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Identity Crisis And The Underlay of Social Cohesion

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Civil war or conflict has a direct impact on group identity and more importantly on social cohesion. Conflict deeply impacts relationships both within and between groups, such that inter-group exclusion often becomes necessary for survival under conditions of state fragility.

Meanwhile, in some cases, the collective experience of violence brings people together. The shared experience of war or state repression has been found to be one of the most powerful factors contributing to identity formation and reformation. In the Biafran instance in Nigeria, identity formation became a big discussion point and till today, the ghost of that identity squabbles is still very much around.

However, conflict causes demographic shifts, such that the composition or "ethnic balance" of a country can change rapidly in the midst of conflict due to internal displacement, refugee crises, mass migration, or immigration, etc. The influx of refugees from Syria into different parts of Europe will, in the nearest future create some shifts in the demographic statistics of the receiving countries and in some cases; migration legislature could take different turns.

Conflict in rural areas can lead to rapid urbanization, which can undermine social relationships by increasing competition for resources in densely populated areas with very poor living conditions. Conflict generates mistrust and suspicion within societies that greatly impact post-conflict peacebuilding efforts. For example, even after the immediate conflict is over, and groups have returned to their home areas, persistent mistrust, suspicion, and inter-group tension can undermine efforts to re-build local institutions, which is necessary to secure lasting peace. Donours often work to reconstruct destroyed infrastructure and formal government institutions, without realizing that the reconstruction of deeply broken social relationships is equally important for the stability of peace and the effectiveness of development efforts. Donours are constantly being reminded of this bit of reconstruction and reconciliation.

In brittle States that are in transition, social cohesion and fragmentation are constantly moving targets. Conflict leads to the reconfiguration of social relationships and interdependency. The layout of ethnic identification changes over time and with respect to events. It is important to note that ethnicity is not static, it is dynamic and conflict is a very powerful factor that can rapidly create shifts in identity. Social cohesion thus functions as both an independent and dependent variable. The absence of social cohesion is often a condition for conflict and violence. At the same time, conflict and violence impact the dynamics of social cohesion and fragmentation. Conflict impacts social relationships, and the relationship between state and society in multiple ways.

Within the everyday life in Nigeria, diverse social groups tend to interact and cooperate peacefully, even under conditions of insecurity, economic scarcity, prior conflict, and deep mistrust. Patterns of social cohesion and the strategies that groups use to co-exist peacefully vary from case to case, especially where there are high levels of human insecurity. In many cases, groups (even without assistance from the state or international actors) renegotiate unique ways of resolving grievances and living together, even with former enemies, in relative peace.

However, very high or eroding conditions of human insecurity especially in relation to infrastructural deficit and inequality, for instance in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, make it increasingly difficult for groups to negotiate new foundations for cohesion and peace, especially where group survival is highly dependent on a particular form of livelihood that is specific to one group. The protection of economic resources largely controlled by a particular identity group, under conditions of declining human security is often a motivating trigger for inter-group conflicts and clashes.

New patterns of social organization, and particularly of religious identity and expression, combine with horizontal inequalities to create situations of deep social frustration and strife. Within these contexts, the relationship between social cohesion and conflict is recursive. Careful analysis of social cohesion in a particular context, and the identification of opportunities for positively contributing to its (re)emergence in conflict-affected countries requires, first, in depth of understanding of the impact of prior conflict on social patterns, and, second, careful analysis of the key factors and trends within international interventions that have a high likelihood of continuing to further divide the polity, rather than unite it.

Social cohesion is necessary for reducing violence and conflict, and yet it remains most elusive when the root causes of conflict have not yet been addressed or are not being addressed sufficiently and systematically. Intergroup grievances that form during experience of social violence are very long lasting. The ability to achieve social cohesion is influenced by levels of human security, ever-changing social cleavages and reorganization, and incentives (or lack thereof) for elites to share power in an inclusive manner.