Rei Gordon

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Jim Butterfield

Second Advisor

Dr. John Clark

Third Advisor

Dr. Mahendra Lawoti


Africa, ethnic conflict, inequality, Kenya, Botswana

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


Scholars have recommended numerous institutional arrangements for mitigating ethnic conflict in divided societies. Electoral systems are often considered to have an impact on ethnic conflict, and scholars have recommended both proportional representation systems and majoritarian systems for their respective effects on mitigating ethnic tensions. However, in a cross-national analysis of 18 sub-Saharan democracies, I find no impact of electoral systems on ethnic conflict. Countries employing proportional representation systems and majoritarian systems are compared according to three measures of ethnic conflict, yet neither electoral system correlates with higher or lower levels of conflict. In the interest of identifying factors that do impact ethnic conflict, I compare Kenya and Botswana, two sub-Saharan democracies with similar levels of ethnic diversity and vastly differing levels of ethnic conflict. I limit this analysis to factors that are subject to intervention, as these prove most promising in the search for methods by which to mitigate ethnic conflict. I examine inequality, ethnic patronage networks, ethnic politics and decentralization in Kenya and Botswana. My analysis reveals that inequality, ethnic patronage networks, and ethnic politics increase the likelihood of ethnic conflict, while the effects of decentralization on ethnic conflict are inconclusive.