Decentralisation, Violence, and Democracy: The Colonial Roots of Ethnic Conflict in Indonesia

INDONESIA'S POST-SOEHARTO DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT, A.E. Priyono, Stanley Adi Prasetyo, & Olle Tornquist, (eds.), pp. 81-96, Jakarta, Demos, 2003

13 Pages Posted: 19 May 2008 Last revised: 3 Dec 2008


Mahmood Mamdani (1996, 1999) has attracted much attention with his historicising model of the trajectory of African politics. The most fertile innovation in Mamdani's work is to speak of the typical African state as 'bifurcated'. He generalises South Africa's apartheid system to the whole of Africa. On one side is a 'civilised' urban settler society that grew out of a history of direct rule and now practises a form of democracy. On the other side is a rural 'native' society that has been thoroughly ethnicised by a history of authoritarian indirect rule.

Historicising the clientelist modes of rule that were practised in the 'uncivil' half of the bifurcated African state has for Mamdani (in the Weberian tradition?) the advantage of showing 'how power reproduces certain identities and erodes others.' It locates politicised ethnic identity not outside the state in some pre-colonial past (as modernisation theorists tended to do), but inside it, as part of the solution to specific problems of rule.

This paper attempts a similar historical analysis to explain Indonesia's ethnic conflict.

Keywords: ethnic conflict, Indonesia, Mahmood Mamdani, indirect rule, Africa

Suggested Citation

van Klinken, Gerry, Decentralisation, Violence, and Democracy: The Colonial Roots of Ethnic Conflict in Indonesia. Available at SSRN:

Gerry Van Klinken (Contact Author)

KITLV ( email )

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