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Clientelism and ethnic divisions in African countries

Journal article
Authors Arne Bigsten
Ann-Sofie Isaksson
Published in African Affairs
Volume 116
Issue 465
Pages 621-647
ISSN 0001-9909
Publication year 2017
Published at Gothenburg Centre for Globalization and Development (GCGD)
Department of Economics
Pages 621-647
Language en
Keywords Clientelism; vote buying; ethnic divisions; Africa
Subject categories Economics


This article investigates the commonly assumed link between ethnic divisions and clientelism in African politics by examining the role of contextual ethnic divisions and specific ethnic affiliations in shaping attitudes towards clientelism. The empirical findings, drawing on quantitative data for 38,293 survey respondents across 25 African countries suggest important country heterogeneity, but also highlight some regularities. In particular, the ethnic composition of the population in the area of residence, rather than the individual's own ethnic affiliation, is important in shaping support for clientelism. Individuals living in a region where the majority of the population is the president's co-ethnics tend to be more supportive of clientelism, regardless of their own ethnic affiliation. The wide coverage of the results makes them especially interesting; while a number of studies suggest ethnically based targeted transfers in specific sectors or settings, this study explores the links between different forms of ethnic divisions and support for clientelism in a large multi-country African sample.

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