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.