Identity and conflict: Evidence from Tuareg rebellion in Mali

Elsevier, World Development, Volume 161, 2023
Maxim Ananyev, Michael Poyker

Does internal conflict erode national identity in Sub-Saharan Africa? We explore this question in the context of the 2012 Tuareg rebellion in Mali. The timing of the conflict was plausibly exogenous: the fall of al-Gaddafi’s regime in Libya in 2011 triggered the return of the Tuareg fighters from the demised leader’s Praetorian guard to their homeland in Northern Mali. Using representative survey data on the salience of national and ethnic identities, we perform a difference-in-differences estimation and find that the outbreak of the conflict prompted Malian residents living closer to the conflict zone to decrease their national identity more than the residents further away. We argue that this effect is likely to have been driven by proximity to violent events perpetrated by separatist groups and not by selective migration, exposure to internally displaced persons, communal violence, or other potential alternative explanations. Our results are consistent with the qualitative evidence on the matter. We place these findings in the context of recent theoretical advances in identity economics.