Dying to dream: exploring citizen political participation in conflict and post-conflict periods in Burundi
Lemon, Adrienne Marie
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This dissertation examines the factors that shape political participation and perceptions about political choice during and after conflict. Societies that experience civil war, and particularly ethnic civil war, are vulnerable to the “conflict trap,” meaning that they are likely to experience second or third wars based on tensions exacerbated by conflict. Existing literature on group mobilization in post-conflict societies and related scholarship predicts that factors like ethnic identity, income, and education best explain participation in political violence and likelihood of recurrence of civil war. However, countries often defy these predictors, and gaps remain in our understanding of how citizens participate in politics during conflict. This dissertation therefore seeks to answer the question: What explains citizens’ choices about political participation as they experience the turmoil conflict and post-conflict periods? To answer this question, this study draws upon the case of Burundi, a country that has hovered between post-conflict and conflict statuses since the conclusion of its recent civil war. I conduct qualitative analysis of 113 in-depth interviews collected across four provinces in Burundi, examining the variety of choices made in relation to political participation both during and after the war. I find that citizens’ choices about political participation are fluid, and heavily contingent upon their interpersonal connections, with specific contributions in three main areas. First, rebel and political groups’ identities hinge upon the values associated with narratives they use to garner legitimacy, more so than the division itself (be it political, ethnic, or otherwise). Second, interactions that take place between generations and within key social networks heavily influence patterns of political participation. These interactions explain the wide array of relationships to politics observed within subgroups (like youth and women), and provide a better understanding of how they take action. Last, in the post-conflict era, non-state actors influence the potential for conflict, simultaneously creating space for wider political participation and challenging state actors still interested in maintaining legitimacy. These findings challenge currently weak predictors of cyclical violence and the assumed mechanisms driving them, highlighting the prominence of social ties and roles that shape mobilization and political choice.