14th journées Louis-André Gérard-Varet

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Violence against Rich Ethnic Minorities: a Theory of Instrumental Scapegoating
Pauline MORAULT, Yann Bramoullé

Last modified: 2015-03-14


In many parts of the developing world, ethnic minorities play a central economic role. Examples include Chinese throughout Southeast Asia, Indians in East Africa and Lebanese in West Africa. These rich minorities are often subject to popular violence and extortion, and are treated ambiguously by local politicians. We develop a formal framework to analyze the interactions between a rent-seeking political elite, an economically dominant ethnic minority and a poor majority. We find that the local elite can always make use of the presence of the rich ethnic minority to maintain its hold on power. When the threat of violence is too high, the government changes taxes and redistribution levels strategically in order to sacrifice the minority to popular resentment. We analyze the conditions under which such instrumental scapegoating emerges, and the forms it takes. We then introduce some social integration between both elites capturing, for instance, mixed marriages and shared education. Social integration reduces violence but also makes the transition between peace and violence more abrupt. Overall, our results help explain documented patterns of violence and segregation.


elites; popular violence; ethnic minority; scapegoat