Tag Archives: institutions

The Scramble for Africa, fractionalization and open borders

Co-blogger Nathan Smith’s plea for someone to write a history of borders got me thinking about Africa and how its borders were drawn. The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 formalized what has come to be known as the “Scramble for Africa“, a process through which contemporary African borders were drawn. And as many researchers have shown, Africa’s borders were largely drawn in an arbitrary manner with little regard for the interests of the people who would later fall under the jurisdiction of those same borders. Michalopoulos and Papaioannou summarize the Scramble for Africa thus [footnotes omitted and my own emphasis]:

The key consideration of European leaders [in drawing up Africa’s borders] was to preserve the “status quo” preventing conflict among Europeans for Africa (as the memories of the European wars of the 18th-19th century were still alive). To this objective the Europeans divided areas and drew borders in maps, without taking into account local conditions and the ethnic composition of the areas. African leaders were not invited and had no say on the drawing of political boundaries. Moreover, European leaders were in such a rush that they didn’t wait for the new information arriving from explorers, geographers, and missionaries.

There is little disagreement among historians that the scramble for the continent was to a great extent artificial (see Asiwaju (1985) and Englebert (2009) for references). As the British prime minister at the time Lord Salisbury put it, “we have been engaged in drawing lines upon maps where no white man’s feet have ever tord; we have been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where the mountains and rivers and lakes were.” Asiwaju (1985) summarizes that “the study of European archives supports the accidental rather than a conspiratorial theory of the marking of African boundaries.” In line with the historical evidence, Alesina, Easterly, and Matuszeski (2011) document that eighty percent of African borders follow latitudinal and longitudinal lines, more than in any other part of the world.

A direct effect of the Scramble for Africa was the partitioning of ethnic groups, many of which had existed as unitary “nation-states” for many of years. Michalopoulos and Papaioannou quantify this partitioning effect thus:

 Quantifying the effects of the Scramble for Africa requires identifying the partitioned groups. To do so we use anthropological data from the pioneering work of George Peter Murdock (1959), who has mapped the spatial distribution of 834 ethnicities at the time of colonisation in the mid/late 19th century. [We] classify as partitioned groups those ethnicities with at least 10% of their total surface area belonging to more than one country. There are 231 ethnic groups with at least 10% of their historical homeland falling into more than one country. When we use a more restrictive threshold of 20% there are 164 ethnicities partitioned across the national border.

Our procedure identifies most major partitioned ethnic groups. For example, the Maasai have been split between Kenya (62%) and Tanzania (38%), the Anyi between Ghana (58%) and the Ivory Coast (42%), and the Chewa between Mozambique (50%), Malawi (34%), and Zimbabwe (16%).  We also calculate the probability that a randomly chosen pixel of the homeland of an ethnic group falls into different countries. The ethnic groups with the highest score in this index are the Malinke, which are split into six different countries; the Ndembu, which are split between Angola, Zaire, and Zambia; and the Nukwe, which are split between Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana.

Another direct effect of the Scramble for Africa was the mishmash of different ethnic groups under a single border. The degree of such mishmash can be quantified by calculating an ethnic fractionalization index for a country, with the index ranging from zero to one. An index closer to one implies that a particular country is very ethnically diverse in the sense that the probability that two randomly picked individuals belong to the same ethnic group is very low. Using the indices calculated by Alesina et al., the average ethnic fractionalization index for sub-Saharan Africa is 0.65 with a median of 0.73. On the other hand, the average for Western Europe is 0.20 with a median of 0.12. The top 5 African countries with the highest indices are Uganda (0.93), Liberia (0.91), Madagascar (0.88), Congo DR (0.87) and the Republic of Congo (0.87). In Western Europe’s case the top 5 are Belgium (0.56), Switzerland (0.53), Luxembourg (0.53), Spain (0.42) and Germany (0.17). If the top 5 European countries were in Africa, they would rank 37th, 38th,39th, 42nd and 51st respectively in terms of ethnic fractionalization. The fact that Western European countries are not as ethnically diverse as African countries should not be surprising. The process of nation-state formation was more systematic in Western Europe with the result that the nation-state formed around less ethnically heterogeneous groups.

The effects of Africa’s arbitrary border formation have not been benign, as one would expect. In a now famous scholarly article from 1997, Easterly and Levine showed that Africa’s dismal post-independence economic performance was largely driven by the high degree of ethnic fractionalization. The authors showed that “ethnic [fractionalization] was closely associated with low schooling, underdeveloped financial systems, distorted foreign exchange markets, and insufficient infrastructure”. And this was driven by the fact that “[ethnic fractionalization] leads to rent-seeking behavior and reduces the consensus for public goods, creating long-run growth tragedies” (my italics). Even more tragic, recent work by Michalopoulos and Papaioannou shows that the random partitioning of ethnic groups explains much of the continent’s civil wars since the 1960s. Their work shows that “civil conflict intensity, as reflected in casualties and duration, is approximately 25% higher in areas where partitioned ethnicities reside (as compared to the homelands of ethnicities that have not been separated)”. The groups that have been particularly impacted by this are “the Afar and the Esa, which during the period from 1970 to 2005 have experienced five civil wars…[T]he Afar being partitioned between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, and the Esa being split between Ethiopia and Somalia”. And the effects are not only limited to partitioned ethnic groups: “Tribal areas adjacent to the ethnic homeland of partitioned groups also experience more civil wars, which tend to last longer and be more devastating. [E]stimates imply that an ethnic group residing adjacent to a partitioned ethnic homeland is on average 5% more likely to experience civil conflict”. And civil conflicts have led to the death of millions of people in Africa and to the displacement of many more.

One can easily imagine that a different border configuration that, for instance took into account the historical interests of different ethnic groups, might have kept at a minimum some of the problems highlighted in the previous paragraph. And this is why I believe that global open borders can go a long way in rectifying some of the consequences of the Scramble for Africa. Under open borders, individuals belonging to certain ethnic groups or entire ethnic groups can easily relocate to countries that the individual or the ethnic group indentifies with or to countries that are likely to guarantee the safety of the individual or his group. (In this post, I showed that the fact that the US has open borders between states made it easier for targetted ethnic/racial groups to migrate elsewhere). Currently the costs of emigrating, even within Africa, are substantial. Very often those on the receiving end of ethnic conflicts are not allowed to easily intergrate into the neighbouring countries to which they run to but are instead placed in refugee camps known for their notoriety. Similarly, those individuals or groups seeking a better life economically in a neighbouring country are required to obtain a dossier of documents, most of which are costly to obtain, before crossing the border to begin the employment search. Those who are unable to obtain these documents resort to risky methods to get themselves across (Update: for more on this last point, see John Lee’s post titled Risking death to get into South Africa).

Some might object that whereas global open borders might lead to a reduction in ethnic diversity in Africa, for instance, they might, on the other hand, lead to an increase in ethnic diversity in certain parts of the developed world such as Western Europe or the United States. And with ethnic diversity increasing, the very problems that open borders were meant to correct in Africa might crop up in the West. This fear, however, is not borne out by research. An exhaustive literature survey by Alesina and La Ferrara finds that “rich democratic societies work well with [ethnic] diversity, in the case of the United States very well interms of growth and productivity”. This result seems to run through institutions. The presently developed countries are developed largely because their initially homogeneous populations built a consensus around establishing a set of inclusive institutions. (It is this process of consensus building that was likely short-circuited in Africa’s case during the Scramble for Africa). And these institutions are unlikely to change in the face of increased diversity because institutions, once established, tend to persist. And it goes without saying that the types of individuals or types of ethnic groups that are likely to relocate to the West are the kinds of individuals or kinds of ethnic groups that identify with the West’s way of life, including its institutions.

UPDATE: Co-bloggers Vipul Naik and Nathan Smith have previously addressed, in some great detail, the relationship between immigration, immigrants and institutions here, here and here.

Related reading

The Lebanese diaspora, and victim-blaming of immigrants

The Economist recently ran an article about the Lebanese diaspora and its entrepreneurial bent. There are some interesting factoids in there I wasn’t aware of. Take the size of the diaspora for example:

More people of Lebanese origin live outside Lebanon than in it (perhaps 15m-20m, compared with 4.3m).

I am not sure what proponents of closed borders would have preferred to do about the Lebanese in the past century or so of human history. It is not quite enough to simply say “Let them alone in Lebanon,” when restrictionists quite clearly want to enact active policies to keep immigrants, Lebanese or otherwise, away. Given some Australian experiences with racial rioting, one can contend that there are restrictionists who would personally use physical force and abuse against the Lebanese.

But as the article notes, for all the “takers” in the Lebanese diaspora, there are plenty of makers (some of whom I did not realise were of Lebanese descent):

Carlos Slim, a Lebanese-Mexican telecoms tycoon, is the richest man in the world. Carlos Ghosn, a French-Lebanese-Brazilian, is the boss of both Renault (a French carmaker) and Nissan (a Japanese one). Nick Hayek, a Swiss-Lebanese, runs Swatch, the biggest maker of Swiss watches.

I am not sure if there are any panel or longitudinal studies which have been done on the Lebanese immigrant population anywhere, but it would be interesting to see the statistics. It would be especially interesting to see if they are bearers of “political externalities” or otherwise import arguably negative cultural/institutional aspects of their homeland. After all, Lebanon the state has not been faring the brightest:

In the past century and a half, waves of Lebanese have left for the Americas and west Africa. Lebanon’s long civil war prompted many more to pack. …the market is tiny. Lebanon’s GDP is about $42 billion, less than Rhode Island’s. Second, it is unstable. Conflict with Israel in 2006 temporarily shut down many of Ms Sfeir’s restaurants; the takeover of parts of Beirut by Hizbullah militants in 2008 disrupted them once more. … As if that were not enough, the Lebanese government chokes businesses with red tape. On average it takes 219 days to obtain a construction permit—assuming nothing goes wrong—and 721 days to enforce a contract in a Lebanese court, according to the World Bank. Patronage is pervasive and the internet is sluggish.

Gee, sounds like letting the Lebanese into my country would be a pretty bad idea, unless I happen to have worse institutions than they do. But the one meaningful statistic about Lebanese immigrant performance which The Economist cites is the Lebanese-American median household income of $67,000 (which is well above the median household income in the US; a rough approximation of that would be about $50,000, depending on how you slice it/round it).

To be explicit, a key assumption I often see in restrictionist arguments is that immigrants will import the “bad institutions” or “bad culture” of their homeland. True, sophisticated advocates of closed borders make more subtle versions of this argument, or avoid it altogether in favour of more defensible ones that barely bear it any resemblance (such as risk of technological slowdown). But it is this argument that often pops up as a reason to justify closed borders: people who are kept out get their just deserts because:

  1. Their country’s bad institutions are their personal fault
  2. They will inflict institutional harm on an ostensible superior country by virtue of simply living or working there

The Lebanese case is a concrete counter-example. How is the individual Lebanese seeking a better life outside his or her country personally responsible for any, let alone all of the following?

  1. The Lebanese civil war (and all its future repercussions for the state of the Lebanese socioeconomic environment)
  2. The small Lebanese market
  3. The Lebanese conflict with Israel
  4. The Hizballah insurgency
  5. Lebanese red tape

Perhaps via some roundabout way one can find a way to blame the typical Lebanese for some or all of these: in some sense, Lebanon has a participatory or democratic form of government, and so surely the individual Lebanese voter must bear some blame. On this basis, I suppose the rest of us trying to avoid getting sucked into horrible geopolitical conflicts, government bailouts of automobile manufacturers, or legislative gridlock should be doing our darndest to restrict immigration from the US then.

(As a sidenote, one can argue that the real reason Lebanon collapsed was because it permitted Palestinian and other insurgents to cross its borders, thus directly leading to the civil war, Hizballah insurgency, and conflict with Israel — i.e. loose Lebanese immigration policy created this problem. But as far as I know, no advocate of open borders endorses government inaction in the face of invaders bearing arms and ill intent. This seems to me akin to tarring a free trade advocate with the accusation that she supports unrestricted trade in assault rifles and nuclear weapons.)

The story of the Lebanese people and their diaspora is clear: open borders makes the lives of immigrants better. And by creating a global network, they make people in their country of origin better off too — and that’s assuming zero remittances, which is an unrealistic assumption. There may be good reasons for restrictionists to advocate keeping immigrants like the Lebanese out — but these good reasons need to be more clearly specified than some ridiculous assignation of blame to immigrants for the situation they are in. And restrictionists need to quantify just what’s being lost from potentially keeping out the next Carlos Ghosn, or the next immigrant demographic that actually raises the average household income.

Immigration and institutions

I had the idea of writing one post to respond to Vipul’s last post, “Free speech absolutism versus viewpoint-based immigration restrictions,” and another one to add to Vipul’s response to Ghost of Christmas Past. Then I realized the posts cover some of the same ground. So this post conflates the two putative posts into one.

First, Vipul suggests a plausible rule of thumb which a few paragraphs in my book Principles of a Free Society would contradict:

My thumb rule for blanket denials is: anything that constitutes sufficient reason for blanket denial of migration should also constitute sufficient reason for punitive measures under criminal or civil law in the target country of immigration… The most interesting case is [that] of people holding and espousing viewpoints that are perfectly legal — in compliance with criminal law and unlikely to be successfully litigated against. First Amendment protections in the United States give people wide latitude to say a lot of things as long as these do not constitute libel/slander, infringe on copyrights, trademarks, or patents, or provide direct incitement to violence in a situation where such violence may be carried out. There are various restrictions in the United States on pornography and speech directly related to political candidates, but I’m ignoring these for the moment. In particular, it is perfectly okay from a legal viewpoint to say positive or negative things about century-old religious doctrines, regardless of the truth or falsehood of these. You could praise Christianity or Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism, or condemn these, and no legal action against you would plausibly succeed. It is also perfectly okay from a legal viewpoint to hold and espouse practically any political position from communism to Nazism to anarcho-capitalism.

Going by my thumb rule, then, viewpoint-based immigration restrictions are not morally justified. However, a number of people, even those broadly supportive of open borders, do express some sympathy for the concerns that underlie the advocacy of viewpoint-based immigration restrictions… [An] example is offered by my co-blogger Nathan Smith, who, in his book Principles of a Free Society, carves out a possible viewpoint-based exception to his general advocacy of open borders — the case of Islam.

He then quotes the relevant passage in my book, where I suggest a “moderate approach [that would] screen carefully for known terror suspects and extremists, to keep a close watch on Muslim immigrant communities, and to inquire into the ideology of Muslim DRITI migrants applying for citizenship to make sure they convincingly disavow the death penalty for apostasy and other traditional Islamic beliefs inconsistent with the principles of a free society, perhaps with the help of oaths or signed statements to that effect.” As he says, this is inconsistent with his rule of thumb against view-point based immigration.

First, I’d point out that since Principles of a Free Society advocates a comprehensive open borders policy (albeit with migration taxes), I was eager to make what concessions I thought I justly could to make the policy less frighteningly radical. That wouldn’t be a good excuse, though, if I were advocating a policy that was positively unjust. Is it? At issue here is freedom of conscience, which I covered in another part of the book. This passage is especially relevant: Continue reading “Immigration and institutions” »