One Team, One Nation: Football, Ethnic Identity, and Conflict in Africa

Ruben Durante (Sciences Po)
Emilio Depetris Chauvín (Universidad Católica de Chile)

Abstract: Can successful collective experiences that prime patriotic sentiments reduce inter-ethnic tensions and conflict in sub-Saharan Africa? We examine this question by studying the case of football. Combining survey data for over 35,000 respondents in 20 countries with information on over 70 official games by African national football teams between 2000 and 2015, we document that individuals interviewed in the days following a victory of their country’s national team are 3 to 4% less likely to report a strong sense of ethnic identity than those interviewed in the days before the match. The estimated effect is sizable (i.e. a 20% decrease in the average probability of ethnic self-identification), and robust to controlling for country-year, language group, and match fixed effects. National team’s victories are also associated with an increase in trust in others, especially in people of different ethnicity, but have no impact on trust in the government or support for the incumbent. We also find that social unrest (i.e, riots, strikes, protests, and repression) significantly decreases in the two weeks following a victory in the Africa Cup of Nations or the FIFA World Cup finals. Finally, using exogenous variation from close qualification to the CAN tournament, we find that countries whose teams (barely) qualified experience significantly less conflict events in the six months following the qualification than countries whose teams (barely) did not. Our findings suggest that, even in regions where ethnic tensions have deep historical roots, transitory patriotic shocks can reinforce national identity, reduce inter-ethnic mistrust and have a tangible impact on conflict intensity.