Strangers and Foreigners: Trust and Attitudes toward Citizenship in Sub-Saharan Africa

This study explores the factors that shape natives’ attitudes toward citizenship acquisition for foreigners. The hypothesis is that, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the slave trade represents a deep determinant of contemporary attitudes toward citizenship, through a proximate determinant which is the level of trust. Accordingly, individuals belonging to ethnic groups with higher exposure to historical slave exports are more likely to exhibit a sense of distrust toward strangers, and are consequently more likely to oppose citizenship laws that favor the inclusion of foreigners. The findings indicate that individuals with higher levels of trust toward other people do exhibit more favorable attitudes regarding the acquisition of citizenship at birth for children of foreigners, that these attitudes are also negatively related to the intensity of the slave trade, and that the underlying inverse relationship between trust and the slave trade is confirmed. Other factors such as conflict, kinship tightness, and witchcraft beliefs, which could also influence attitudes toward citizenship through the channel of trust, do not yield the same distinct pattern of associations as observed with the slave trade.

Graziella Bertocchi, Arcangelo Dimico, Gian Luca Tedeschi, “Strangers and Foreigners: Trust and Attitudes toward Citizenship in Sub-Saharan Africa“, The World Bank Economic Review, 2024.