"Sons of the Soil Conflict in Africa: Institutional Determinants of Ethnic Conflict over land," World Development 96 (2017): 276-293. Can the political science literature on Sons-of-the-Soil conflict and civil war explain patterns of ethnic conflict over land in Africa? Scholars of Africa increasingly draw analogies between African conflicts and the conflicts in South Asia that inspired SoS theories. Is Africa becoming more like South Asia? If the most-cited political science theories of SoS conflict fall short in Africa, then what can Africa tell us about how to fix them? Drawing on studies of migration, rural ethnic heterogeneity, and a medium-N qualitative study of land conflicts in Africa (1990-2014), the analysis shows that land tenure institutions are fundamental determinants of patterns of land-related conflict and rural ethnic conflict in farming regions of Africa. Omission of these institutional variables critically enfeebles earlier political science theory, and may mislead policy makers and practitioners who conclude that in rural Africa, primordial tribes compete for land in an anarchic state of nature.
"Captured Countryside? Stability and Change in Subnational Support for African Incumbent Parties," Michael Wahman and Catherine Boone, Comparative Politics, forthcoming. Many existing accounts of African elections assume that voters base electoral decisions on ethno-clientelistic incentives. Others identify alternative determinants of voter choice, focusing on either performance evaluation or local strong-arming. Here, we analyze a hitherto neglected dimension of African electoral dynamics, the geographic dimension, to suggest that the salience of clientelism, performance evaluation, and local strong-arming may vary across different types of constituencies. Analysis of Government-to-Opposition Swing (GOS) voting in 7 countries, 28 elections, and 1853 parliamentary constituencies reveals that the likelihood of GOS differs not only from urban to rural, as expected, but also across different types of rural constituencies. While we find that GOS is not common in the rural parts of the president's home region (as expected), we discover hitherto unobserved variation across other rural constituency types: GOS is most likely in densely-populated rural constituencies, and significantly less likely in sparsely-populated rural constituencies. The latter are often among the poorest constituencies in the country. We infer that political and economic geography shapes prospects for autonomous vote choice, performance-related voting, and the quality of democracy.
"Rural bias in African electoral systems: Legacies of unequal representation in African democracies," with Michael Wahman, Electoral Studies, December 2015, Vol.40, pp.335-346. (link) Although electoral malapportionment is a recurrent theme in monitoring reports on African elections, few researchers have tackled this issue. Here we theorize the meaning and broader implications of malapportionment in eight African countries with Single Member District (SMD) electoral systems. Using a new dataset on registered voters and constituency level election results, we study malapportionment's magnitude, persistence over time, and electoral consequences. The analysis reveals that patterns of apportionment institutionalized in the pre-1990 era established a long-lasting bias in favor of rural voters. This “rural bias” has been strikingly stable in the post-1990 era, even where the ancien regime has been voted out of power. These findings underscore the importance of the urban-rural distinction in explaining electoral outcomes in Africa.
"Land Institutions and Political Ethnicity: Evidence from Tanzania," with Lydia Nyeme. Comparative Politics 48/1 (2015): 67-86. Much political science work starts from the idea that in Africa, ethnic identities are strong because political institutions are weak. This paper challenges this understanding with new evidence of the powerful role of state institutions -- rural property institutions -- in producing politically-salient ethnicity in rural Africa. Existing literatures in history and economic anthropology show that state-crafted neocustomary land institutions structure ethnic identities, and incentivize individuals embrace them. This paper strengthens this argument through the use of counterfactual reasoning and evidence from Tanzania where non-neocustomary land tenure institutions prevail, and the political salience of ethnic identity is low. Even in a hard-test set of four micro-regions of high competition for farmland, the political salience of ethnic identity in land politics is low. If land institutions play a powerful role in determining ethnicity's political salience, then analysis that takes ethnic identity as exogenous to politics is misspecified. Political science needs to take seriously the role of state institutions in producing politically-salient ethnic identities and structuring political participation in Africa.
Land Tenure Regimes and State Structure in Rural Africa: Implications for forms of resistance to large-scale land acquisitions by outsiders," Journal of Contemporary African Studies 33/2 (2015): 171-190. This paper argues for seeing African land tenure regimes as institutional configurations that been defined and redefined as part of state-building projects. Land regimes have built state authority in the rural areas, fixed populations in rural territories, and organized rural society into political collectivities subject to central control. Land tenure regimes vary across subnational jurisdictions, and exert political effect that are visible in differences in the forms of local protest and resistance to commercial land acquisitions in periurban Kumasi, Ghana, where a neocustomary land regime prevails, and the Kiru Valley of northern Tanzania, where land institutions are decidedly statist.
"Land Regimes and the Structure of Politics: Patterns of Land-Related Conflict," Africa: Journal of the International Africa Institute, 83 (2013): 188-203. This paper proposes an analytic framework to describe variation in forms of land-related conflict that emerge in widely varying circumstances and settings. Focusing on conflict among smallholders, the paper suggests that these social processes can often be thought of as redistributive conflicts that are shaped by the land tenure regimes that govern land access and allocation. Land tenure regimes define a locus of political authority over land rights at the local level, a territorial arena, social groups with different land rights and interests, and the distribution of political and economic powers and rights among them. These arrangements vary across space and over time, shaping the political arenas in which land rights are contested and producing different forms of land-related conflict. In many situations, these dimensions of land regimes are blurred, layered, and changing, adding additional dimensions of complexity to land politics that the analysis proposed here may help to illuminate.
"Multiparty elections and land patronage: Zimbabwe and Côte d’Ivoire," Catherine Boone and Norma Kriger, Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 01 April 2010, Vol.48(2), p.173-202. We aim at a general understanding of the phenomenon whereby politicians in African countries use land rights as a patronage resource in attempts to mobilise electoral support. Using Zimbabwe and Côte d’Ivoire as case studies, we argue that the increasing visibility of land as a patronage resource in African multiparty elections may be at least partly explained by the convergence of three specific constraints and incentives confronting politicians. First, weak legal restraints on rulers’ ability to allocate land rights create opportunities for politicians to use land as a patronage resource. Second, competitive multiparty elections mean that politicians must work to mobilise constituency support in order to win. Third, the dwindling fiscal capacity of the state can heighten the attractiveness of land as a patronage resource. Land can be offered as a patronage resource even when state coffers run low. "Politics and AIDS in Africa: Research Agendas in Political Science and International Relations," Catherine Boone and Jake Batsell, Africa Today, 2001, Vol.48(2): 3-33. Political Science has been slow to grapple with the enormous implications of the AIDS crisis for much of the developing world. This article argues that important research agendas link AIDS and politics, and that more work in these areas could contribute to the struggle to cope with the pandemic. Research could also yield theoretical advances in the field of political science. Five research agendas for Africa are: variations in state response to the pandemic; the relationship between governments and NGOs; the AIDS challenge to neoliberalism; AIDS and North-South tensions; and connections between AIDS and international security issues. "Electoral Populism Where Property Rights Are Weak: Land Politics in Contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa," Comparative Politics, 41 (2) 2009.