Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Ethnic Diversity, Social Sanctions and Public Goods in Kenya (PDF)

Yet another paper that demonstrates the powerful influence ethnic tensions can have on good governance.

Abstract: This paper examines ethnic diversity and local public goods in rural western Kenya. The identification strategy relies on stable, historically determined patterns of ethnic land settlement. Ethnic diversity is associated with lower primary school funding, worse school facilities, and poor water well maintenance. The theoretical model illustrates how an inability to impose social sanctions in diverse communities leads to collective action failures. We find that school committees in diverse areas do impose fewer sanctions on defaulting parents. We relate these results to the literature on social capital and economic development, and discuss implications for decentralization in less developed countries.

This is an especially timely find, especially in light of a recent Samizdata post by Perry de Havilland bringing to mind the ill-fated breakaway Republic of Biafra. Nigeria is an obscenely diverse place, with some 515 languages (as compared to a mere 400 in India) and no one ethnic group with a clear plurality in terms of population; no one who has lived there for a decent amount of time could ever underplay the centrality of ethnic rivalry to the politics of the country.

Looking back on the last 30 years, it seems obvious to me that it really would have been for the best if Biafra had been allowed to go its own way, though I think poor decisions made by Biafra's leader, Chukwuemaka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, had a greater role to play in Biafra's failure to secede than most Igbo people are willing to acknowledge today. Portuguese, Rhodesian and apartheid South Africa's recognition of Biafran independence was also a major setback for Igbo independence efforts, as it guaranteed that hardly any other country in Africa would extend the same recognition. Some friends simply aren't worth having (a notion Jonas Savimbi would also have done well to heed).