Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Carrie Manning

Second Advisor

Dr. Charles Hankla

Third Advisor

Dr. Louis-Alexandre Berg


The origins of ethnic conflicts have been a prominent part of the literature on civil wars, especially African civil wars. In this paper, I argue that political leaders' instrumentalization of ethnicity is made possible because of colonial administrations' ethnic configurations. Ethnic conflicts occur when political leaders instrumentalize preexisting ethnic configurations to gain or remain in power. I further claim that such strategies are more likely to result in conflicts in multiparty systems because the stakes are higher during elections. Under a multiparty system this instrumentalization occurs through two major mechanisms: (1) the ethnic polarization of political parties and (2) the installation of the fear of victimization. This conclusion has many implications for conflict resolution strategies and post-conflict statebuilding.

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