Natural Resources and the Salience of Ethnic Identities

Nicolas Berman

Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, EHESS, Centrale Marseille, AMSE, France, and CEPR

Mathieu Couttenier

University of Lyon, ENS Lyon, GATE Lyon/St-Etienne and CEPR

Victoire Girard

Nova School of Business and Economics, NOVAFRICA, and LEO, Université d’Orléans

ISSN 2183-0843
Working Paper No 2007
June 2020


This paper documents a new channel of the natural resource curse: the fragmentation of identities, between ethnic groups and nations. We combine individual data on the strength of ethnic – relative to national – identities with geo-localized information on the contours of ethnic homelands and on the timing and location of mineral resources exploitation in 25 African countries, from 2005 to 2015. Our strategy takes advantage of several dimensions of exposure to resources exploitation: time, spatial proximity, and ethnic proximity. We show that the strength of an ethnic group identity increases when mineral resource exploitation in that group’s historical homeland intensifies. This result holds independently of the impact of resources on local economic conditions and conflicts. We then investigate the various potential channels of transmission. Our findings suggest that feelings of economic deprivation and political exclusion associated with natural resources exploitation drive their impact on the strength of ethnic identities.

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