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Kinship and Conflict: Evidence from Segmentary Lineage Societies in Sub-Saharan Africa

Jacob Moscona, Nathan Nunn, James A. Robinson

NBER Working Paper No. 24209
Issued in January 2018, Revised in September 2019
NBER Program(s):The Program on the Development of the American Economy, The Development Economics Program, The Economic Fluctuations and Growth Program, The Political Economy Program

We test the long-standing hypothesis that ethnic groups that are organized around ‘segmentary lineages’ are more prone to conflict. Ethnographic accounts suggest that in segmentary lineage societies, which are characterized by strong allegiances to distant relatives, individuals are obligated to come to the aid of fellow lineage members when they become involved in conflicts. As a consequence, small disagreements often escalate to larger-scale conflicts involving many individuals. We test for this link between segmentary lineage and conflict across 145 African ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa. Using a number of estimation strategies, including an RD design at ethnic boundaries, we find that segmentary lineage societies experience more conflicts and particularly ones that are retaliatory, long in duration, and large in scale.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24209

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