The Complexity of Ethnic Conflict. Hema and Lendu Case Study

Bachelor Thesis, 2019

39 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Contents

List of Acronyms.

1.0 Introduction.
1.1. Introduction to the Topic
1.2 Research Problem and Aim
1.3 Research question
1.4 Terminology
1.5. Relevance to IMER-International Migration and Ethnic Relations
1.6. Delimitation

2. Previous Research.

3. Theoretical and Conceptual Framework.
3.1 Primordialism
3.2 Constructivism
3.3 Greed
3.4 Instrumentalism
3.5 Grievances
3.6 Theory interconnectivity

4. Operationalization.

5. Method and Design.
5.1 Case Study
5.1.1 The weakness of the Case study
5.1.2 Strength of Case Study
5.2 Methodology

6. Data and Material

7. Background History.

8. Analysis/Discussion.
8.1. Colonialism
8.2 Mobutu, Bakajika Law “Post-colonial Period”
8.3. External and Local Forces Dynamics 1999-
8.4. The Role of Ethnicity in the Conflict

9. Conclusion.

10. Further Research.


List of Acronyms

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


This research paper investigated the Hema and Lendu conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1999-2003. Five significant theories; Primordialism, constructivism, instrumentalism, greed and grievances were applied to explain the causes of this conflict and to find out the role ethnicity played in triggering the conflict. Using secondary data, a single-case study was conducted, and results show that colonialism, inequality, poor government policies, greed from local and external forces are the primary causes of this conflict. Based on the results, one theory on its own is not substantial enough to explain the cause of this conflict since it was triggered by a combination of different factors. However, the Hema and Lendu did not fight because of their ethnic differences. Ethnicity was used by militia leaders as a tool for mobilisation thus ethnicity being a secondary factor and not a driving force. Therefore, ethnicity did not play a significant role in triggering this conflict.

Keywords: Ethnicity, Ethnic Conflict, Hema, Lendu, DR. Congo,

1.0 Introduction

As a Hema from Bunia, the capital city of Ituri province. To be called a Mulendu was the biggest insult in town. I grew up being told a Mulendu was a sub-human, the most uncivilised and a terrible being that one could ever be. After experiencing the Hema and Lendu conflict between 1999-2003, I left DR. Congo believing a Lendu was an enemy of the “Bahema”. However, today I perceive things differently. And, this is one of the biggest motivations behind this research.

1.1. Introduction to the Topic

Ituri district is in Orientale province in the north-eastern corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Great Lakes region bordering Uganda to the east and Sudan to the North. Djungu, Mahagi, Irumu, Aru and Mombasa are five territories found in Ituri(Dan, 2011). Ituri is a resource-rich province, with gold, diamond, coltan and Timber(Pfefferle, 2013). Ituri has a population of between 3.5 to 6.5 million. There are approximately ten ethnic groups in Ituri with the Hema and the Lendu being the dominant ones. However, the Lendu are more numerous than Hema. Both Hema and Lendu did not originate from Ituri(Camm, 2012). Although the Hema and the Lendu once coexisted, tensions between them have arisen for the past 50 years. Reports show that the conflict in Ituri led to more than 50, 000 deaths and 500, 000 displaced civilians, however, there has been continuing unacceptably high mortality since 1999(L, et al., 2006). Armed conflict continues to the present day with the most recent attack in 2018 was in Djungu territory driving 100,000 people out of their homes. Many became internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring Uganda(Sungura, et al., 2019). However, this paper will focus on the conflict from 1999 to 2003 because it was the most violent period (Human Rights Watch, 2003). Nevertheless, the findings of this research paper could contribute to understanding the recent attacks since it is the same ethnic groups that are still involved.

1.2. Research Problem and Aim

Ethnic strife has been the biggest challenge many countries in Africa have faced since the end of the cold war(Sundberg, et al., 2012). One of the most notorious ethnic conflict was the one that erupted in Rwanda in 1994(Njogu, et al., 2010). Following the tremendous impact of the Rwandan genocide, tensions started to rise between the two groups the “Hema and Lendu”. They had once co-existed but now became hostile to the extent of killing one another (Human Rights Watch, 2003). The conflict took place in the north-eastern region of Congo in the district of Ituri. It was reported that the conflict in Ituri led to more than 50, 000 deaths and 500, 000 displaced civilians(L, et al., 2006). Moreover, up to date, there is still low-level animosity between the two ethnic groups(Blakeley, 2014). Ethnic conflict is a worldwide phenomenon and, there is still scope for analysis on the issue of multi-ethnic society and conflict eruption especially when it comes to explaining the causes and the role ethnicity plays in such conflict(Wimmer, et al., 2004). There are two contesting arguments from different scholars when it comes to explaining the role of ethnicity in triggering ethnic strife. Some scholars argue that difference in ethnicity is the cause of conflict while others argue that differences in ethnicity are not the cause of ethnic conflict(Horowitz, 1985). Therefore, using Hema and Lendu conflict as my case, I will investigate explicitly into the history of their interaction and conflict through the theoretical lenses of primordialism, constructivism, instrumentalism, greed and grievances to make a fair assessment of the causes of the conflict. Moreover, the conflict being portrayed by the media as an ethnic strife (GGTN Africa, 2018), it is important to understand the role ethnicity played in fuelling or triggering violence between the two groups.

1.3. Research question

To be able to address my research problem, I will attempt to answer the following questions;

- What are the main factors that fuelled the conflict between the Hema and Lendu in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1999-2003?
- What role did ethnicity play in triggering the conflict between the Hema and Lendu 1999-2003?

1.4. Terminology

- An ethnic conflict is a dispute between two or more ethnic communities or groups(Matsievsky, 2000, p. 62)
- An ethnic group is a group of people who are generally recognised by themselves and/or by others as a distinct group, with such recognition based on social or cultural characteristics (Wimmer, et al., 2004, p. 17)

My understanding of ethnic conflict and ethnic group throughout this research paper is based on the above definitions.

1.5. Relevance to IMER-International Migration and Ethnic Relations

This research is relevant to IMER since it deploys the concept of ethnicity and discusses its role in conflicts that erupt in multi-ethnic societies. Ethnic conflict is one of the biggest challenges of multi-ethnic societies(Horowitz, 1985). This has led to forced migrations as many become internally displaced or refugees. Besides, multi-ethnic societies emerge through migration with an example of the Hema and Lendu that migrated to DR. Congo(Pottier, 2010). Therefore, my research is within the IMER field due to its links to migration and ethnicity.

1.6. Delimitation

This research focuses on the chosen theories which are: Primordialism, constructivism, instrumentalism, greed and grievance in analysing this conflict. Conflicts are broad, and I must admit that the theories I deploy are not the only ones that could be used to explain this conflict. This conflict could be explained from many other theoretical perspectives especially depending on one’s research question. Moreover, I deploy a single-case study in my research focusing only on the Hema and Lendu ethnic conflict in DR. Congo, which would not give my paper grounds for generalisation. Nevertheless, this study could provide insight that could be applicable in other cases. Besides, this research would have been richer if interviews of both Hema and Lendu victims of this conflict were carried out to get first-hand information and to have a broader perspective of the conflict.

2. Previous Research

In relation to this topic or subject, it is essential to discuss previous research of other cases in order to understand the direction this topic has led researchers.

Similar research has been conducted but from a different case which is Yugoslavia. Sotiropoulou (2002) carried out research to find out the role ethnicity played in the Yugoslavian ethnic conflict. She states that ethnicity played a huge role in triggering conflict between different groups in Yugoslavia(Sotiropoulou, 2002). However, the conflict was not determined by ethnicity in itself but rather ethnicity played an essential role in mobilising masses to take up arms. Ethnicity carrying a symbolic power, elites took advantage of this to mobilise people in order to fulfil their agenda(Sotiropoulou, 2002). The Yugoslav kingdom was made up of Croats, Serbs and Slovenes. During the creation of a new state after the communist, nationality was primarily based on ethnicity, for example, the south Slavs were seen sharing the same ethnicity and therefore put in the same state(Sotiropoulou, 2002). This created in-groups and out-groups in the socio-political arena of the state as groups were antagonising each other. Elites were using myths to mobilise masses; for example, Croatia’s mythical struggle was an independent Croatian state(Sotiropoulou, 2002). They lost their independence in 1902, and they believed that they should get it back and become autonomous(Sotiropoulou, 2002). It was a political struggle for the preservation of old historical rights as they believed they were encroached by the Austria Habsburgs. Sotiropolou (2002) states that ethnicity played an important role in the Yugoslavian ethnic conflict in terms of mobilisation. It became an important element for groups identification and thus making it easy for the elites to manipulate(Sotiropoulou, 2002). Sotiropoulos explains how ethnicity can be used as an instrument to fulfil economic and political agenda thus pointing towards instrumentalism.

Mohammadzadeh, carried comparative research to find out the causes of ethnic conflicts. The comparative study was to find out what factors are associated with ethnic violence across different regions in the globe in the globe and, what factors are shared among countries experiencing ethnic conflicts(Mohammadzadeh, 2016). Mohammadzaeh claims that cultural diversity and inequality are significant factors in determining the likelihood of ethnic conflict(Mohammadzadeh, 2016). Asia and Africa were the regions that have experienced more ethnic violence in his findings. Where there is ethnic diversity, there is group formation which leads to discrimination thus sparking violence. He further states that the number of people immigrating into a country is a contributing factor and plays a huge role in determining whether a society is prone to ethnic violence.(Mohammadzadeh, 2016). Mohammadzaeh looks at ethnicity conflict in a primordial lens and claims that ethnic diverse societies are prone to conflict.

Markussen et al did a research on the case of Kenya to find out why ethnic tensions between groups sometimes but not always lead to violence. Using greed and grievance theory, Markussen et al carried research to find out when is an ethnically diverse society prone to conflicts. They investigated in the post-election period of Kenya in 2007-2008 and found out that, ethnic strife during this period was triggered by economic forces such as poverty, male youth unemployment and lack of access to public services(Markussen & Mbuvi, 2011).

He argues that since drivers of ethnic conflict appear more economical in nature, dealing with ethnicity directly would not be the best way to avoid ethnic conflict for example policies such as decentralisation of local governments in ethnically homogeneous areas may not be the most effective way to deal with the issue of ethnic conflicts(Markussen & Mbuvi, 2011). Markussen and Mbuvi suggest that the most effective way to avoid ethnic conflict is through ensuring economic development. Ethnicity did not play a huge role in the post-election ethnic conflict in Kenya, but it was only used for mobilising and distinguishing groups(Markussen & Mbuvi, 2011). Markussen et al represent the greed theory, claiming that ethnic conflicts are caused by rational beings who weigh the opportunity cost of starting a rebellion. He concludes that economic forces such as poverty and lack of access to public resources triggered the post-election violence in Kenya.

In relation to the Rwanda case, Nikuze traces the cause of ethnic conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsis back to the colonial days. He claims that the colonial masters made the Hutu and Tutsi believe that they were different which created hostility among the two groups. The Tutsi were considered superior to the Hutu (Nikuze, 2014). Tutsi’s were favoured by colonialists and had access to resources and services such as education and were given administrative positions. In short, the Tutsi ethnicity was given more value compared to that of the Hutu(Nikuze, 2014). This implies that ethnic difference which was constructed by the colonial masters sparked violence between the two groups. In this case, Nikuze concludes that ethnicity played a huge role in fuelling the conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu, they believed that they were ethnically different, and this causes hatred thus leading to aggression among them(Nikuze, 2014). Nikuze states that, colonialism created a polarity between the two groups that once co-existed by making them ethnically conscious.

My research was highly influenced by other researchers work which has been discussed above. Different researchers have come to different conclusions on different cases. With this in mind, I was motivated to investigate the Hema and Lendu ethnic case to see what conclusions I will draw. Not much research has been done on this case. Therefore, this study will be the first or among the first ones to investigate in-depth into the conflict through the lenses of the chosen theoretical framework to expose the factors that led to this conflict and to find out the role ethnicity played in fuelling this conflict.

3. Theoretical and Conceptual Framework

Primordialism, constructivism, instrumentalism are theories of ethnicity that have different understanding of ethnicity and they therefore predict different reasons of why conflict would arise.

Greed and grievance are theories of intrastate conflict, since ethnic conflict is an intrastate conflict in most cases and these theories explain the eruption of ethnic conflicts. I found them relevant to apply on this case.

Therefore, I will be testing all these theories on this case.

3.1. Primordialism

According to primordialism, ethnicity lies in the blood, and it is something unchangeable, and it is inherited in us as human beings (William, 2013, p.269). Therefore, ethnicity is perceived as a stable feature of individual and group life that can endure over a historically long period (Malešević, 2004, p.176). This explanation on ethnicity invokes an essentialist perception of ethnicity where one sees ethnicity as absolute and a finished object (Baumann, 1999, p.83-84). Moreover, there is no human agency; ethnicity happens to us at birth before we have the opportunity or capacity to make meaningful choices (Cornell & Douglas, 2007, p. 49). Basically, it is a factor that individuals are not able to control and are compelled to it. Baumann (1999) criticises this theory by arguing that it does not really explain why ethnicity and culture ever change or why in fact most ethnicities and culture we know change over time (Baumann, 1999, p.85-87). Additionally, Cornell et al state that if ethnicity is a basic identity, then primordialists fails to explain why some people attach little importance to ethnicity and why some people become more compelled to other identities such as religion and not ethnicity (Cornell & Douglas, 2007, p. 53). However, the primordialists have been praised for their focus on the intense internal aspect of group solidarity, and the subjective feeling of belonging (Cornell & Douglas, 2007, p. 55).

In relation to ethnic conflicts, primordialism explains ethnic conflicts as natural and unavoidable. Ethnic conflicts stem naturally and inevitably from ancient hatred between different ethnic groups (William, 2015, p.147). Ancient hatred is an element of ethnic emotions, and when group identity such as ethnicity is at stake, the reaction of ethnic emotions evolves into conflict. These emotions reflect primordial attachment such as blood ties, historical memories rather than immediate necessities (Cornell & Douglas, 2007, pp. 55-58). Fear of domination, hatred and anxiety are embedded in these emotions hence becoming a motivating element that drives groups and individuals to partake in violence (William, 2015, p.147). Primordialism theory is useful in explaining the emotive and passion-driven dimension and behaviour of ethnic conflicts.

However, there are critics of this theory regarding ethnic conflicts. This theory looks at the ethnic conflict in an abstract form by claiming that cultural differences trigger conflict, it does not provide an explanation on the economic and political disparities that could be attached to ethnicity (Malešević, 2004, p.178). Moreover, it treats ethnic conflicts as natural and to be expected and ignoring other causes like economic and structural processes (William, 2015, p.147 and Malešević, 2004, p.176). In addition, primordialism does not explain why conflicts erupt at the time they do and not earlier and why conflict falls and rise at different times.

3.2. Constructivism

According to the constructivism, ethnicity is a fluid identity that can be formed through various means for example conquest, immigration or colonisation (William, 2015, p.149). Malešević argues that ethnicity is a variable rather than a fixed state of being (Malešević, 2004, p.70). In relation to colonisation, constructivism argue that ethnicity is a product of socio-political dynamics of colonial states (Ibhawoh, 2010, p. 224). Ethnicity is negotiable and is constructed in daily life. Moreover, it continues to unfold. Therefore, constructivist is a contesting theory of primordialism, Baumann argues that ethnicity is not about blood as such or ancestry rather a product of people’s actions and identification, not a product of nature working by itself (Baumann, 1999, p.63).

In relation to ethnic conflicts, constructivists argue that ethnic conflicts are a product of historical processes that affect relationships between different ethnic groups hence leading to animosity (William, 2015, p.149). The critic towards this theory is that it fails to explain why people divide themselves the way they do explicitly or why do societies have certain cleavage structure (Fearon & Laitin, 2000, p. 850). Moreover, the primordialists argue that although ethnic identity could be constructed, they could become internalised and institutionalised in a way that it acquires deep meaning and generate emotions similar to a primordial identity as groups share a persisting sense of common interests and identity based on the shared historical experience, values, cultural traits, religion language and shared territory(William, 2015, p.149).

Moreover, it does not explain why some states with similar historical processes experience different conflict histories (Jackson, 2002, p. 62). It does not explicitly explain why conflicts erupt at a certain time of the historical process (William, 2015, p.149). Additionally, Bauman claims that not only historical process does play a part in affecting different ethnic relations but also contemporary situations like poverty and increased competition for resources increase intra-ethnic solidarity and cross-ethnic tensions which lead to ethnic conflict whereby ethnic belonging becomes a resource in an economic competition (Bauman, 1999, p.33). Although this theory explains the macro level of ethnic conflict, it misses out in explaining what happens at the grassroots level ignoring existing animosity.

3.3. Greed

Greed focuses on explaining conflict from the individual and group level. Basically, it tries to understand why individuals take up arms and join rebellions. Greed is the economic motivations of conducting conflict. Collier et al, use the expected utility theory argue that war is conducted if the perceived benefits outweigh the cost of rebellion(Collier & Hoeffler, 2004). People are rational agents and have a choice, also in the settings of war (Demmers, 2017, p. 108). Therefore, violence is seen as a product of individual rational actions. Ethnic Civil war is fuelled by self-interested behaviour as rebels are motivated by greed than grievances (Regan & Norton, 2005, p. 322). Moreover, individuals are utility maximisers, meaning they set goals, preferences and choose the ones with the lowest opportunity costs. War will only be waged if actors from both sides expect it to be profitable (Demmers, 2017, p. 109). Greed is about opportunities faced by the rebel group such as; financial prospect, viability of rebel organisation through lootable primary commodities and diaspora funding is the most significant factors leading to the ethnic civil war (Collier & Hoeffler, 2004). One of Collier and Hoefflers main findings on this theory are; Firstly, ethnic civil wars are overwhelmingly a phenomenon of low-income countries. Secondly, the presence of natural resources which are scarce and easily lootable leading to competition. And, finally a high degree of the fractionalised society whereby the groups that are fighting are clearly different from the rest of the population. Furthermore, Collier explains how to know whether a war is driven by greed using the following variables; the number of young males in the total population and the averages years of schooling. And, the share of primary commodity exports in gross domestic products (Demmers, 2017, p. 110).

Based on greed one could conclude that poverty lowers opportunity cost of rebellion hence becoming prone to conflict. However, greed has been criticised for referring to individuals as rational actors with perfect information. This could be wrong as there could be limited information to individuals. It is difficult for people to be perfectly capable calculated, self-interested and brutishness for the purpose of acquiring wealth (Demmers, 2017, p.112)

Greed theory and instrumentalism are interchangeable as they both focus on rationality and both perceive ethnic identity as a strategic basis for groups and individuals to fulfil their interests. Interests and utility are the central features of both approaches. The only difference is that greed theory leans more to economic interests while instrumentalism focuses on both economic interest and political interests. Below I discuss instrumentalism.

3.4 Instrumentalism

Instrumentalism believes that ethnicity is neither inherent in human nature nor intrinsically valuable. Instrumentalism perceives ethnicity as an instrument or a strategic tool to gain resources (Yang, 2000, p.46). Similarly, ethnicity can be used for gaining political power or resources; it therefore masks a core interest which is economic and political (Varshney, 2007, p.282). Malešević argues that ethnicity is a powerful political resource for generating popular support in competition between political elites (Malešević, 2004, p.111). Varshney states that conflict arises because leaders strategically manipulate ethnicity for the sake of political power or extracting resources (Varshney, 2007, p.282). Additionally, instrumentalism argues that it is rational for individuals to organise along ethnic lines depending on the benefits it will bring to them (William, 2015, p.148). It is therefore a result of actors’ rational activities of

widespread interests such as prosperity, power and security. This theory elaborates on why individuals and groups are easily mobilised into taking up arms by their leaders. Ethnic mobilisation is a coordination game which it is rational to cooperate if you see others cooperating. Instrumentalism explains why some individuals participate in ethnic violence although they are not convinced but still follow the crowd (William, 2015, p.148). However, this theory has been criticised for failing to depict ethnicity appeal. Why is it easy to mobilise people along ethnic lines? Moreover, it depicts people as being credulous that can easily be manipulated by elites(Ibhawoh, 2010, p. 224). Besides the economic and political gains, it fails to explain how atrocities of members of ethnic groups such as; genocides, rapes and torture contribute to the gains of those members (William, 2015).

3.5 Grievances

Conflicts occur when grievances are acute enough for people to risk their lives to change the socio-political system (Collier & Hoeffler, 2004, s. 564). Grievances some sort of hatred that

exists between two parties, this can be among different ethnic groups, different religious groups or population against their government (Demmers, 2017, p. 110). Discrimination, social inequalities, religious hatred and ethnic hatred, are some of the social grievances (Oyeniyi, 2010, p. 314). Grievance theory evokes the concept of relative and targeted deprivation. Relative deprivation is the gap between expectations of certain values and the capabilities of obtaining them. In other words, it is the gap between expectations and satisfaction. Zartman terms it as denied “Need”. Denied “Need” can refer to a broad range of grievances; economic repression or even political repression(Wimmer, et al., 2004, p. 141) . “Need” can be codified as rights, but they are ultimately subjective, people rebel when there is a shortfall in their expectations.

While targeted deprivation occurs when “Need” is unevenly distributed for unacceptable reasons. When people no longer see themselves as poor or deprived because of “ It’s Gods will”, or that’s the way things are but because they are being singled out as a group(Wimmer, et al., 2004, p. 142). This makes people feel as collective targets of repression and deprivation for what they are or for what they have done. People may feel targeted because of their social position or ascriptive membership(Wimmer, et al., 2004, p. 143). Targeted deprivation leads to injustice, the feeling of injustice and denied dignity start to awake emotions turning them into anger. Basically, deprivation spreads frustration which leads to anger, and anger leading to aggression. People start to revolt when they lose hope in attaining their societal values (Saleh, 2013, p. 165). However, grievance theory has been criticised for ruling out the fact that individuals are utility maximisers which the greed theory tries to explain (Demmers, 2017, s. 111). Nevertheless, Collier argues that the incidence of rebellion is not explained by motive but atypical circumstances that generate profitable opportunities (Collier & Hoeffler, 2004, s. 564). This means that the economic prospects for rebelling are what pushes one to take up arms hence downplaying grievances.

3.6 Theory interconnectivity

Although these theories are nuanced in explanation, they are interconnected at some point. Each theory on its own is not substantial enough to explain ethnicity and ethnic conflicts. Therefore, I introduce the idea of Bauman “Ethnicity as wine and not blood”. He states that,

“Wine is made of grapes hence enjoying the reputation of natural product, and so does ethnic identities are usually associated with natural bonds, forebears and descendants. However, nature itself does not produce wine, just as little does ancestry itself produce ethnicity: natural ingredients need to be added to achieve the process of fermentation, just as ethnic categorisation needs political and economic interests in order to turn them into markers of identity that can operate in daily life. At the next stage wine needs the right condition to mature just as ethnicity needs particular social conditions to acquire meaning among those who see themselves sharing it (Baumann, 1999, p.63-64)”


Excerpt out of 39 pages


The Complexity of Ethnic Conflict. Hema and Lendu Case Study
Malmö University  (Global Political Studies)
International Migration and Ethnic Rations
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Congratulations on a job very well done. It is a Very good Thesis.
Ethnic conflict, Hema and Lendu, Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo
Quote paper
Nelson Tusiime (Author), 2019, The Complexity of Ethnic Conflict. Hema and Lendu Case Study, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: The Complexity of Ethnic Conflict. Hema and Lendu Case Study

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free