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Localized Ethnic Conflict and Genocide: Accounting for Differences in Rwanda and Burundi


  • Ravi Bhavanani
  • David Backer


This paper seeks to explain the variation in the scale of violence across episodes of ethnic conflict, using data from Rwanda and Burundi. To do so, we explore the "dark side" of in-group policing -- when it is exploited for mass killing, instead of being used as a mechanism to reduce ethnic violence. Our efforts build upon Fearon & Laitin (1996), who concede that this mechanism could backfire if an ethnic group announces its intent to attack a rival ethnic group, rather than to pursue cooperation. We develop a computational model that departs from Fearor & Laitin by assuming individuals vary in their propensity to engage in violence, form independent beliefs about ethnic rivals, and respond to catalysts, namely messages about the scale of ethnic voilence that is occurring across the country. In addition, members of the politically dominant ethnic group face sanctions for non-participation. Given these assumptions, our model yields significant variance in the scale of violence across episodes. Our analysis has important implications for the containment of ethnic conflict. We demonstrate that (1) the interaction between nominal ethnic rivals is rarely deterministic, and as a result, the preference for tracking structural factors may be somewhat misguided; (2) that changes in aggregate levels of trust influence the patterns of violence -- communities exhibiting high-levels of inter-ethnic trust are more likely to experience intense episodes of ethnic violence that subside rapidly, in contrast to moderate violence that is sustained over a long period of time; (3) metanorms that sanction non-participants within an ethnic group lead to more extensive episodes of violence.

Suggested Citation

  • Ravi Bhavanani & David Backer, 1999. "Localized Ethnic Conflict and Genocide: Accounting for Differences in Rwanda and Burundi," Working Papers 99-07-053, Santa Fe Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:safiwp:99-07-053

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. repec:cup:apsrev:v:87:y:1993:i:02:p:319-333_09 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:cup:apsrev:v:80:y:1986:i:04:p:1095-1111_18 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Douglas Dion, 1997. "Competition and Ethnic Conflict," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 41(5), pages 638-648, October.
    4. Michihiro Kandori, 1992. "Social Norms and Community Enforcement," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 59(1), pages 63-80.
    5. repec:cup:apsrev:v:90:y:1996:i:04:p:715-735_20 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Kazuya Yamamoto, 2015. "Mobilization, Flexibility of Identity, and Ethnic Cleavage," Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, vol. 18(2), pages 1-8.
    2. Florence Kondylis, 2008. "Agricultural Outputs and Conflict Displacement: Evidence from a Policy Intervention in Rwanda," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 57(1), pages 31-66, October.
    3. Luterbacher Urs & Sandi Carmen, 2014. "Breaking the Dynamics of Emotions and Fear in Conflict and Reconstruction," Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 20(3), pages 1-44, August.
    4. Curtis, Devon E. A., 2014. "Local agency, development assistance and the legacies of rebellion in Burundi and Rwanda," WIDER Working Paper Series 128, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    5. Kondylis, Florence, 2005. "Agricultural returns and conflict: quasi-experimental evidence from a policy intervention programme in Rwanda," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 19878, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    6. Dan Miodownik, 2006. "Cultural Differences and Economic Incentives: an Agent-Based Study of Their Impact on the Emergence of Regional Autonomy Movements," Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, vol. 9(4), pages 1-2.

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    Ethnic conflict; agent based model; Rwanda and Burundi;

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