Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Baldwin, Katharine


This dissertation advances scholarship on identity politics in sub-Saharan Africa by showing how characteristics of ethnic groups interact with historical events to produce new identities, beliefs and behaviors. Comparisons are centered either on political hierarchy; relative size of ethnic groups; and political, economic, and geographic dimensions with relevant decisions made by pre-colonial and post-colonial African political rulers as they select the extent to which they may use religion to justify their political rule; the extent to which they may favor co-ethnics in cabinets; and the extent to which they take appropriate actions or implement appropriate policies as it relates to cooperation and competition with neighboring countries. The first substantive chapter titled, "Gods and Kings: Pre-Colonial Political Centralization and Missionaries' Long-Run Effect on Contemporary Religious Beliefs in Africa," shows that modern-day religiosity and syncretism among Africans is a function of pre-colonial political hierarchy and exposure to Christian missionaries in the pre-colonial and colonial period. Specifically, pre-colonial African rulers and local elites acted as intermediaries between Christian missionaries and the people such that local elites and the political ruler would often demand that Christian ideas be mapped onto existing African traditional religious beliefs. This "translation" mechanism helps explain why descendants of these same pre-colonial Africans from political centralized ethnic groups would today both practice Christianity and}African traditional beliefs--- syncretism. Moreover, pre-colonial Africans who lived in less acephalous communities will have been more exposed to and encouraged to worship a supreme being, because of their political ruler's "divine right to rule" claim, which they used to legitimize their rule, facilitating later Christian and Islamic monotheism among the people. On the contrary, pre-colonial Africans from more acephalous communities would have no such ruling elites and political ruler to act as intermediaries with Christian missionaries but also would have been less likely to worship a supreme being both because of a lack of centralized political authority claiming divine right to rule and because of their smaller populations which were often subsistence farming communities, which are associated with worship of minor deities rather than a supreme being. In the second substantive chapter titled, "Minority Presidents, Coups, Civil Wars and Patronage in Africa," I unpack the puzzle behind why we observe post-independent minority African leaders be more likely than plurality leaders to survive coups despite being equally likely to experience coups. In particular, I argue that in contexts of high ethnic diversity and where ethnicity is salient for organizing politics, minority leaders will be more constrained by their relatively small ethnic groups and will trade off increased likelihood of surviving coups for civil war risk through favoring their co-ethnics in cabinet appointments. However, because these cabinet positions are observable common knowledge among elites and the citizenry, we can expect the minority leader's co-ethnic favoritism to be smaller in magnitude among the top cabinet positions of agriculture, finance, and defense relative to the full cabinet. The minority ruler favors co-ethnics across all cabinet positions as this increases information and support from within government that may be important in mobilizing support to survive coups. Empirical analyses provide suggestive evidence that indeed ethnic minority leaders face these constraints because we do observe them favoring their co-ethnics across all cabinet positions, but less so for the top cabinet positions. This chapter contributes to extensive literatures on coups and civil wars and how ethnic diversity matters for conflict, however, its particular novelty comes from its serious treatment of the ethnic minority status of post-independence African leaders to unpack how their governance may be different from plurality leaders to advance our understanding of the interplay between ethnicity and political survival. Third and finally, in the final substantive chapter titled, "Understanding Preferences for Unification: Evidence From The East African Federation," I explore what determines political attitudes towards political unification with their East African neighboring countries of a highly ethnically diverse African country, Tanzania, whose politics has often been claimed in the political science literature as largely being devoid of ethnicity. I also show how legacies of political violence and propaganda during liberation movements toward democracy in southern Africa, which Tanzania was a significant actor in, and in one of the handful examples of inter-state war in Africa during the Kagera War between Tanzania and Uganda, activate different political attitudes despite both involving violent conflict. Taken together, the dissertation contributes to literatures across the social sciences including political science, economics, religious studies, among others as well like evolutionary psychology and anthropology.