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Indirect colonial rule and the salience of ethnicity

Lachlan McNamee

World Development, 2019, vol. 122, issue C, 142-156

Abstract: Why is ethnicity more salient in some contexts than in others? This paper provides new theory and evidence linking indirect colonial rule to the contemporary salience of ethnicity in sub-Saharan Africa. Using Afrobarometer survey data, I establish a substantively significant cross-national relationship between the indirectness of colonial rule and the strength of contemporary ethnic identification in sub-Saharan Africa. To show that this relationship is causal, I then exploit a sub-national research design leveraging regional variation in direct and indirect colonial rule across the country of Namibia. I show that, controlling for location and ethnicity, indirect colonial rule is also associated with stronger ethnic identification within Namibia both across the country as a whole and within 50 km of the border dividing indirectly and directly ruled areas of Namibia. This paper then disentangles why indirect rule is so robustly associated with the salience of ethnicity. I theorize and provide evidence that the effects of indirect rule can be attributed to the greater importance of traditional leaders and ethnically demarcated customary land rights in formerly indirectly ruled areas. As such, this paper helps uncover the causes of important regional variation in the salience of ethnicity, advances our understanding of the institutional origins of ethnic conflict in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and thus why indirect colonial rule is so often associated with poor developmental outcomes.

Keywords: Ethnic conflict; Colonialism; Sub-Saharan Africa; Namibia; Traditional leaders; Quantitative methods (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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Persistent link: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:eee:wdevel:v:122:y:2019:i:c:p:142-156

DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.05.017

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