The purpose of this study was to shed some light on the role of ethnicity in relation to regime stability. It started with a citation from Wilmsen (1996:viii): “the potency of ethnicity is palpable, but not easily explained”. Although not ‘easy to explain’, the analysis has illuminated that there are indeed certain patterns of instability in multiethnic regimes, supported by findings to which I will return.
The point of departure for this investigation was a discrepancy between the theoretical understanding of ethnic groups and their potential for mobilization, and the empirical assessment of this relationship in quantitative research. I argued that due to this discrepancy, most statistical studies fail to ascertain why some ethnically diverse regimes are stable and others are not. There are numerous empirical examples of both countries which have remained remarkably stable despite ethnic diversity and others where ethnic divisions have endangered the stability of the regime. Thus, there must be other mechanisms working at the level of ethnic groups that can explain both regime instability, and the lack thereof.
I have argued that political institutions do matter for the relationship between ethnicity and regime stability - both when it comes to the salience of ethnic identity, and in creating motives and opportunities for ethnic groups to mobilize. In this regard, I saw exclusion from the political power as an important determinant of ethnic frustration, inspired by Cederman and Girardin (2005). Furthermore, I argued that the effect of ethno-political exclusion in turn depend on the regime type. Given these considerations, I posed two questions: “Are regimes which exclude ethnic groups from political power more prone to regime instability?” and “Is the effect of ethno-political exclusion on regime stability contingent on the regime type?”
Building on theoretical arguments regarding the dynamic character of ethnic identity and the three preconditions for mobilization, I developed an analytical framework to discuss how ethnic diversity could affect regime stability. This framework generated eight hypotheses to be tested. They were tested using survival analysis, where the dependent variable was the duration of political regimes. I tested the hypotheses for all regimes with more than 500 000 inhabitants, except for Sub-Saharan Africa and Papua New Guinea in the period 1945-2000.
The results confirm that ethnic fractionalization by itself does not explain regime stability. This finding is consistent throughout the analysis, also when controlling for interaction with regime type. The result corresponds to the argument that ethnic identity is not a sufficient condition for mobilization. Moreover, by enumerating ethnic groups, the dynamic character of an ethnic identity is disregarded. From this I conclude that ethnic differences are insufficient for explaining regime instability.
By itself, exclusion of ethnic groups from political power does not affect regime stability, when controlling for factors such as regime type. I argued, however, that neither ethnicity nor the notion of exclusion can be understood outside its political context. The results of the analysis confirmed that the effect of ethno-political exclusion does indeed depend on regime type. More particularly, ethno-political exclusion severely increases the hazard of regime change in democratic regimes, whilst there are no significant effects in autocratic and inconsistent regimes. The fact that ethno-political exclusion increases the hazard of regime instability in democracies is consistent with certain arguments regarding group behavior. Firstly, the frustration due to ethno-political exclusion may be relatively higher in democracies than in more autocratic regimes, since ethnic groups in democracies in general expect to be included. Secondly, there are more opportunities for mobilization due to ethno-political exclusion in democracies than there are in autocracies. If excluded ethnic groups are rational actors they will more likely consider these chances for a successful mobilization.
Moreover, I argued that additional means of accommodation of ethnic groups may compensate for the effect of ethno-political exclusion on the stability of democratic and inconsistent regimes. The results do not support this argument, however, when it comes to democratic regimes. The findings indicate, though, that means of decentralization reduce the hazard of regime change in inconsistent regimes with high levels of ethno-political exclusion. These conclusions are based on fairly small samples, however.
Alternative estimations of the models show that the findings in general are robust to alterations in both the model specifications and the data. However, the absence of an effect of ethno-political exclusion on the stability of autocratic regimes is sensitive to outliers. When two countries are removed from the analysis, the hazard of regime change is significantly increases with exclusion. This illustrates that some of the inferences in this study may be sensitive to design choices – a problem that probably relates to every research project. Hence, as for all studies, there are important improvements that could be made. In particular data on ethno-political exclusion should be expanded in time, space, and accuracy. Another area of improvement is to move beyond the executive and investigate more thoroughly other aspects of exclusion at the dyadic level. A last challenge would be to more seriously account for the diversity and direction of regime changes.
With this study, I have demonstrated that an analysis that fails to consider the dynamic and contextual character of ethnicity may be ‘at risk’ of missing important nuances among multiethnic regimes. Furthermore, the results of the study have important implications for democratic leaders. Inclusion of diverse ethnic groups in political power is not only morally sound and perhaps a ‘democratic value’, but has also been shown to be a good strategic choice given the aim of regime stability. Any consideration of the motive behind the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s decision to include both the Sunni and the Kurd minority in his government is at best only well-founded guessing. However, the results from this study indicate that his choice is rational when considering the experiences of other democratic regimes.