Book Review on Ethnicity, Capital Formation, and Conflict: Evidence from Africa written by Robert H. Bates and Irene Yackovlev.
This study is situated at macro perspective by focusing on the role of social capital in preventing or contributing to political conflict and change. It examines how the size of different ethnic groups in a country is related to that country’s ability to reach closure on policy decision in a peaceful manner. It presents evidence from Africa on the accumulation and destruction of social capital and investigates whether these processes can be influenced by policy setting.
In the beginning, the author presented the idea of two sided coin of ethnicity. On the one side, it provides the capital for urban migration and the acquisition of skills for industrial employment, ethnic groups promoted the forces of modernization; they constituted a form of social capital. On the other side, ethnic conflict leads to costly acts of violence, ethnic groups organize politically; occasionally they engage in acts of violence, destroying wealth and discouraging the formation of capital. Ethnic group can thus both generate benefits and inflict costs on societies.
Using data from Africa, Bates and Yackovlev explore both faces of ethnicity. After examine very deeply on the positive side of ethnicity, Bates and Yackovlev calculate the other face of ethnicity especially the relation between ethnicity and violence. They use a data set containing economic, social, and political information on forty-six African countries between 1970 and 1995.
As the conventional wisdom would suggest, ethnic tension are indeed pervasive in Africa, but the data show that, notwithstanding the conventional wisdom, acts of protest and violence are relatively rare. They find that the presumed link between ethnicity and violence is more complex and less threatening than generally assumed. Specifically, they find that as the size of the largest ethnic group in a country increases, the odds of protest increase initially, but the odds of violence decrease. When the size of largest ethnic group enters a “danger zone” of 40-50 percent of population, the opposite pattern occurs.
They conclude that the forces of ethnicity, and the social capital it represents, provide a mean of both rendering intergenerational contract binding, thereby promoting private investment, and mobilizing private resources for public purposes, thereby promoting the formation of public goods. While violence may have ethnic roots, even in the societies with strong ethnic tension, diverse ethnic groups can peaceably co-exist. Ethnic politics appear to be most volatile when an ethnic bloc is large enough to permanently exclude others form power.
The remedy would appear to be to avoid strengthening the incentives to exclude and to institutionalize incentives to promote interethnic cooperation (bridging social capital). They suggests that the most desirable institutions would be those that weaken the prospect of winner take all outcomes and assuages minorities fear of permanent political exclusion. The creation of ethnically homogenous regional political units can be dangerous if they replicate “danger zones” of ethnic dominance at local level.