Is Language Destiny? The Origins and Consequences of Ethnolinguistic Diversity in Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Brandon de la Cuesta
  • Leonard Wantchekon


The economic and political effects of linguistic diversity have been the subject of scholarly research in both political science and economics for over a halfcentury, and many of the literature’s seminal entries are case studies of the African continent. Early entries in political science (e.g. Fishman, 1968; Pool, 1972; Bates, 1974; Horowitz, 1985; Horowitz, 1991) and in economics (e.g. Esteban and Ray, 1994; Easterly and Levine, 1997; Sachs and Warner, 1997) set the tone for much of the research that followed, focusing on the ways in which the high levels of both ethnic and linguistic diversity in Africa, aided in part by the arbitrary nature of national boundaries in the wake of colonization, have reduced growth and contributed to political instability. Africa-centric studies of linguistic diversity have also played an integral part in informing broader literatures, particularly those related to the political economy of diversity and ethnic conflict (see e.g. Alesina et al., 1999; Alesina et al., 2003; Ahlerup and Olsson, 2011; Caselli and Coleman II, 2013; Alesina et al., 2015).


Ethnic Identity Linguistic Diversity Ethnic Diversity Political Competition Public Good Provision 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. D. Acemoglu and J. Robinson (2006) Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  2. P. Ahlerup and O. Olsson (2011) ‘The Roots of Ethnic Diversity’, Journal of Economic Growth, 17, 71–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. A. Alesina, R. Baqir and W. Easterly (1999) ‘Public Goods and Ethnic Divisions’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114, 1243–1284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. A. Alesina, A. Devleeschauwer, W. Easterly, S. Kurlat and R. Wacziarg (2003) ‘Fractionalization’, Journal of Economic Growth, 8, 155–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. A. Alesina, W. Easterly and J. Matuszeski (2011) ‘Artificial States’, Journal of the European Economic Association, 9, 246–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. A. Alesina and E. La Ferrara (2005) ‘Ethnic Diversity and Economic Performance’, Journal of Economic Literature, 43, 762–800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. A. Alesina, S. Michalopoulos and E. Papaioannou ‘Ethnic Inequality’, Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  8. Q. Ashraf and O. Galor (2013) ‘The “Out of Africa” Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development’, American Economic Review, 103, 1–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. A. Asiwaju (1985) Partitioned Africans: Ethnic Relations across Africa’s International Boundaries, 1884–1984 (New York: St. Martin’s Press).Google Scholar
  10. Atlas Narodov Mira (1964) The Miklucho-Maklai Ethnological Institute at the Department of Geodesy and Cartography of the State Geological Committee of the Soviet Union.Google Scholar
  11. R. Bates (1974) ‘Ethnic Competition and Modernization in Contemporary Africa’, Comparative Political Studies, 6, 457–484.Google Scholar
  12. R. Bates (1983) Essays on the Political Economy of Rural Africa (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. R. Bates (1990) ‘Capital, Kinship, and Conflict: The Structuring Influence of Capital in Kinship Societies’, Canadian Journal of African Studies, 24, 151–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. C. Boix (2003) Democracy and Redistribution (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. F. Caselli and W. Coleman II (2013) ‘On the Theory of Ethnic Conflict’, Journal of the European Economic Association, 11, 161–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. L. Cederman and L. Girardin (2007) ‘Beyond Fractionalization: Mapping Ethnicity onto Nationalist Insurgencies’, American Political Science Review, 101, 73–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. K. Chandra (2004) Why Ethnic Parties Succeed: Patronage and Ethnic Head Counts in India (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  18. K. Chandra (2006) ‘What Is Ethnic Identity and Does It Matter?’, Annual Review of Political Science, 9, 397–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. P. Collier and A. Hoeffler (2004) ‘Greed and Grievance in Civil War’, Oxford Economic Papers, 56, 563–595.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. K. Desmet, I. Ortuño Ortín and S. Weber (2009) ‘Linguistic Diversity and Redistribution’, Journal of European Economic Association, 7, 1291–1318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. W. Easterly and R. Levine (1997) ‘Africa’s Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 112, 1203–1250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. J. Esteban and D. Ray (1994) ‘On the Measurement of Polarization’ Econometrica, 62, 819–851.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. J. Fearon (1999) ‘Why Ethnic Politics and “Pork” Tend to Go Together’, Working Paper, University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  24. J. Fearon (2003) ‘Ethnic and Cultural Diversity by Country’, Journal of Economic Growth, 8, 195–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. J. Fearon, K. Kasara and D. Laitin (2007) ‘Ethnic Minority Rule and Civil War Onset’, American Political Science Review, 101, 187–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. J. Fearon and D. Laitin (1996) ‘Explaining Interethnic Cooperation’, The American Political Science Review, 90, 715–735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. J. Fearon and D. Laitin (2003) ‘Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War’, American Political Science Review, 97, 75–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. J. Fishman (1968) ‘Some Contrasts between Linguistically Homogeneous and Linguistically Heterogeneous Polities’ In J. Fishman, C. Ferguson and J. Dasgupta (eds) Language Problems of Developing Nations (New York: Wiley).Google Scholar
  29. J. Garcia-Montalvo and M. Reynal-Querol (2005) ‘Ethnic Polarization, Potential Conflict, and Civil Wars’, American Economic Review, 95, 796–816.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. E. Gellner (1983) Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press).Google Scholar
  31. C. Gibson and J. Long (2009) ‘The Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Kenya, December 2007’, Electoral Studies, 28, 497–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. J. Greenberg (1956) ‘The Measurement of Linguistic Diversity’, Language 32, 109–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. J. Habyarimana, M. Humphreys, D. Posner and J. Weinstein (2007) ‘Why Does Ethnic Diversity Undermine Public Goods Provision?’, American Political Science Review, 101, 709–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. J. Herbst (2000) States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control (Princeton: Princeton University Press).Google Scholar
  35. M. Hewstone, M. Rubin and H. Willis (2002) ‘Intergroup Bias’, Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 575–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. D. Horowitz, (1985) Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: Berkeley University Press).Google Scholar
  37. D. Horowitz (1991) A Democratic South Africa? Constitutional Engineering in a Divided Society (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press).Google Scholar
  38. R. Jackson and C. G. Rosberg (1982) ‘Why Africa’s Weak States Persist: The Empirical and the Juridical in Statehood’, World Politics, 35, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. K. Kasara (2013) ‘Separate and Suspicious: The Social Environment and Inter-Ethnic Trust in Kenya’, Journal of Politics, 4, 921–936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. P. Keefer and R. Vlaicu (2007) ‘Democracy, Credibility, and Clientelism’, Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 24, 371–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. H. Kitschelt and S. Wilkinson (2007) Patrons, Clients and Policies: Patterns of Democratic Accountability and Political Competition (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. A. Kohli (2004) State-Directed Development: Political Power and Industrialization in the Global Periphery (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. R. La Porta, F. Lopez de Silanes, A. Shleifer, and R. Vishny (1999) ‘The Quality of Government’, Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 15, 222–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. R. Mace and M. Pagel (1995) ‘A Latitudinal Gradient in the Density of Human Languages in North America’, Biological Sciences, 261, 117–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. S. Michalopoulos (2012) ‘The Origins of Ethnolinguistic Diversity’, American Economic Review, 102, 1508–1539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. S. Michalopoulos and E. Papaioannou (2011) ‘The Long-Run Effects of the Scramble for Africa’, NBER Working Paper 1760.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. S. Michalopoulos and E. Papaioannou (2014) ‘National Institutions and African Development: Evidence from Partitioned Ethnicities’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 129, 151–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. E. Miguel (2004) ‘Tribe or Nation? Nation Building and Public Goods in Kenya versus Tanzania’, World Politics, 56, 327–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. J. Montalvo and M. Reynal-Querol (2005) ‘Ethnic Diversity and Economic Development’, Journal of Development Economics, 76, 293–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. J. Moore, L. Manne, T. Brooks, N. Burgess, R. Davies, C. Rahbek, P. Williams and A. Balmford (2002) ‘The Distribution of Cultural and Biological Diversity in Africa’, Proceedings of The Royal Society: Biological Sciences, 269, 1645–1653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. G. Murdock (1959) Africa: Its Peoples and Their Culture History (New York: McGraw-Hill).Google Scholar
  52. P. Osafo-Kwaako and J. Robinson (2013) ‘Political Centralization in Pre-Colonial Africa’, Journal of Comparative Economics, 41, 6–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. J. Pool (1972) ‘National Development and Language Diversity’ In J. Fishman (ed.) Advances in the Sociology of Language, vol. 2 (The Hague: Mouton).Google Scholar
  54. D. Posner (2004a) ‘Measuring Ethnic Fractionalization in Africa’, American Journal of Political Science, 48, 849–863.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. D. Posner (2004b) ‘The Political Salience of Cultural Difference: Why Chewas and Tumbukas Are Allies in Zambia and Adversaries in Malawi’, American Political Science Review, 98, 529–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. D. Posner (2006) Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Africa (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  57. J. Sachs and A. Warner (1997) ‘Sources of Slow Growth in African Economies’, Journal of African Economies, 6, 335–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. R. Sandbrook (1985) The Politics of Africa’s Economic Stagnation (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. J. Scarritt and S. Mozaffar (1999) ‘The Specification of Ethnic Cleavages and Ethnopolitical Groups for the Analysis of Democratic Competition in Contemporary Africa’, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 5, 82–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. H. Tajfel and J. Turner (1979) ‘An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict’ In M.J. Hatch and M. Schultz (eds) Psychology of Intergroup Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  61. C. Tilly (1990) Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1990 (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell).Google Scholar
  62. L. Wantchekon (2014) ‘Nation-Building in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities’ In Evaluation Matters (African Development Bank Group).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Brandon de la Cuesta and Leonard Wantchekon 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brandon de la Cuesta
  • Leonard Wantchekon

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations