Working Paper

Traditional Authority and State Legitimacy: Evidence from Namibia

Do African traditional leaders weaken state legitimacy at the local level? Past scholarship raises the
possibility that unelected chiefs might undermine trust in national-level institutions. Relying on an
original map of areas governed by chiefs and survey data from Namibia, this study examines
whether respondents governed by traditional leaders are less likely to trust state institutions. I find
that compared to individuals not living under traditional authority, chiefdom residents are more
likely to trust government institutions. To partially alleviate the concern that chiefdom residence is
endogenous to trust in national-level institutions, I use a genetic matching strategy to compare
relatively similar individuals. I further find that the association between chiefdom residence and
trust in state institutions is considerably weaker and less statistically significant for individuals who
do not share ethnicity with their chief. This evidence suggests that traditional leaders’ ability to
complement state institutions at the local level is compromised by ethnic diversity.