State History and Contemporary Conflict: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa
I examine empirically the role of historical political centralization on the likelihood of contemporary civil conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa. I combine a wide variety of historical sources to construct an original measure of long-run exposure to statehood at the sub-national level. I then exploit variation in this new measure along with geo-referenced conflict data to document a robust negative relationship between long-run exposure to statehood and contemporary conflict. I argue that regions with long histories of statehood still hold strong political power in the executive today and are better equipped with mechanisms to establish and preserve order. I provide three pieces of evidence consistent with this hypothesis. First, I document a strong positive correlation between my historical measure of statehood and the likelihood of a region hosting a political relevant ethnic group as measure by the EPR dataset. Second, regions with relatively long historical exposure to statehood are less prone to experience conflict when hit by a negative economic shock. Third, exploiting contemporary individual-level survey data, I show that within-country long historical statehood experience is linked to people’s positive attitudes toward state institutions and traditional leaders.