Journal of Economic Growth

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 217–252 | Cite as

Seeds of distrust: conflict in Uganda

  • Dominic Rohner
  • Mathias Thoenig
  • Fabrizio Zilibotti


We study the effect of civil conflict on social capital, focusing on Uganda’s experience during the last decade. Using individual and county-level data, we document large causal effects on trust and ethnic identity of an exogenous outburst of ethnic conflicts in 2002–2005. We exploit two waves of survey data from Afrobarometer (Round 4 Afrobarometer Survey in Uganda, 2000, 2008), including information on socioeconomic characteristics at the individual level, and geo-referenced measures of fighting events from ACLED. Our identification strategy exploits variations in the both the spatial and ethnic intensity of fighting. We find that more intense fighting decreases generalized trust and increases ethnic identity. The effects are quantitatively large and robust to a number of control variables, alternative measures of violence, and different statistical techniques involving ethnic and spatial fixed effects and instrumental variables. Controlling for the intensity of violence during the conflict, we also document that post-conflict economic recovery is slower in ethnically fractionalized counties. Our findings are consistent with the existence of a self-reinforcing process between conflicts and ethnic cleavages.


Acholi Afrobarometer Causal effects of conflict  Civil war  Ethnic conflict Identity Satellite light Trust Uganda 

JEL Classification

C31 C36 H56 N47 O55 Z10 



An earlier version of this paper (with date April 2011) was circulated and presented under the title “Seeds of Distrust? Conflict in Uganda”. We thank three anonymous referees, Jody Ono, Sebastian Ottinger, David Schö nholzer and Nathan Zorzi for excellent assistance, and are grateful for comments to Erwin Bulte, Stefano Della Vigna, Oeindrila Dube, Ernst Fehr, Oded Galor, Pauline Grosjean, Andreas Itten, Peter Jensen, Hannes Mü ller, Eleonora Nillesen, Nathan Nunn, Florian Pelgrin, Torsten Persson, David Strömberg, Jakob Svensson, Marie-Anne Valfort, Leonard Wantchekon, and to seminar participants at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Economic Dynamics in Ghent, “Concentration on Conflict” meeting in Barcelona, “First Meeting on Institutions and Political Economy” in Lisbon, IIES-Stockholm University, Keio University, Namur Workshop on the “Political Economy of Governance and Conflicts”, Royal Economic Society Annual Meeting, CEPR Workshop on the “Political Economy of Development and Conflict” at CREi Barcelona, Tilburg Development Economics Workshop, Università di Bologna, University of Gothenburg, University of Neuchâtel, University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and University of Southern Denmark. We also thank Henrik Pilgaard from UNHCR for sharing with us data on IDP in Uganda. Dominic Rohner acknowledges financial support from the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant no. 100014-122636). Mathias Thoenig acknowledges financial support from the ERC Starting Grant GRIEVANCES-313327. Fabrizio Zilibotti acknowledges financial support from the ERC Advanced Grant IPCDP-229883.

Supplementary material

10887_2013_9093_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (340 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 340 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dominic Rohner
    • 1
  • Mathias Thoenig
    • 1
  • Fabrizio Zilibotti
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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