Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 March 2000
This article provides an empirical test of a set of common theoretical assumptions concerning the relationship between political liberalisation, democratisation and ethnic conflict in Africa. The theory in question posits that liberalisation will result in short-term increases in ethnic conflict and that democratisation will be followed by a decrease in ethnic conflict. The article employs a cross-national and time sensitive data set to test this hypothesis in the context of contemporary sub-Saharan Africa. A compelling benefit of this methodology is that it allows for an explanation of variation in ethnic conflict both across states and over time.
The results indicate that the relationship between political liberalisation and ethnic conflict is the reverse of what the common assumptions would predict. Liberalisation has had an inverse relationship to ethnic conflict in sub-Saharan Africa between 1988 and 1997. Democratisation does not have the hypothesised effect even when lagged variables are employed. Structural variables as represented by GDP per capita and infant mortality rates are also systematically related to ethnic conflict. The author concludes that policy makers and analysts should continue to pursue both liberalisation and democratisation but should not neglect the central role of an adequate resource base in reducing ethnic conflict in Africa. Political liberalisation and democratic institutions, while providing some measure of relief, are by no means silver bullets for the difficult challenges posed by ethnic conflict in Africa.