Skip to main content

ALMA Reviews Blog: Frontiers of Ethnic Brutality in an African City: Explaining the Spread and Recurrence of Violent Conflict in Jos, Nigeria

Kingsley L. Madueke and Floris F. Vermeulen, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Published 2018 in Africa Spectrum, 53, 2. 37-63,

Available at:

The article by Madueke and Vermeulen analyses the violence and ethno-religious riots that took place in the city of Jos, Nigeria during the period 2001–2010. The authors catalogue hostilities and atrocities that occurred during this time. They argue that whilst indigenous rights and political representation are considered as the primary factors behind the violence, the ethnic divide can be seen as erupting along religious lines, namely between the Muslim and Christian communities/ethnicities. Religion is considered as offering a “wider base for mobilising political support” (p. 39). Additionally, the authors refer to other factors with effects beyond the superficial religious divide that explain violence among local criminals, ethno-political activists, party loyalists, vigilantes, etc. (p. 39). The introduction situates the article in the discourse of demography and ethnic violence, more specifically between literatures arguing that violence increases in mixed demographic settlements vs. literatures positing that segregated demographic settlements result in “deepening sectarian animosity” (p. 40).

The article essentially seeks to illustrate how a neighbourhood’s demography and spatiality play a role in its vulnerability to “cross-neighbourhood activities from violent hordes” (p. 39). The authors show that neighbourhoods in Jos with mixed demographics that bordered neighbourhoods with a homogenous demographic became “frontiers” for ethno-religious riots and violence. The spatiality, more specifically the location and the borders of these areas, are shown to contribute to higher levels of violence.

Methodologically, the article is well argued and builds on a sophisticated design. In an insightful manner, the authors use an in-depth case study on the neighbourhood of Ali Kazaure to study levels and patterns of violence. The levels of violence were determined through official reports and hospital records. The patterns of violence were established through extensive interviews and discussions with riot participants, surviving victims, eyewitnesses and other residents. The information obtained was combined to create three categories: Major Violence (MV), No Violence (NV) and Sporadic Violence (SV). The profiles of different neighbourhoods, more specifically their demographic makeup, was determined by reviewing public primary school records and by looking at the common entrance-examination registration for graduating classes within the period 1990 to 2010, as well as through discussions with school staff. In this way, the neighbourhoods were identified as mixed or segregated, allowing for spatial analysis. The term “sandwiched” was used as a spatial marker for neighbourhoods that shared borders with settlements/neighbourhoods consisting of two opposing majorities (with “non-sandwiched” being not the case).

The literature review and related discussion very adequately highlights the gap in research and discourse upon the relevance of spatiality in conflict. The metaphor of frontiers not only places emphasis on the strategic importance of certain neighbourhoods, but also highlights the need to account for external actors not clearly visible in the dichotomous divide between two opposing groups.

The article presents the consolidated results of the field research conducted (with some glimpses of empirical data collected) to create a concise piece. It achieves its goal of providing a foundation for the theoretical framework, more specifically for an argument for spatial analysis, but seemed at times to avoid detailed reflection upon the categorisation of the “ethnic identities”. For example, while determining the ethno-demographic composition of the neighbourhoods through public primary school records, over/under-representation was presented as “balancing each other out” (p. 50). Granted that the scope of the article is presented as being limited to discussing the spatiality argument and to highlighting a gap in the research, nonetheless a study based on empirical field research could benefit from a more detailed review of its own limitations and biases.

The authors summarise the historical background of the region relevant to the case study. The importance of ethnic identities is significant due to the concept of indigenous rights and the ambiguity of its definition in the constitution, in addition to the subjective interpretation across Local Government Authorities and states. As the rights guaranteed through citizenship status do not include the privileges of indigenous rights, the issue is one of contention. With the earlier migrants from the North, namely the Hausa community, which formed a majority, becoming politically dominant, later migrants from the South formed the minority and fought for political representation. The Hausa group argued for indigenous status owing to the contributions to the community made over a longer extensive time period. Religion was identified as playing a prominent role in the riots, yet the authors do not expand more upon whether the religious divide followed that of the aforementioned historical identities or whether the religious grouping simply overshadowed all other socio-political identifications. Nevertheless, the terminologies of frontiers and ethnic strongholds used by the authors are reiterated as metaphors, allowing a deeper understanding of the conflict in Jos and the relevance of spatiality in the riot episodes.

Reviewed by: Michael Lieber Cobb

To all contributions of the ALMA Reviews Blog

Foto: ©Cynthia Matonhodze, Harare, Zimbabwe

News Type:
General News