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How can political trust be built after civil wars? Evidence from post-conflict Sierra Leone

Journal of Peace Research

Published online on


As a fundamental concept in peace research, trust, or the lack of it, has shown to be associated with the onset of violent conflict, the instability of negotiated settlement, and the sustainability of peace. Despite its proven importance, the question of how political trust can be built after civil conflicts has only received limited attention and remains unanswered. While previous studies demonstrated that improved provision of public services plays a significant role in a trust-building process, the present article shows a more nuanced picture, namely that service enhancement only works if it reflects the needs of people. Projects that do not properly mirror the needs of people, however, have no direct effect on building political trust. Using micro-level data from Sierra Leone, the article finds that people are more likely to trust governments that are willing to listen and respond to their needs and demands. Though government performance carries the previously hypothesized effect, its explanatory power reduces substantively once responsiveness is introduced into the analysis. This finding also holds when potential biases due to endogeneity and sample selection are considered. Results from a mediation analysis also indicate that if government performance has any effect, it is transmitted through the responsiveness mechanism. Overall, this article contributes to the literature by clarifying the mechanism of trust-building in post-conflict societies.