Which groups fight? Customary institutions and communal conflicts in Africa

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Kromrey, Daniela & Tore Wig (2018) Which groups fight? Customary institutions and communal conflicts in Africa, Journal of Peace Research 55(4): 415–429.
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Why are some ethnic groups embroiled in communal conflicts while others are comparably peaceful? We explore the group-specific correlates of communal conflicts in Africa by utilizing a novel dataset combining ethnographic information on group characteristics with conflict data. Specifically, we investigate whether features of the customary political institutions of ethnic groups matter for their communal-conflict involvement. We show how institutional explanations for conflict, developed to explain state-based wars, can be successfully applied to the customary institutions of ethnic groups. We argue that customary institutions can pacify through facilitating credible nonviolent bargaining. Studying 143 ethnic groups, we provide large-N evidence for such an ‘ethnic civil peace’, showing that groups with a higher number of formalized customary institutions, like houses of chiefs, courts and legislatures, are less prone to communal conflict, both internally and with other groups. We also find some evidence, although slightly weaker, that groups with more inclusive or ‘democratic’ customary institutions are less prone to communal conflicts.

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Tore Wig

Tore Wig

Research Professor