Understanding Autochthony-Related Conflict: Discursive and Social Practices of the Vrai Centrafricain

Title: Understanding Autochthony-Related Conflict: Discursive and Social Practices of the Vrai Centrafricain
Authors: Vlavonou, Sohe Loïc Elysée Gino
Date: 2020-10-01
Embargo: 2022-10-01
Abstract: During the latest armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) from 2013 to the present, narratives emerged regarding who was an autochthon and who was not, pitting “true Central Africans” against “foreigners”, Christians against Muslims. This new cycle of violence is embedded in a long history of political violence in the CAR. Still, the claim of one group being more autochthon than another has not been a prominent feature of previous conflicts, neither has fighting in the past formed so clearly along religious identities. Being a Son of the Soil, an autochthon, evokes an image that denies CAR’s history of migration of social groups and reify fixity, and such conflicts have also been present in other parts of Africa, as well as in Europe and Asia. To date, most literature seeking to understand autochthony-related armed conflict has been dominated by elite-centric analysis that highlight the mobilization of autochthony as a strategy to retain power in cases of political liberalization or democratization (Cameroon, Kenya or Côte d’Ivoire). When not elite-centric, analyses of autochthony-related conflict have emphasized land, access to land issues or crudely predatory logics of vigilante groups on the local level (Côte d’Ivoire or the DRC). In CAR, neither political liberalization, nor land issues alone were prominent, but autochthony was a strategy as witnessed in other African cases of autochthony-related armed conflicts. In that sense, this research asks how and why is autochthony being mobilized in the CAR politics before and after the 2013 coup? The dissertation argues that elites and ordinary citizens discursively mobilize autochthony as an identity capital across various scales. They do it to access non-land related resources, claim hierarchy, and discriminate against the other. The mobilization of autochthony is tied to longer legitimacy-seeking strategies of the elite, and autochthony is a symbolic myth that can be mobilized at various levels. The dissertation’s main theoretical contribution is to challenge the tendency to consider elites and supporters as belonging and subscribing to different discursive realm. This study has considered that autochthony links leaders and their followers in a type of pre-given conception that no longer needs explanation. This contributes to considering elites and their supporters as tied by the same discursive realm, but the concrete meaning of the discourse is different across multiple levels. To make the argument, the dissertation uses a qualitative multi-method approach predominantly centered on discourse analysis, fieldwork, interviews, and newspapers archival research. My research shows that understanding autochthony violence requires a simultaneous analysis of how autochthony is given meaning at different levels by various actors in everyday practices from the macro to the micro. Instrumentalizing autochthony lies at the interplay of all these levels. In this work, autochthony is vague enough to connect leaders to followers and, at the same time, precise enough for listeners to make sense of the term by connecting it to their daily experience of it. The long-term existence of the autochthony discourse allows it to change and morph at times of heightened crisis. It does not emerge overnight, but it has a longer genealogy that must be understood in context. That is, it is not simply because Bozizé targeted Muslim-foreigners in his speeches that people mobilized against them. Top-down manipulation might have resonated with followers but understanding of autochthony also operated independently of the top-down manipulation. That the conflict manifested around sectarian lines fits within an autochthony framework because autochthony is an empty identity marker whose content can be filled in many ways – most frequently with reference to ethnicity, religion, language, myths of origin, or some combination of such markers.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/41154
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