Politics and Ethnic Salience: Evidence from Découpage in the D.R. Congo

With Sara Lowes, Nathan Nunn, and Otis Reid.

This multiyear collaborative project investigates the 2015 découpage (administrative split) in the D.R. Congo, which divided the 11 old provinces in into 26 new provinces. Following the logic of Posner's (2004) study of ethnicity in Zambia and Malawi, the découpage changes the size of the political arena, thereby altering the relative sizes—and political usefulness—of ethnic groups in the province. This decentralization could thus have unintended effects on interethnic relations. To test this hypothesis, we construct a panel of behavioral game and survey data on the ethnic group level from before, during, and after the découpage in Congo. This identification strategy controls for time invariant factors that may confound cross-sectional analyses. The setting is also attractive because the découpage was not widely anticipated, but rather an opportunistic strategy employed by President Joseph Kabila to delay elections. The sudden change in administrative boundaries is thus plausibly exogenous, especially from the point of view of participants in our study.