Correlates of post-colonial development in Africa

Botswana (GDP per capita (PPP): $12,100 ) and Mauritius ($12,400), are doing a lot better than a lot of other sub-Saharan nations. Why? A draft paper “Constitutions, Private Property, and Economic Growth in Africa: Decolonization Processes and Post-colonial Reforms Matter” (pdf) argues that:

…legal history indicates that most African countries repealed British-inspired constitutional safeguards against property expropriation after independence while Botswana and Mauritius kept all constitutional safeguards… This paper provides empirical evidence showing that securing private property was a key component of economic development.

Though, one should also note that Mauritius is 68% Indian – and so hardly qualifies as African. And those countries are just run better in general.


A 2010 paper, “The Causal History of Africa: A
Response to Hopkins” comments on some aspects of colonialism:

Bertocchi and Canova (2002) find that the identity of the colonizer is significant in a cross-country growth regression, while Agbor, Fedderke, and Viege (2009) similarly show that British colonies have grown faster than French ones. Grier (1999) finds that colonies that were held longer are performing better today; Olsson (2009) obtains the same results using democracy as an outcome.

As the author of the first paper points out:

Comparative studies on British and French decolonization in Africa indicates that the British decolonization was done gradually based on
experiences in South Asia whereas the French decolonization was done more in haste after the costly independence wars in Indochina and Algeria, which had different consequences in imposing legal systems

Another paper arguing that British colonies are better off is a 2010 paper “Comparing British and French Colonial Legacies: A Discontinuity Analysis of Cameroon” (pdf). It’s an interesting case because it was originally Germany, but after WWI was split between Britain and France, and then re-united at independence. They conclude:

Taking advantage of the artificial nature of the former colonial boundary, we use it as a discontinuity within a national demographic survey. We show that rural areas on the British side of discontinuity have higher levels of wealth and local public provision of improved water sources. Results for urban areas and centrally-provided public goods show no such effect, suggesting that post-independence policies also play a role in shaping outcomes.

[A] limitation of our results is that we cannot know by what mechanism British colonialism causes superior outcomes.

[But before any British start feeling too satisfied with themselves, the 2010 paper “Direct versus Indirect Colonial Rule in India: Long-Term Consequences” (pdf) found that those regions of India ruled indirectly are doing better now.]


Institutions in African history and development: A review essay” (pdf) 2010:

Nunn (2008) shows that the countries that exported the most slaves are poorest today. Nunn and Wantchekon (2008) fi nd that the slave trade also produced lower levels of trust among the ethnic groups that were most a ffected.

Gennaioli and Rainer (2007) show that pre-colonial state centralization is positively correlated with modern GDP; they posit that rulers of more centralized pre-colonial states were better able to extract public goods from colonial authorities. Bolt and Smits (2010) add local structures to this analysis, and show that countries whose pre-colonial societies had well developed community hierarchies and were outward looking are better governed in the present.

A 2011 paper: “Divide and Rule or the Rule of the Divided? Evidence from Africa.”

Our analysis shows that political complexity before the advent of European colonizers correlates significantly with contemporary development, even when we account for national policies and other country-specific features. This correlation does not necessarily imply a causal relationship because one cannot rule out the possibility that other ethnic characteristics and hard-to account for factors related to land endowments or the ecology drive the association between pre-colonial ethnic institutional traits and development. Yet the positive association between historical institutions and luminosity prevails numerous permutations. First, it is robust to an array of controls related to the disease environment, land endowments, and natural resources among others. Second, regressing luminosity on a variety of alternative pre-colonial ethnicity-specific economic and cultural traits reported by Murdock (1967), we find that political centralization is the strongest correlate of regional economic development. Third, we find that the positive correlation between ethnic historical political complexity and regional development obtains across pairs of adjacent ethnic homelands where groups with different pre-colonial institutions reside. Thus, although we do not have random assignment in ethnic institutions and it is therefore hard to establish causality, the results clearly point out that, unlike national institutions, traits manifested in differences in the pre-colonial institutional legacy of each ethnic group matter for contemporary African development.

They suggest the reason for this is the limited penetration of European influence.


Finally, a paper that argues the geographical pattern of warfare in Africa from 1400 – 1700 correlates to contemporary patterns: “The Legacy of Historical Conflict Evidence from Africa” (2012): “We find robust evidence that patterns of conflict after countries in Africa gained independence are correlated with having had more historical conflicts within their borders. We also find some evidence supporting the view that the mechanism at work may be a diminution intrust, a stronger sense of ethnic identity and a weaker sense of national identity.”


In my earlier post on the origins of inequality, I also discuss the importance of institutions and demographics for current outcomes, but more globally and over a longer time period.

1 thought on “Correlates of post-colonial development in Africa

  1. Pingback: Colonization Was Good For Africa | Happolati's Miscellany

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