The role of ethnic rivalry exaggerated?

…despite the leading role of ethnic appeals in national politics, ethnic divisions have been much less damaging in Sierra Leone than in many of its African neighbors, and in particular were not a leading factor in the recent 1991-2002 civil war.

That’s Rachel Glennerster, Ted Miguel, and Alexander Rothenberg suggesting ethnic divions aren’t everywhere and always bad for peace and prosperity.

…a leading explanation for Sierra Leone’s relatively good inter-ethnic cooperation is the presence of strong traditional local authorities that help overcome the classic free-rider problem in local public goods provision.

Chiefs collect local taxes, diamond mining and logging royalties and market fees, and serve as the final arbiter in local courts. These Chiefs, who effectively have lifetime tenure, together with an entire hierarchy of village chiefs and village elders that they head, continue to dominate local politics, and have the authority to punish free-riders through fines, public embarrassment, and corporal punishment.

3 thoughts on “The role of ethnic rivalry exaggerated?

  1. Except in the paper, the political strength of these chiefs as enforcers doesn’t seem to be the key mechanism in attenuating ethnic diversity effects on cooperation. They find no results for political strength (in terms of tenure and security), and chalk cooperation up to shared language and interethnic ties.

  2. Must have been the lead article in Journal of Invalidation of Straw Men Arguments… “aren’t everywhere and always bad for peace and prosperity” indeed!

  3. Pretty much what the other two said:

    1. Glennerster et al’s tests of the role of chiefly institutions do not reveal a significant influence on quality of public goods provision (although studies like Krishna’s ‘Active Social Capital’ do find evidence for the importance of village institutions in India at least).

    2. Glennerster et al’s evidence doesn’t show that the role of ethnic heterogeneity has been exaggerated in the past. Rather, they seem to show that diversity is not destiny, when it comes to providing public goods. Which is a positive result really.