Why Politically Included Ethnic Groups Rebel: Decolonization, Ethno-nationalism, and Within-Group Heterogeneity

Jangai Jap, George Washington University


Ethnicity and Conflict in Myanmar


Recent advances in the empirical literature demonstrate that ethnic rebellion is causally linked to an ethnic group’s political status, specifically political exclusion. In other words, political inclusion has a peace-inducing effect. Yet, ethnic groups that are included in meaningful power-sharing arrangements do rebel. Why do politically included ethnic groups rebel? What motivates ethnic rebellion? I argue that the conflict-dampening effect of political inclusion is undermined by heterogeneity within ethnic minority communities. I propose a theory of ethnic rebellion that emphasizes within-group heterogeneity, colonial legacy, and ethno-nationalism. This explanation involves two related components: an ethnic group consists of many factions, holding different ideas about how to relate to the post-colonial state, and ethnic identity is more fixed for some members of an ethnic group than others and these individuals develop strong ethno-nationalist views. Given the heterogeneity, ethnic rebellion may still be initiated by ethno-nationalists even if an ethnic group has political representation. I substantiate these claims by conducting a subnational study of Burma. Through a comparative case study of how ethnic rebellion began in Burma’s ethnic communities, this paper shows that the onset of rebellion occurred in ethnic communities in spite of political inclusion and that the onsets of rebellion in politically excluded ethnic communities are not due to political exclusion.

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CCSEAS Conference 2021 |