(Fourth Essay)




LaTasha T. Johnson


Prof. Melson


Political Science 543 Honors


1 May 1998



            In this essay, I will be summarizing and discussing Horowitz’s suggestion that there may be structural arrangements such as federalism in Nigeria that can alleviate ethnic conflict and resolve some problems of governance in plural societies.  I raise two questions of my own and then use Horowitz writing as a potential answer to my questions.  Essential to this discussion will be Horowitz’s five mechanisms of conflict reduction.  He uses Nigeria to illustrate his discussion, specifically its creation of states and its political parties’ assimilations and differentiations.

            Earlier in the semester, I had asked if ethnic conflict could really be resolved through integration, assimilation, equal opportunity, i. e., through some type of structural arrangement.  I also wanted to know if ethnic conflicts are perpetuated through rhetoric of homogeneity while certain positions are held and were always intended to be held by a certain elite or ethnic group.  Throughout the semester, I have received a variety of answers to these questions.  A particularly detailed attempt at an answer was found in the course readings. 


            Donald Horowitz begins chapter fifteen of Ethnic Groups in Conflict with a discussion of how structural arrangements such as federalism alleviates and positively affects ethnic conflict.  He uses Nigeria as the case study.  Elsewhere in the book (pp597-599), he discussed five mechanisms of conflict reduction.  The first mechanism is to disperse the conflict by spreading the focus of power away from one central focal point.  The second mechanism for reducing interethnic conflict is to emphasize intraethnic conflict.  The third mechanism is to create incentives for interethnic cooperation.  The fourth mechanism is to encourage political alignments based on issues other than ethnicity.  The final mechanism which Horowitz identifies is to reduce disparities between groups so that dissatisfaction lessens.  In the part of chapter fifteen, Horowitz shows that Nigeria incorporated these mechanisms into its structural techniques to reduce ethnic conflict.[1] 


                        “Where there is some determination to play by the rules, the rules can                     restructure the system so that the game itself changes.”  (p. 601)


            Horowitz gives a detailed discussion of Nigerian federalism beginning with the First Nigerian Republic (1960-1966)  up to the military coup of 1983.  The creation of various states in Nigeria created an a split-level arena.  On one level, their was a struggle for control of the federal state and on the other level their was struggle for control at the state level.  Horowitz asserts that these new arrangements transferred the conflict from the federal to the state level.  He gives the history of party affiliations and transformations.  These changes in party affiliations along with the creation of more states led to the transformation of electoral incentives.  Through assimilation and differentiation, more parties were formed.  These new political parties coupled with the creation of more states, created new “ethno-political” opportunities.  Although new parties were being formed and un-formed, there were still elements of party continuity and ethnic elements remained persistent in Nigeria despite new alignments and affiliations.  Horowitz says that the main consequences of this new federal, multi-state structure were “a rearrangement of the building blocks of non-ethnic focused political parties and a reflection of their underlying strength.”  Overall, Horowitz asserts that the Nigerian experience (1960-1983) demonstrated that federalism can act as an electoral reformer and an arena changer.  As a result of electoral reform, political parties were forced to appeal to ethnic groups outside  its regional area of support.  Also incentives for interethnic cooperation were reinforced.  Horowitz’s argument is that “federalism can create a new framework for electoral reasoning on the part of voters and party leaders.” 

            Bringing his argument full circle, Horowitz asserts that the Nigerian federal framework used all five mechanisms of conflict reduction.  The creation of states satisfied the first mechanism by dispersing the ethnic conflict into different forums.  Satisfying the second mechanism, these new states became arenas for intraethnic conflict.  This led to the third mechanism because it enhanced the position of some political parties over others which is the basis for interethnic cooperation.  In line with the fourth mechanism, Non-ethnic issues and actors were introduced as new states sought to advance their positions.  And in line with the fifth mechanism, the new opportunities in state bureaucracies afforded career opportunities for groups underrepresented in the federal bureaucracy.  Horowitz ends discussion of Nigerian federalism by pointing out that it “demonstrated that it is possible to take deliberate action to restructure institutions so as to alter ethnic balances and alignments.”


Horowitz’s five mechanisms of conflict reduction seem not to reduce conflict but to shift the conflict or even to alter the nature of the conflict.  If by reduction he means to shift and alter.  His mechanisms can be seen as conflict-reducing.  However, if by reduction he means to lessen or minimize, then I am not sure if his mechanisms are conflict-reducing.  Horowitz is operating on the assumption that complexity lessens ethnic conflict.  I disagree.  Spreading the focus of power, his first mechanism, does not alleviate conflict.  Horowitz’s definition of conflict (found in chapter 3) is a struggle to achieve goals and gain objectives while at the same time to neutralize, to injure, or to eliminate rivals.  According to this definition of conflict, his second mechanism does not work.  Emphasizing intraethnic conflict over interethnic conflict is still conflict.  Creating incentives for interethnic cooperation has a lot of merit as does encouraging non-ethnic political affiliations, and reducing disparities between and among groups to lessen dissatisfaction.  However, if by conflict reduction, Horowitz is referring to reducing the intensity and severity of a conflict and reducing the widespread violence of a particular conflict then his mechanisms do work.  He is not specific about his definition of conflict reduction. 

            Horowitz’s discussion of Nigerian federalism as a case study is problematic in that he specifically chooses the time period of 1960-1983.  The fact that the military coup of 1983 (which he classifies as non-ethnic) occurred suggests that his ideas of conflict reduction may not work.  Horowitz admits that ethnic tensions were persistent throughout the period.  I suggest that if ethnic tensions or conflicts remained and if ethnic conflict reduction was not permanently alleviated, then the suggestion that there may be arrangements that can alleviate conflict and resolve governance problems is not entirely sound.  Horowitz’s assertion that Nigeria between 1960 and 1983 demonstrates that federalism can act as an electoral reformer and an arena changer is true. The case study is also an excellent illustration of his five mechanisms of conflict reduction, despite his lack of definition of conflict reduction.  His overall argument that “federalism can create a new framework for electoral reasoning on the part of voters and party leaders” is clearly demonstrated by his study of Nigeria.


            The questions raised at the beginning of this essay were partially answered.  Horowitz showed that ethnic conflict can be, if not resolved, reduced by structural arrangements.  The answer to the question about the perpetuation of ethnic conflict is only hinted at by the Nigerian military coup of 1983.  The use of Nigeria (1960-1983) as a case study was efficient in demonstrating Horowitz’s five mechanisms of conflict reduction.  Horowitz’s discussion of the assimilations and differentiations of Nigeria’s political parties is also reminiscent of his discussion of political party formation.    Horowitz’s overall assertions and arguments are clearly supported through his discussion of Nigeria.  Although Horowitz fails to define conflict reduction, he still makes his points. 

[1]Structural Techniques to Reduce Ethnic Conflict is the title of chapter fifteen.


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