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Inter-community conflicts at the local level (ICLL)

Based on a case study carried out in the town of Kousseri, located in the southern zone of the basin of Lake Chad in Cameroon, we identified the symptomatic elements of issues inherent to inter-community conflicts:

1. Using a psycho-sociological approach allowed us to bring to light three categories of variables which validate our hypotheses, and that explain the emergence of frustrations carrying a high risk of bringing about violent conflict:

  • Memory: this results in a ‘symbolic violence’ felt in the present. This is due to past collective traumas, and is passed on through generations. For example the oppression by the authoritarian regime in Cameroon in 1979 towards an Arab village resulting in its destruction left a significant traumatic legacy in the collective memory of the Arab community and explains in part the vindictiveness of its members during the violence of 1992.
  • Culture: that places value on models of aggressive behaviour. The possession of small arms and light weapons by families is very common and considered legitimate, particularly within the Arab community. Aggressive behaviour is sometimes rewarded and considered heroic (Albert BANDURA 1973).
  • Politics: Violence is considered a form of self-affirmation and contestation resulting from of a sense of suffering from discrimination. This is linked to the dysfunction of the political system, according to the analytical model proposed by E. Zimmermann (1983). The violence that occurred in 1992 could for example be analysed as a form of affirmation, and over and above this as display of the power of the Arab community which aspires to political power after having long been powerless.

2. Previous conflicts have left the social body wounded and broken. The two communities involved, the Kotoko and Choa Arabs, are separated at worst by hate and at best by suspicion when compelled to live together in the same spaces. To use an image from Simmel [1], we find ourselves on the bridge linking peace and conflict.

3. This forced proximity takes place in a context where reconciliation is far from having a solid foundation, and therefore creates over-sensitivity to conflicts that oppose individuals of the two communities.

4. It is the general opinion of those encountered during the research that the slightest altercation between individuals belonging to the two communities can, in certain circumstances, be instrumentalised, amplified and propagated. In this kind of scenario a conflict can spread through neighbourhoods like bush fire, by means of rumours stirring up emotions, and with the result that altercations can quickly develop into a riot with unpredictable consequences. The physical dimension of the confrontation catalyses strong solidarity in this type of context where the enemy is already designated.

5. According to the well established paradigm we can see that one of the major characteristics of the collective transition to direct violence is to always “simplify”: to exacerbate the gap between enemy and friend and between the in-group and the out-group relative to which the protesting group compares its situation and defines its frustrations. The inevitable consequence of this can be summarised through the redoubtable order to ‘pick a side’ [[See Philippe Braud, “La violence politique : repères et problèmes “, Cultures & Conflits

[1Simmel Georg, Sociologie. Etudes sur les formes de socialisation, Paris, PUF, 1999.