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Tribe or Nation? Nation-Building and Public Goods in Kenya versus Tanzania

By Edward Miguel


The design of public policies that promote inter-ethnic cooperation remains poorly understood. This paper examines how central government policies toward ethnic diversity affect inter-ethnic relations by comparing outcomes across two nearby rural districts, one in western Kenya and one in western Tanzania. Despite their largely shared geography, history, and colonial institutional legacy, post-independence governments in Kenya and Tanzania have followed radically different ethnic policies along a range of dimensions – most notably in language use, education, and local institutional design, with Tanzania consistently pursuing more serious “nation-building” policies. The evidence in this paper indicates that the Tanzanian approach has allowed ethnically diverse communities in rural Tanzania to achieve considerably better local public goods outcomes than diverse communities in the nearby Kenyan region. To illustrate, while Kenyan communities at mean levels of ethnic diversity have 30 percent fewer desks per primary school pupil than homogeneous areas on average, the comparable figure for the Tanzanian district is near zero and statistically insignificant. The Kenya-Tanzania comparison provides novel empirical evidence that, in the long-run, serious nation-building reforms in ethnically diverse countries can ameliorate social divisions, and that nation-building should take a place in government policy agendas, especially in Africa, the world’s most ethnically diverse continent.

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