Event Name Pride, patronage, or policies? How election campaigns increase ethnic identification in Africa
Start Date 24th Oct 2018 4:00pm
End Date 24th Oct 2018 5:30pm
Duration 1 hour and 30 minutes

Ethnic identities increase in salience around closely-fought elections in 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, in which ethnicity is politicized prior to elections in Africa:

  1. by fostering expectations of patronage
  2. by appealing to ethnic pride
  3. by fanning groups' 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 were effective in increasing respondents' ethnic identification and decreasing inter-ethnic trust in both countries, patronage was effective in Kenya only, and common pride frames had no significant effect in either. The findings suggest why ethnicity remains highly salient in Africa's plural societies despite ongoing democratization and rising voter sophistication, and have implications for designing measures intended to battle election-related ethnic tensions. On the basis of the results, I also argue for a more nuanced conceptualization of ethnic preferences in African politics.