Identity has the power to both create unity and drive conflict. In 2016, my late college peace studies professor gave a talk on how individuals’ determination to seek meaning through identity rather than ideas could have major negative implications if that identity was pushed to create divergence. He was an incredibly knowledgeable and accomplished figure in the peace studies world, and I had the privilege of taking a few of his courses before his passing. In fact, one reason I was so drawn to interning at USIP was because of what I had learned from him about justice, nonviolence, and security studies.
The rise of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria led to the displacement of millions of people, and these internally displaced persons (IDPs) were relocated to host communities where they have been stigmatized due to differences in culture or religion, a typically fixed identity. I read more about the plight of IDPs when compiling a report on workshops conducted in the Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe (BAY) states. Aside from conflicts with host community members, many IDPs felt that the government was neglecting their needs, not providing enough resources and letting grave human rights violations occur.
Hoping to mitigate the injustices that occur in the region, some foreign aid organizations do work directly with civilians, just like USIP does, to get to the root of various issues. Once USIP attains information through its baseline workshops, it works to implement dialogues with leaders to shift understanding and move toward more peaceful outcomes. Still, some civilians believe that there is an oversaturation of NGOs in the area. I created an excel sheet of the foreign aid and civil society organizations working to improve the situation in northeast Nigeria for a report that was used to inform the state department about the security situation. It was important to track what work each organization was doing to help the JSD team determine what areas were being addressed. (JSD hopes to expand this process to other countries as well, such as Colombia. I also sat in on a two-day conference where USIP members discussed their plans for this expansion.)
Thinking back to the words of my professor, I could see several instances where the act of gripping to an identity played a huge role in conflicts occurring in northeast Nigeria. Even civil society organizations were specific to improving the quality of life for specific groups of people, demarcated by their gender, age, or culture. The way individuals derive meaning from identity can tell us so much about the degree of change they are willing to accept in their environment and how well these parties can achieve compromise. The governance crisis, insurgency, and communal clashes in the region could all potentially be analyzed from this perspective.
After spending ten weeks studying this region, I gained a lot of insight into its people, culture, and daily struggles. I look forward to using the skills, insight, and expertise I gained from this opportunity in future endeavors. I would like to thank Professor Warren for connecting me to this opportunity and my USIP supervisors for trusting and assisting me on these projects.