High profile political violence among refugees in sub-Saharan Africa has focused the attention of scholars and policymakers on the overall security of refugee camps. Two recent cases of international note have reinforced perceptions that refugee-related violence is increasing worldwide. First, Hutu refugees from Rwanda triggered a multinational war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); second, refugees fleeing Liberia destabilized the states of Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea.

Although many observers discern a global rise in political violence among refugees, data indicates that the number of affected refugees worldwide actually fell from 8 million to 1.7 million between 1987 and 1997. Despite this drop, “the proportion of refugee-related violence that occurs in Africa has risen to between sixty and seventy percent.” Four key catalysts can help us understand the African continent as a statistical outlier: the preponderance of civil wars on the African continent; ethnic diversity within state boundaries; the militarization of refugee populations; and the policies of host governments.

Importance of this Study

This essay addresses a question with both academic and policymaking implications: why do African refugees experience such inordinate levels of political violence? In answering this question, however, the study reveals new lines of inquiry that merit further research. First, only a quantitative analysis of the four variables that contribute to political violence can determine which variables correlate most often with refugee violence. Second, a more detailed qualitative study may reveal each variable’s independent impact on political violence. Such studies are crucial for policymakers who seek to decrease political violence among refugees in Africa. A full understanding of the variables that foster this dispiriting phenomenon will enable international diplomacy to preempt its recurrence. Furthermore, “determining the causes of violence will help predict the likelihood of its outbreak” and help the international community to better focus valuable resources in addressing potentially dangerous situations.

Definition of Political Violence

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Working Paper Number 26 defines political violence as “organized violent activity for political goals.” In refugee camps, it is often difficult to distinguish between political violence and criminal violence that lacks political motivation. This study considers violence to be political if there is “some aspect of political motivation in evidence, even if other motivations are also present.”

Refugee populations may experience five types of political violence. The most common variety—violence between refugees and the sending state—meets with the most destructive results, such as the Rwandan Hutu raids from the eastern DRC after the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Conflict between refugees and receiving states constitutes a second type of political violence. Palestinian refugees in Jordan, for instance, nearly catalyzed a civil war in 1988. Third, a refugee group may experience ethnic or factional infighting, which in turn can draw the receiving state into the conflict. Various Burundian Hutu groups in Tanzania have suffered such spillover violence since 1972. Fourth, the arrival of refugees may spark internal conflict within the receiving state, possibly by creating an unstable ethnic balance. For example, Kosovo-Albanian refugees who fled to Macedonia aggravated tensions between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Macedonia in the late 1990s. Fifth, interstate war or unilateral intervention may target refugee groups. The 1998 Rwandan intervention into the DRC, for instance, aimed at removing Hutu refugee groups in the eastern DRC.

Source of the Research Question

This study expands upon Sarah Kenyon Lischer’s account of refugee political violence, titled “Refugee Involvement in Political Violence: Quantitative Evidence from 1987-1998.” Lischer argues that most scholars perceive a worldwide increase in political violence among refugees. However, her data reveals both a global decline in political violence among refugees and a concentration of world refugee violence among a smaller number of states. Between 1987 and 1998, eleven states hosted 97 percent of all refugees involved in political violence. Africa—which alone sustains ten of the world’s fifteen most persistent and intense refugee movements—experiences a disproportionately high rate of political violence among its refugee populations.

Yet Africa’s inordinately high refugee levels fail to explain the continent’s propensity for political violence. Over the twelve-year period that Lischer studied, “refugees in Africa have constituted an average of 27 [percent] of all refugees. During that same period, refugees from African states have comprised 53 [percent] of all refugees involved in political violence.” Lischer calls for “further research…to explain the disproportionately high levels of refugee-related violence in Africa.” This paper seeks, in part, to explain her unexpected findings.

Civil Wars

A state can significantly increase its vulnerability to civil war by absorbing refugee inflows from neighboring countries—particularly if these nearby states experience episodes of internecine strife. Salehyan and Gleditsch use a linear regression model to determine the effects of large refugee populations on intrastate conflict, controlling for such factors as transborder ethnic groups, wealth, political system, and total country population. They find, for example, that the DRC heightened its own prospects for civil war from 12 to 20 percent by accepting 670,000 refugees from Rwanda, Burundi, and the Sudan.

Moreover, civil wars often generate spillover arms flows and internecine enmities that raise the risk of political violence among neighboring refugee populations. Intrastate war often proliferates arms among militants who flee the civil strife, and who therefore possess the resources needed to establish illicit arms markets within refugee camps. On the state side, burgeoning domestic weapons stockpiles frequently spill across international borders and foster violence among refugees in adjacent states.

Concurrently, the antagonisms that fuel a civil war can cross state boundaries into refugee camps. Political violence in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, for instance, followed similar strife in Sudan. In January 1999, fighting erupted between the Dinka and Didinga—two major Sudanese groups—after the assassination of a celebrated Dinka commander in an ambush at Chukudum, a Sudanese town roughly twelve kilometers from the Kenyan border. One Kakuma camp official stated that

Everything is linked to the country of origin…Insecurity issues in Kakuma are above all political. The recent fighting is another example, demonstrating that the root cause of the problems go back to southern Sudan. It is linked to the very fragmented political situation there.

Such spillovers of arms and hostilities into refugee camps greatly heighten the risk of political violence among refugees.

Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler assert that “Africa is the most conflict ridden region of the world and the only region in which the number of armed conflicts is on the increase.” Civil wars are no exception. Fourteen of the sixteen wars fought in Africa from 1990-1997 were intrastate wars, and in 1992, the African continent hosted 46.7 percent of all civil wars in the world. Refugee movements contribute to many of these intrastate wars. Africa’s disproportionate share of civil wars, coupled with the influx of refugee populations in many host countries, helps to explain the inordinate political violence experienced by African refugees.

Ethnic Diversity and Colonial Boundaries

In and of itself, ethnicity does not breed violence. However, when ethnicity becomes politicized, it can lead to political violence. Politicized violence “arises from and is used as an instrument of competition for power and resources among people, typically the elites, from different ethnic groups and becomes the basis for making claims on and seeking redress from the political system.”

Internecine strife within one state may impel groups in adjacent countries to assist their ethnic kin across the border. This cooperation may generate rebel groups in refugee camps or motivate the host government to undertake cross-border raids in order to weaken a particular ethnicity. These scenarios often result when the “the splits and factions that were at odds with each other at home…simply reproduce themselves.” Such tension mounts when refugees perceive an ethnic bond with a group in the host country and therefore request special recognition. Conversely, groups that lack connections in the host country receive little support and must accept minimal assistance from the host population.

Moreover, refugees who enter a region that already hosts an actual or potential ethnic conflict often alter the local balance of ethnicities and thereby aggravate preexisting ethnic frictions or spark new ones. Two types of tension usually result from shifts in a host country’s ethnic balance. First, the refugee influx may swell an ethnic minority’s ranks. If the majority group senses a demographic threat, it may attempt to repress the minority, which in turn may take up arms against the majority. Second, a refugee movement may enlarge the majority ethnicity. Even if this majority does not abuse its demographic clout, ethnic minorities may turn to violence to compensate for their inferior numbers.

The historical record confirms ethnic diversity’s key role in catalyzing political violence among African refugees. Idean Salehyan and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch assert, for instance, that in the DRC, “Changing demographics and instability stemming from refugee flows…led to conflict.” The mass influx of Hutu refugees after the 1994 Rwandan Genocide outraged Tutsis in eastern DRC, who believed the Mobutu government to be supporting the Hutu refugees in order to destabilize the region. When Joseph Kabila overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko with the help of the Rwandan government, the Rwandan Hutus took up arms against the new government. Kabila eventually turned against his allies in Rwanda, triggering a regional war in central Africa that included Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC.
Northern Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp offers a second example of ethnic volatility. Kakuma is home to ten nationalities and twenty ethnicities, and experiences rampant political violence both between differing nationalities (e.g., Sudanese and Somali) and between distinct ethnicities of common nationality (e.g., Sudanese Dink and Didinga). Camp workers attribute the violence to imported ethnic tensions and to interethnic competition for camp resources.

Finally, the plight of Central African Republic (CAR) refugees in the Congo during the 1990s illustrates that an absence of ethnic tensions between refugees and locals mitigates the possibility of political violence. Because the 25,000 CAR refugees, like their Congolese hosts, were of Yakoma ethnicity, they experienced negligible tensions or political violence as they integrated peacefully into their host society.

African refugees experience exceptionally frequent political violence, in part because ethnic diversity is higher within African societies. During the age of imperialism, European powers demarcated their African colonies using arbitrary boundaries that cut across ethnic lines. As a result, contemporary sub-Saharan African states comprise a “medley of different ethnic, cultural and tribal groups,” and their boundaries traverse as many as one hundred and eighty-six different ethnic territories.

In their study of civil war in Africa, Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler measure ethnic fractionalization in Africa and other regions on a scale of zero to one hundred, using an index that “measures the probability that two randomly drawn individuals from a given country do not speak the same language.” They rate Africa’s average ethnic fractionalization at sixty-one, whereas the worldwide average outside Africa is only thirty-four.

Ethnic diversity has bred considerable conflict on the African continent. According to Aderanti Adepoju of African Affairs, “the root causes are really the arbitrariness of the boundaries of African countries initially drawn up by the European colonial powers.” Indeed, the breakup of European colonial empires into multiethnic states has kindled substantial intrastate violence:

The salience of ethnicity as an instrument of political competition and state organization in several African countries, it is only to be expected that processes which have potential to alter power configurations will open new vistas for politicized ethnicity.

Evidence indicates that ethnic conflict is more common on the African continent than it is anywhere else in the world. In 1992, 47.4 percent of all ethnic conflict worldwide occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. Such tensions often accompany refugee flows and consequently cultivate political violence among refugee groups.

The Militarization of Refugee Populations

Many refugee populations in Africa that include both military and civilian elements are especially prone to engage in political violence:

Political radicalism and militancy amongst refugees is a chronic problem for host states. The difficulty of separating bona fide refugees and war-displaced people from combatants and criminals means that rebel forces or criminals often live among refugees. Military recruitment is a common problem both within and outside refugee camps. In some cases, the political control of entire camps has been taken over by militias, as occurred most famously in the Rwandan camps in Goma, but also in western Kenya (Kakuma camp), and by the Polisario in Mauritania and Algeria.

Armed groups militarize refugee camps by situating operational bases within the camps and by recruiting and procuring supplies from their inhabitants. Although preliminary screening can identify some armed groups, many of their soldiers dress in civilian clothing and hide among their fellow refugees. Even if border guards or UNHCR officials discover an armed member of a militant group, he is unlikely to surrender his weapon willingly, and UNHCR officials have no mandate to disarm the groups.

Although some armed elements voluntarily lay down their weapons to gain refugee status, others seek to return and fight, and often use refugee camps as bases to reorganize and strengthen their movements. These militarized groups cause numerous problems for the refugee population as well as the origin and host countries. First, these groups often engage in cross-border fighting with the sending country. “Cross-border fighting between ‘refugee warrior’ groups and neighboring governments threaten local populations, the sovereignty of the host government, and bilateral relations between neighbors.” Second, militarized refugee populations can destabilize the host country. Armed incursions by the origin state to destroy these armed groups can ravage the local population. The incursions include “search-and-destroy” missions that endeavor to weaken the support of armed groups. Such attacks on refugee populations typically entail “rape, looting, abductions, cattle threat and loss of civilian lives.” Armed groups usually transfer large amounts of arms with them from the conflict in the origin country. This influx of arms may assist domestic opposition groups in the host country that intend to destabilize the government. Finally, the inability to separate combatants from the refugees generally leads to a public perception in the host state that all refugees are a problem, and thereby fosters tensions between host populations and refugees.

Mauritania provides a notable example of both the impact of a militarized refugee population and the benefits that these armed groups derive from refugee camps. In 1984, the Mauritanian government outlawed Les Forces de Liberation Africaine de Mauritanie (FLAM), a black African party formed the previous year in opposition to the dominant ethnic Moors who controlled the government. Most FLAM members fled to neighboring Senegal. As a small intellectual cadre, they hardly threatened the Mauritanian government until the Mauritanian-Senegal crisis of April 1989 forced over 70,000 black Mauritanians to flee to Senegal. This influx provided the support that FLAM needed to form a potent opposition group. FLAM immediately perceived an opportunity to recruit refugees and became the dominant spokesman for black refugees who felt persecuted by the Mauritanian government. FLAM launched violent cross-border raids into Mauritania from Senegal until 1992, when the Mauritania-Senegal conflict ended and many of the refugees returned home. This repatriation weakened FLAM, which since has since become a primarily political voice.

In March 1991, the Mauritanian government granted FLAM members full amnesty and invited them to return to participate in the political process in Mauritania. FLAM consistently has refused this invitation; its exile status affords it considerable advantages. First, while the number of refugees in Senegal has decreased, the departure of the UNHCR left FLAM in complete control of the 30,000 remaining refugees. FLAM would not receive such an extensive mandate within Mauritania, where a repressive government, combined with a divided black population, would severely restrict FLAM’s recruitment efforts. Second, by remaining in exile, FLAM is able to use its ability to return as leverage against the government of Mauritania. The international community has continuously pressured Mauritania to establish the conditions needed for the return of the remainder of its refugees. Third, the refugee population in Senegal allows FLAM extensive media attention from journalists reporting on the lives of the refugees. FLAM often uses this publicity to broadcast propaganda and to slander the government in Mauritania. “FLAM’s freedom and access to the outside world is frequently cited as the organization’s greatest strength.” The case of FLAM illustrates both the problems that a militarized refugee population can cause, and the benefits that refugee status can confer on armed groups.

Several factors explain the disproportionately frequent militarization of African refugee camps. First, Africa’s porous borders make it difficult to regulate people fleeing to or from a country. Border controls are in short supply and the UNHCR lacks both the resources and the mandate to separate refugees from members of armed groups. Second, many African refugees settle among local populations. Integration is particularly easy in African societies—where ethnic populations often cross borders and hospitality plays a large cultural role—and enables armed groups to avoid detection in refugee camps while remaining committed to the struggle in the origin country. The lack of security in African refugee camps often allows armed groups to use camp supplies without having to settle under the jurisdiction of the UNHCR and the host government. Finally, many conflicts are secessionist movements that occur along state borders. When militant groups are forced to flee, they typically relocate to an adjacent state in order to maintain geographic proximity to their theaters of operations and to retain the material benefits of their refugee status. These three causes of refugee militarization in Africa precipitate disproportionately high levels of political violence.

The Policies of the Host Government

International law requires host governments to provide security to refugee populations within their borders. In the aftermath of the Rwandan and Balkan disasters, UN Resolution 1208 reaffirmed that the primary responsibility of host countries is “to ensure the security and civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps and settlements in accordance with international refugee, human rights and humanitarian law.” In reality, as long as the host state allows refugees to cross its borders, the international community can do little to ensure that the host government provides adequate security for those refugees. States can, and often do, act against the wishes of the UNHCR and the international community as a whole. Host states have three obvious choices in dealing with its refugees: they can act negatively, they can act positively, or they can fail to act. Political violence occurs primarily when a host state acts negatively towards its refugees.

Host states frequently enact negative policies when they “regard the refugees as members of a hostile population and want to keep them under closely restricted surveillance by their own security forces.” If a refugee population does suffer political violence, the host government may be unwilling or unable to secure the distant border regions that typically house its refugee camps. Such negative policies regularly accompany a host state’s economic decline, hence the thesis that “economic conditions are the major detriment of a receiving country’s migration policies.”

Host governments also must decide whether to place refugee populations under the authority of civilian or military bodies. A civilian agency that focuses primarily on refugees can address their needs and combat other sources of political violence. Unsympathetic host governments, on the other hand, may place refugees under a military mandate. State security forces are likely to view refugee populations as administrative burdens or security threats. Consequently, they may adopt harsh policies that render refugees politically cynical and drive them to join armed groups.

Zimbabwean policies towards an influx of Mozambican refugees in the 1980s illustrate the importance of placing refugees under the control of a civilian state agency. Under the care of social workers, the Mozambican refugees were provided increased opportunities and services. Accordingly, Zimbabwe witnessed very few cases of political violence among its Mozambican refugees. A second example is Malawi’s response to an exodus of over two million refugees from Mozambique during Mozambique’s decades-long civil war. “Despite its status as one of the poorest countries in the world, NGOs described Malawi’s response to the refugee crisis as ‘heroic.’” Once again, few reports of political violence among refugees emerged from Malawi.

Conversely, Kenya demonstrates how a host government’s negative policies can contribute to political violence among its refugees:

Kenya’s longstanding apprehension with regard to large refugee influxes is the result of several factors: a chronic shortage of arable land…; a particular fear of ethnic Somalis, who in the 1960s fought for the north-east of the country to be incorporated into a greater Somali state; and a more general concern that the arrival of refugees will lead to the spread of firearms, increased levels of crime and social unrest.

Due to these apprehensions, Kenya does not have any refugee legislation, even though it has hosted a substantial number of refugees for decades. The Kenyan government treats the refugees as the UNHCR’s problem and will not provide land for the exiled populations or agree to any long-term settlement. These policies create a hostile environment for the refugees, whose camps in Kenya are ripe for political violence. Without the assistance of the Kenyan government, security is almost nonexistent among northern Kenyan refugee camps. “In and around Kakuma and Dadaab, the rule of law is weak and the perpetrators of violence are rarely held accountable for their actions.” This security shortage has catalyzed the formation of very powerful rebel groups within the refugee camps who destabilize not only the areas around the camps, but also entire border areas in both Sudan and Somalia as well.

Finally, Senegal’s policies toward FLAM in the early 1990s illuminate the importance of host government policies in curbing political violence. In 1989, Senegal received an influx of refugees from Mauritania after a confrontation between the two governments. Senegal welcomed these refugees and failed to prevent the violent cross-border raids by FLAM. In April 1992, Mauritania and Senegal reestablished diplomatic ties and reopened their mutual border. The end of the crisis effectively ended the FLAM raids. Once Senegal pulled its support from FLAM, that group lost the military support and base of operations vital for continued attacks. FLAM Executive Committee member Abdulahi Sy is quoted as saying “If we had the means, we could [conduct an armed struggle] clandestinely from Mauritania. But if the Senegalese government won’t let arms into the country, then how do you do it?” The Senegalese government has clarified that any attacks on Mauritania by FLAM would lead to their immediate expulsion. Mauritania has not experienced any significant attacks since 1992. These examples demonstrate how host government policies can either encourage or prevent political violence among refugees.

The policies of host governments vary across many regions in the world “because different economic, political and military factors shape their respective policy responses.” The economies of African host states, for instance, are among the poorest in the world. Average per capita income is only $2000 in Africa, although it is $3625 in other developing areas of the world. The annual report of the UNDP ranks 130 countries in a Human Development Index based upon life expectancy, adult literacy, and purchasing power. Seventeen of the thirty refugee-producing countries are in the bottom fifth of the index. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to fourteen of these seventeen states.

The host government’s economic capacity plays an important role in its policies toward refugees. Large-scale refugee flows can overwhelm a state’s economic capacity and create a conflict for resources between refugees and the host population. Economic problems caused by refugees can cultivate secessionist movements, revolutionary activity, or even the collapse of the state. The fact that most African states that host large refugee populations are poor maintains the status quo because “richer states tend to have better police, military, infrastructure, and administrative capabilities. A high level of wealth may also reduce economic grievances and provide high opportunity costs for fighting.” African states’ economic difficulties put them in an almost impossible position to provide the security needed to prevent refugee-related political violence.

Moreover, Africa’s weak states frequently have no alternative to adopting negative refugee policies. Many lack the civil services and security forces necessary to properly manage large refugee influxes. Weak governments are also more susceptible to opposition movements that may accompany an incursion of armed refugees. If the government is forced to concentrate on these domestic uprisings, they will be unable to adequately deal with the violence that may occur among its refugees. Finally, because weak governments are often suspicious of incoming refugees, they may enact negative policies that will contribute to tension and violence. African states often face large, armed and politically charged refugee populations. Unfortunately, most African states’ governmental and economic weaknesses significantly limit their capacity to preempt refugee-related political violence.

Policy Recommendations

The preceding analysis of African refugees and political violence suggests four sets of policy recommendations. The first pertains to the critical lack of small arms control on the African continent. A high incidence of civil wars, coupled with high levels of political violence, has raised demand for small arms in Africa. Small arms are attractive to refugee rebel groups because they are “light, easily transportable, and…require little logistical support, training or maintenance.” Since the Cold War ended, a thriving black market has helped proliferate small arms in Africa. African governments and rebel groups have purchased large quantities of cheap small arms, which often end up in refugee camps. Policymakers therefore must curb the flow of small arms into Africa if they aim to reduce political violence among African refugees.

The international community therefore should increase transparency surrounding arms transfers to Africa, so as to expose both the states that supply arms to conflict-ridden countries and the African leaders who spend their scarce funds on illicit arms. In particular, African states should be forced to publicly document all arms transactions. According to Human Rights Watch, “if a country believes that it is in its national interest to make a particular arms sale, it should be willing to divulge details of the sale and provide its justification.” The UN Register of Conventional Arms can achieve additional transparency by documenting transfers of light weapons and small arms.

Policymakers also must tackle small-arms proliferation from the supply side. Yet only a coordinated effort by the UN and other multilateral organizations can truly impact the behavior of arms suppliers, whose substantial economic interests act as a disincentive to halt or counter arms proliferation. Supplier restraint is increasingly necessary in light of recent announcements that major suppliers, such as Russia and France, plan to increase arms exports.

The objective of small-arms nonproliferation entails a second policy recommendation. African militants will surrender their weapons voluntarily only in exchange for security guarantees, yet in order to provide these guarantees, the UNHCR must formulate better security plans to address African refugee crises. Host states that cannot or will not protect refugees delegate this responsibility to the UNHCR. Unfortunately, the UNHCR has neither the resources nor the mandate to offer any service—security included—beyond humanitarian relief.

The UNHCR should reprioritize its responses to refugee flows in Africa so as to stress safety and security over assistance. Procedures of establishing camps should “ensure the physical safety of refugees and all camp denizens, prevent future problems for the surrounding area, and to make the delivery of assistance safe.” For example, it should position refugee camps at a safe distance from the border and in a conflict-free area. If they are situated along the border of the origin state, camps are vulnerable to cross-border raids or “refugee warrior” groups. Even non-militarized camps “can thus become part of the war economy.”

Moreover, the UNHCR can provide true security for African refugees through the threat of armed force. It can address political violence best by obtaining a mandate to use force to protect refugees. This mandate could engage UN peacekeepers or African Union troops, in addition to local officials and leaders.

A third policy recommendation is to encourage host states to better integrate refugees into local populations. Such a strategy might both reduce the number of potential recruits available to rebel groups in the camps and reward host states’ economies:

When refugees are allowed to gain access to resources, have freedom of movement and can work alongside their hosts to pursue productive lives, they will be less dependent on aid, and better able to overcome the sources of tension and conflict in their host communities.

Refugees who assimilate into their host communities are less likely to compete with locals. Moreover, integration would give refugees a stake in the security of their adopted communities and lessen dependence on international organizations. Lastly, these refugees can provide supplemental economic assistance that host states might utilize to support additional refugee populations. If host states give refugees the freedom to work, “governments would benefit from the distribution and sale of essential work permits to refugees. Governments would also be able to tax goods imported from the country of origin.”

As noted above, Senegal deterred raids from its refugee camps by threatening to repatriate its Mauritanian refugees. All states that host large refugee populations should follow Senegal’s lead, in recognition of the role that host state policy plays in encouraging or inhibiting refugee-based political violence.

This causal linkage also surfaced in southeast Asia in the late 1980s. Close political and economic ties between Thailand and Burma helped avert militarization in the numerous Burmese refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border. Because refugees in Thailand understood that their host state would punish any unrest by repatriating them to Burma, they remained peaceful even during a Burmese uprising. Conversely, Thailand tolerated militarized refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border because it favored a buffer zone between Thailand and the Vietnamese who occupied Cambodia. In short, Thai policies determined the levels of political violence that afflicted both the Burmese and the Cambodian refugee camps.

Fourth, policymakers should help African states adopt political identities that consolidate numerous ethnic groups into unitary national identities. In most African states, “the majority of nationalist movements and resultant political parties were ethnically defined, drawing their support base from the fragmented ethnic social structures of the colonial era.” A comparison of the Kenyan and Tanzanian experiences illustrates the importance of elevating a national over an ethnic identity. Although they share similar geographies, histories, and colonial institutions, Kenya and Tanzania have implemented fundamentally different ethnic policies. Tanzanian policies embraced a nationality of ethnicity, which generated a “far greater degree of attachment to national ideals, political leaders and the Swahili language in Tanzania” than in Kenya. This difference may explain why refugees in Tanzania face less political violence than those in Kenya. One way to form this national identity is to embrace liberal democracy. “Liberal democratic norms like elections, political participation, the rule of law, and the rights of association and expression, could provide the base for the expression of citizenship in its substantive form.”


African refugee populations are no longer passive victims of sub-Saharan strife; they are increasingly active facilitators of insecurity and violence, both among themselves and within their origin and host countries. While this rise in political violence among refugees has abated globally, refugee-related political violence in Africa is increasing. The preponderance of African civil wars, ethnic diversity and poorly drawn national borders, militarized refugee populations, and the policies of African host governments, all contribute to disproportionately high levels of political violence. Scholars and policy-makers must consider these and other factors in order to preempt and prevent refugee violence. If they fail, the ensuing political violence will only exacerbate regional conflict.

Justin Pini received his master’s degree in diplomacy and international relations from Seton Hall University in May 2007. He has also spent time doing volunteer work in western Kenya