DP12233 | Building Nations Through Shared Experiences: Evidence from African Football

Publication Date

08/23/2017

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Abstract

We examine whether shared collective experiences can help build a national identity, by looking at the impact of national football teams’ victories in sub-Saharan Africa. Combining individual survey data with information on official matches played between 2000 and 2015, we find that individuals interviewed in the days after a victory of their country’s national team are less likely to identify with their ethnic group than with the country as a whole and more likely to trust people of other ethnicities than those interviewed just before. The effect is sizable and robust and is not explained by generic euphoria or optimism. Crucially, we find that national victories not only affect attitudes but also reduce violence: using plausibly exogenous variation from close qualifications to the African Cup of Nations, we find that countries that (barely) qualified experience significantly less conflict in the following six months than countries that (barely) did not. Our findings indicate that, even when divisions are deeply rooted, shared experiences can work as an effective nation-building tool, bridge cleavages, and have a tangible effect on violence.