset that this view of the Nuer...

  10. Part III The Encounter
    • Chapter 4 In the Riverine Lands
      (pp. 77-94)

      This chapter examines the resource dimension of the conflict between the Anywaa and the Nuer. The basic argument of the chapter is that competition for natural resources is relevant in Anywaa–Nuer conflict but cannot be taken as the sole cause of ethnic conflict. One of the objects of the Anywaa–Nuer struggle is access to and control over the riverine lands. Riverine lands in Gambella form a minimal proportion of the total land surface but have an outstanding agricultural and pastoral value. This has created scarcity of a specific type of land. Indeed, the Nuer expansion into Anywaa-inhabited territories...

    • Chapter 5 The Cultural Contestation
      (pp. 95-118)

      In the previous chapter we have seen how contrasting formations of ethnic identity mediate between resource competition, on one hand, and ethnic conflict, on the other. In this chapter we discuss the ways in which these contrasting formations themselves may cause ethnic conflict, particularly in processes of ethnic conversion. The constructivist ethnic identity formation of the Nuer is inherently expansionist. It not only allows ethnic membership for outsiders but it also actively encourages and supports the process of becoming Nuer, for example, by providing material incentives. Ethnic conversion is especially common in those situations in which the Nuer enjoy military...

    • Chapter 6 Differential Incorporation into the Ethiopian State
      (pp. 119-144)

      This chapter provides an in-depth analysis of the ways in which the Anywaa and the Nuer have been incorporated into the Ethiopian state in two successive regimes. The basic premise is that different patterns of incorporation into an ethnically stratified state and corresponding fluctuations in inter-ethnic power relations may themselves be viewed as causes of ethnic conflict. In keeping with the fundamentally multicausal approach advocated in this book, however, the power variable will be viewed in its interaction with the resource and identity variables.

      One of the main features of contemporary inter-ethnic relations is the role of the state in...

    • Chapter 7 The Anywaa Response to Ethiopian Ethnic Federalism
      (pp. 145-166)

      At the end of the twentieth century, inter-ethnic power relations – which have been identified above, together with differing modes of ethnic identification and competition for natural resources, as one of the three causes of ethnic conflict between the Anywaa and the Nuer – were altered once again, initially in favour of the Anywaa. In May 1991, the Derg was overthrown by the EPRDF. Upon seizing power, EPRDF leaders and activists restructured the Ethiopian state according to ethnic federalism. The 1995 constitution explicitly recognized ethnicity as the official state ideology and the ethnic group as the legitimate unit of political...

    • Chapter 8 The Nuer Response to Ethiopian Ethnic Federalism
      (pp. 167-192)

      Building on Chapter 7, this chapter elaborates further on the power variable, specifically on the ways in which relations with the Ethiopian and also the Sudanese state may be viewed as causes of ethnic conflict between the Anywaa and the Nuer. It emphasizes Nuer contestation of Anywaa political dominance in the GPNRS in the 1990s through the formulation of counter-claims to power based on creative ideologies of ethnic entitlement.

      Political domination of the Gambella regional state by the Anywaa in the 1990s gave rise to resentment and created solidarity among the Nuer. Anywaa dominance produced three levels of concern for...

    • Chapter 9 Civil War in the Sudan and Ethnic Processes in the Gambella Region
      (pp. 193-210)

      The transborder settlement pattern of both the Anywaa and the Nuer has made their interrelations susceptible to wider geopolitical processes. The larger presence of the Nuer in southern Sudan and their affiliations with various centres of political power has enabled them to acquire greater military power than the Anywaa. In some cases at least, this imbalance in military power has led the Nuer to abandon the practice of negotiating with the Anywaa over access to natural resources in the latter’s territories, and it has encouraged groups of Nuer to resort increasingly to violence in inter-ethnic relations.

      Postcolonial Sudan has been...

  11. Conclusion Modes of Ethnic Identification
    (pp. 211-216)

    Based on an in-depth analysis of ethnographic data, oral accounts and archival materials, this book includes systematic explorations of two central and interrelated questions in the field of identity studies. The first pertains to the definition of ethnicity or, more particularly, to the possible degree of variation in configurations of ethnic identities; and the second concerns the causes of ethnic conflict. In the two sections of this brief conclusion, I summarize my arguments, making general theoretical statements regarding the two problems that I set out to solve in this book.

    Fredrik Barth is credited with having established an innovative paradigm...

  12. Glossary of Local Terms
    (pp. 217-222)
  13. References
    (pp. 223-232)
  14. Index
    (pp. 233-238)