Does the leader's ethnicity matter? Ethnic favoritism, education, and health in Sub-Saharan Africa

Raphaël Franck*, Ilia Rainer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

257 Scopus citations


In this article we reassess the role of ethnic favoritism in sub-Saharan Africa. Using data from 18 African countries, we study how the primary education and infant mortality of ethnic groups were affected by changes in the ethnicity of the countries' leaders during the last 50 years. Our results indicate that the effects of ethnic favoritism are large and widespread, thus providing support for ethnicity-based explanations of Africa's underdevelopment. We also conduct a cross-country analysis of ethnic favoritism in Africa. We find that ethnic favoritism is less prevalent in countries with one dominant religion. In addition, our evidence suggests that stronger fiscal capacity may have enabled African leaders to provide more ethnic favors in education but not in infant mortality. Finally, political factors, linguistic differences, and patterns of ethnic segregation are found to be poor predictors of ethnic favoritism.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)294-325
Number of pages32
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the APSR Co-editors, the anonymous referees, Alberto Alesina, Filipe Campante, Roger Congleton, Daniel Posner, William Easterly, James Fearon, Mark Gradstein, Thomas Strat-mann, Romain Wacziarg, and Katia Zhuravskaya for very helpful comments. We also received useful comments from seminar participants at Harvard University, Hebrew University, the New Economic School, and Stockholm University, as well as from conference participants at ASREC, European Economic Association, ISNIE, Israeli Economic Association, NBER Summer Institute Political Economy Workshop, Public Choice Society and Working Group in African Political Economy. Raphaël Franck gratefully acknowledges financial support by the Adar Foundation of the Economics Department at Bar Ilan University. Ilia Rainer gratefully acknowledges financial support by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.


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