Roads to Rule, Roads to Rebel: Relational State Capacity and Conflict in Africa

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Weak state capacity is one of the most important explanations of civil conflict. Yet, current conceptualizations of state capacity typically focus only on the state and ignore the relational nature of armed conflict. The researchers argue that opportunities for conflict arise where relational state capacity is low, that is, where the state has less control over its subjects than local elites. This occurs in ethnic groups that are poorly accessible from the state capital, but internally highly interconnected. To test this argument, the researchers digitize detailed road maps of Africa and convert them into a road atlas akin to Google Maps. They measure the accessibility and internal connectedness of groups via travel times obtained from this atlas. To address the endogeneity of road networks, they use an instrumental variable design based on simulated road networks. They find that low relational state capacity is a key determinant of armed conflict in Africa.

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