Research / BFI Working PaperOct 26, 2022

African Political Institutions and the Impact of Colonialism

Jutta Bolt, Leigh Gardner, Jennifer Kohler, Jack Paine, James Robinson

Conventional wisdom proposes deep historical roots for authoritarianism in Africa: either colonial “decentralized despotism” or enduring structural features. We present a new theoretical perspective. Africans sought autonomous local communities, which constrained precolonial rulers. Colonizers largely left constrained institutions in place given budget limitations. Innovation, where it occurred, typically scaled up councils rather than invented despotic chiefs. To test these implications, we compiled two original datasets that measure precolonial institutions and British colonial administrations around 1950 in 463 local government units. Although colonial institutions were authoritarian at the national level, most Native Authorities were constrained by some type of council and many local institutions lacked a singular ruler entirely. The form of Native Authority institutions and the composition of councils are strongly correlated with precolonial institutional forms. The persistence of institutional constraints at the local level suggests alternative channels through which colonial rule fostered postcolonial authoritarian regimes.

More Research From These Scholars

BFI Working Paper Feb 6, 2023

Missing Discussions: Institutional Constraints in the Islamic Political Tradition

A. Arda Gitmez, James Robinson, Mehdi Shadmehr
Topics:  Uncategorized
BFI Working Paper Jul 27, 2023

Constitutions and Order: A Theory and Evidence from Colombia and the United States

Leopoldo Fergusson, Javier Mejia, James Robinson, Santiago Torres
Topics:  Uncategorized
BFI Working Paper Jul 13, 2021

Non-Modernization: Power-Culture Trajectories and the Dynamics of Political Institutions

Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson
Topics:  Uncategorized