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CAIS Brownbag Seminar: Elena GADJANOVA – Pride, patronage, or policies? Mechanisms behind the politicization of ethnicity in the context of competitive elections in Africa

A Department of Politics seminar
Date21 November 2018
Time13:00 to 14:15
PlaceAmory A239C

Ethnic identities increase in salience around closely-fought elections in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the mechanisms behind this increase remain poorly understood. Drawing on theories of the affective and instrumental dimensions of ethnic attachments from Social Psychology and Political Science, and analysis of politicians’ rhetoric during recent electoral campaigns, this paper outlines four distinct ways through which ethnicity is politicized prior to elections in Africa: (1) by fostering expectations of patronage; (2) by appealing to ethnic pride; (3) by fanning relative status anxieties, and (4) by stressing ethnic wedge issues. The four mechanisms are then tested by embedding the tropes most common to each in two survey experiments on the eve of the 2016 election in Ghana and the 2017 one in Kenya. The status anxieties and ethnic wedge issues frames significantly increased respondents' likelihood of identifying in ethnic terms and decreased inter-ethnic trust, while common patronage and pride frames had no noticeable effect on either. The findings have implications for designing measures intended to battle election-related polarization in Africa's plural democracies. On the basis of the results, I also argue for a more nuanced conceptualization of ethnic preferences in African politics.

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