Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Group Self‐Interest vs. Equity: Explaining Support for Horizontal Redistribution in (Former) Competitive Clientelist States

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Abstract:  Extant literature links intergroup disparities, or horizontal inequalities, in Sub‐Saharan Africa to the unequal representation of ethnic groups in central power, who accumulate wealth at the expense of politically marginalized groups. Over time, these politically‐induced inequalities have trapped some ethnic groups in positions of relative disadvantage. Group‐based, or horizontal, redistribution can help redress these inequalities yet require popular support if they are not to contribute to intergroup tensions. In this article, we examine how people’s experiences of political exclusion, on the one hand, and their attributional beliefs about the causes of political exclusion, on the other, condition support for government policies aimed at eradicating economic inequalities between different ethnic groups. We argue that people are more likely to be supportive of horizontal redistribution either when (H1a) they belong to ethnic groups that have not had access to central power, and/or (H1b) feel that their ethnic group is politically marginalized (and thus stands to gain); or when (H2) they attribute the political exclusion of the politically marginalized group(s) that stand(s) to benefit from these policies to the legacies of colonialism and clientelism (thus seeking to foster equity). To test our hypotheses, we examine these issues in the context of Kenya, a society with politically salient ethnic cleavages and a history of clientelism. Based on a unique online survey involving 2,286 Kenyans, we show that, notwithstanding group self‐interest being at play, there is strong support for horizontal redistribution across groups.

Keywords:  clientelism; ethnic favoritism; horizontal inequality; horizontal redistribution; Kenya


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© Line Kuppens, Lucas Leopold, Arnim Langer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.