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Does the Leader's Ethnicity Matter? Ethnic Favoritism, Education, and Health in Sub-Saharan Africa


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.

Corresponding author
Raphaël Franck is Lecturer, Department of Economics, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan 52900, Israel (
Ilia Rainer is Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MSN 1D3, Fairfax, VA 22030 (
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