Access to State Power of Politically Relevant Ethnic Groups


Research articles


Andreas Wimmer, Lars-Erik Cederman and Brian Min. 2009. "Ethnic politics and armed conflict. A configurational analysis of a new global dataset." American Sociological Review 74(2):316-337.


Abstract: Quantitative scholarship on civil wars has long debated whether ethnic diversity breeds armed conflict. We go beyond this debate and show that highly diverse societies are not more conflict prone. Rather, states characterized by certain ethnopolitical configurations of power are more likely to experience violent conflict. First, armed rebellions are more likely to challenge states that exclude large portions of the population on the basis of ethnic background. Second, when a large number of competing elites share power in a segmented state, the risk of violent infighting increases. Third, incohesive states with a short history of direct rule are more likely to experience secessionist conflicts. We test these hypotheses for all independent states since 1945 using the new Ethnic Power Relations (EPR) data set. Cross-national analysis demonstrates that ethnic politics is as powerful and robust in predicting civil wars as is a country’s level of economic development. Using multinomial logit regression, we show that rebellion, infighting, and secession result from high degrees of exclusion, segmentation, and incohesion, respectively. More diverse states, on the other hand, are not more likely to suffer from violent conflict.


Replication data


Online appendix with description of dataset and additional tables



Lars-Erik Cederman, Andreas Wimmer, and Brian Min. 2010. "Why Do Ethnic Groups Rebel? New Data and Analysis". World Politics 62(1):87-119, 2010.

Abstract: Much of the quantitative literature on civil wars and ethnic conflict ignores the role of the state or treats it as a mere arena for political competition among ethnic groups. Other studies analyze how the state grants or withholds minority rights and faces ethnic protest and rebellion accordingly, while largely overlooking the ethnic power configurations at the state’s center. Drawing on a new dataset on Ethnic Power Relations (EPR) that identifies all politically relevant ethnic groups and their access to central state power around the world from 1946 through 2005, we analyze outbreaks of armed conflict as the result of competing ethno-nationalist claims to state power. Our findings indicate that representatives of ethnic groups are more likely to initiate conflict with the government (1) the more excluded from state power they are, especially if they have recently lost power, (2) the higher their mobilizational capacity, and (3) the more they have experienced conflict in the past.


Replication data



Roessler, Philip G. 2011. "The enemy from within. Personal rule, coups, and civil wars in Africa". World Politics 63(2):300-346, 2011. Downloadable here.

Abstract: Why do rulers employ ethnic exclusion at the risk of future civil war?  Focusing on the region of sub-Saharan Africa, I attribute this costly strategy to the commitment problem that arises in personalist regimes between elites with joint control of the state’s coercive apparatus.  As no faction can be sure that others will not exploit their violent capabilities to usurp power, elites maneuver to protect their privileged position and safeguard against others’ first-strike capabilities.  These defensive tactics, however, reinforce suspicions and increase intrigue within the regime, undermining trust and triggering a security dilemma.  In the face of a rising internal threat, rulers move to eliminate their rivals from the regime in order to guarantee their personal and political survival.  But the cost of such a strategy, especially when along ethnic lines, is it increases the risk of a future civil war.  To test this argument, I employ the Ethnic Power Relations dataset combined with original data on the ethnicity of conspirators of coups and rebellions in Africa. I find that in Africa ethnic exclusion substitutes civil war risk for coup risk.  And rulers are significantly more likely to exclude their co-conspirators—the very friends and allies who helped them come to power—than other included groups, but at the cost of increasing the risk of a future civil war with their former allies. In the first three years after being purged from the central government, co-conspirators and their co-ethnics are 15 times more likely to rebel than when they were represented at the apex of the regime.


Brian Min, Lars-Erik Cederman and Andreas Wimmer. 2008 (in preparation). “Ethnic exclusion, economic growth, and civil war". Under review.

Abstract: A burgeoning literature links ethnic diversity to a range of outcomes from civil war to economic growth but largely overlooks the crucial relationship between ethnicity and the state. In contrast to approaches that treat the state as a disinterested arbiter of diverse interests or a neutral arena for political conflict, we focus on ethnic constellations of political power within the state center. The newly assembled Ethnic Power Relations (EPR) dataset identifies 733 politically relevant ethnic groups in 155 sovereign states from 1946 to 2005, provides group size estimates, and codes the level of access to the executive branch by representatives of these groups in each year. Drawing on this data, we show that ethnic exclusion decreases long-run economic growth rates and increases civil war risk by distorting public policies in favor of ethnic clienteles and decreasing the legitimacy of the state. We conduct extensive robustness checks to exclude reverse causation. Once ethnic exclusion is taken into account, variations in ethno-linguistic diversity have no impact on growth or conflict.


Janus, Thorsten . 2010. "Minority rule, the balance of power and ethnic conflict risk". Working Paper, University of Wyoming. Downloadable here.

Abstract: In ethnically divided societies with weak institutions, minority rule may cause majority resentment and violent conflict. The power struggle should be more intense if the groups are equally sized. While previous theory supporting these claims is mostly informal this paper presents a simple repeated interaction model of minority rule and tests hypotheses for the determinants of ethnic conflict based on simulations. I find that both theoretically and empirically minority rule does not generally promote ethnic conflict onset. However, it has a large effect when the majority is socially cohesive or the minority is small. These findings are consistent with previous theory but qualify recent econometric evidence that minority rule has no effect. I find weaker theoretical and empirical support for the role of symmetrically sized groups and theoretical support for a destabilizing effect of public office rents.


Buhaug, Halvard. 2010. "Climate not to blame for African civil wars", in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, September 7, 2010. Downloadable here.

Abstract: Vocal actors within policy and practice contend that environmental variability and shocks, such as drought and prolonged heat waves, drive civil wars in Africa. Recently, a widely publicized scientific article appears to substantiate this claim. This paper investigates the empirical foundation for the claimed relationship in detail. Using a host of different model specifications and alternative measures of drought, heat, and civil war, the paper concludes that climate variability is a poor predictor of armed conflict. Instead, African civil wars can be explained by generic structural and contextual conditions: prevalent ethno-political exclusion, poor national economy, and the collapse of the Cold War system.


  Fjelde, Hanne and Lisa Hultmann. 2010. "Weakening your enemy. Constituencies and the location of violence against civilians in Africa, 1989-2006." Paper presented at the SGIR 7th Pan-European International Relations Conference, Stockholm, September 9-11. Downloadable here.

Abstract: Recent years have seen an upsurge in studies examining the deliberate targeting of civilians in civil war. While several studies have shown that the varying conditions at the local level are important for understanding the reason why warring parties target civilians, no quantitative study has examined the local determinants of violence against civilians across a large number of conflicts. We are able to do so by using new geo-referenced event data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program on civilian targeting in a number of armed conflicts in Africa, 1989–2006. We argue that violence against civilians can often best be explained as a strategy to weaken the enemy. Warring parties are more likely to target civilians in areas that they identify as dominated by opponent constituents. We propose two factors that enable such identification: ethnic ties and geographical proximity to capital or rebel base. Our analysis shows that governments are more likely to target civilians in areas populated by the rebel constituency, as well as in areas close to the rebel base. Although we find no significant effect of the presence of government constituents on rebel onesided violence, we show that rebels are more likely to target civilians as a response to government violence and in resource rich areas.


Cederman, Lars-Erik, Kristian S. Gleditsch, and Simon Hug. 2009. "Elections and ethnic civil wars". Paper presented at the Joint CSCW WG3/GROW-Net workshop, Oslo, June 11-12. Downloadable here.

Abstract: Several studies have examined whether democratization influences the risk of civil war, but few have considered the possible mechanisms linking democratization to an increased likelihood of conflict. We focus specifically on how elections may influence the incentives for violence through their actual or anticipated consequences for political control. We argue that elections can increase the risk of particular types of ethnic civil conflict in their aftermath; however, the effects depend on ethnic group relations, namely the political status of groups and their relative size. Our results suggest that larger excluded groups are more likely to challenge the government in the aftermath of elections. However, the risk of territorial conflict following elections is unrelated to groups size, with higher risks of autocracies.


Julian Wucherpfennig, Nils B. Weidmann, Luc Girardin, Lars-Erik Cederman, and Andreas Wimmer . “Politically relevant ethnic groups across space and time: Introducing the GeoEPR dataset ", in Conflict Management and Peace Science 10(10):1-15, 2011.  Downloadable here.

Abstract: This article introduces GeoEPR, a geocoded version of the Ethnic Power Relations (EPR) dataset that charts politically relevant ethnic groups across space and time. We describe the dataset in detail, discuss its advantages and limitations, and use it in a replication of Cederman, Wimmer and Min’s (2010) study on the causes of ethno-nationalist conflict. We show that territorial conflicts are more likely to involve groups that settle far away from the capital city and close to the border, while these spatial variables have no effect for governmental conflicts.


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