Who Benefits? How Local Ethnic Demography Shapes Political Favoritism in Africa


This article investigates how local ethnic demography affects strategies of favoritism in Africa. Recent studies of ethnic favoritism report advantages of either presidents’ ethnic peers or home regions. As regions in multi-ethnic states are rarely perfectly homogeneous, these studies cannot disentangle whether favoritism targets entire regions or co-ethnic individuals. We argue that governments’ provision of goods depends on local ethnic demographies. Where government co-ethnics are in the majority, ethno-regional favoritism benefits all locals regardless of their ethnic identity. Outside of these strongholds, incumbents pursue discriminatory strategies and only their co-ethnics gain from favoritism. We use fine-grained geographic data on ethnic demography and infant mortality to test these hypotheses. Results from rigorous fixed effects specifications that exploit temporal changes in the ethnic composition of governments support our theoretical claims. Our findings have important implications for theories of distributional politics and conflict in multi-ethnic societies.

British Journal of Political Science, 51(4), 1582–1600