Ethnic conflicts represent the majority of armed conflicts around the world; in 2009, of 30 ongoing conflicts, 19 were ethnic in nature.1 These conflicts are largely concentrated in developing countries. They occur when there is intense rivalry, disputes or clashes of interests between groups that are organized along racial, religious, linguistic or communal lines. Ethnic conflict includes (but is not limited to) political competition between ethnically based political actors, various forms of discrimination, and violence between ethnic groups. Examples include Israel’s conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah; the Kabul Government in Afghanistan’s conflict with al-Qaeda and the Taliban and India’s conflict with Kashmiri militants. Ethnic conflict is also listed as one of the contributing causes for conflict in the DRC; Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.2
These conflicts not only subvert peace and stability, resulting in enormous human suffering and losses, but also destroy vital infrastructure and impose significant economic costs. As a consequence, ethnic conflict threatens human security and well-being, undermines economic growth and detrimentally affects many other development indicators. As Collier puts it, ethnic conflict is “development in reverse”.3 Thus, the question of whether and how these conflicts can be avoided or mitigated is extremely important from a development perspective.
Determining whether and how ethnic conflict can be resolved or managed, and assessing the potential role of institutions in responding to such conflict requires an understanding of the root causes of ethnic conflict. This is no easy task, however. Beyond a general agreement that ethnic...
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