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Does Land Abundance Explain African Institutions?

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  • Fenske, James

    (Yale University)

Abstract

I show how abundant land and scarce labor shaped African institutions before colonial rule. I present a model in which exogenous suitability of the land for agriculture and endogenously evolving population determine the existence of land rights, slavery, and polygyny. I then use cross-sectional data on pre-colonial African societies to demonstrate that, consistent with the model, the existence of land rights, slavery, and polygyny occurred in those parts of Africa that were the most suitable for agriculture, and in which population density was greatest. Next, I use the model to explain institutions among the Egba of southwestern Nigeria from 1830 to 1914. While many Egba institutions were typical of a land-abundant environment, they sold land and had disputes over it. These exceptions were the result of a period of land scarcity when the Egba first arrived at Abeokuta and of heterogeneity in the quality of land.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Yale University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 74.

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Date of creation: Nov 2009
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Handle: RePEc:ecl:yaleco:74

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Blog mentions

As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Africa was underpopulated
    by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2010-01-13 01:36:00
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Cited by:
  1. James Fenske, 2012. "Ecology, trade and states in pre-colonial Africa," CSAE Working Paper Series 2012-18, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  2. Ewout Frankema & Marlous van Waijenburg, 2011. "African Real Wages in Asian Perspective, 1880-1940," Working Papers 0002, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
  3. Stelios Michalopoulos & Elias Papaioannou, 2011. "The Long-Run Effects of the Scramble for Africa," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0762, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  4. Stelios Michalopoulos & Elias Papaioannou, 2011. "Divide and Rule or the Rule of the Divided? Evidence from Africa," NBER Working Papers 17184, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Nils-Petter Lagerlöf, 2010. "Pacifying monogamy," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 15(3), pages 235-262, September.
  6. Boris Gershman, 2013. "The Economic Origins of the Evil Eye Belief," Working Papers 2013-14, American University, Department of Economics.
  7. James Fenske, 2012. "Land abundance and economic institutions: Egba land and slavery, 1830–1914," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 65(2), pages 527-555, 05.
  8. Margherita Bottero & Björn Wallace, 2013. "Is There a Long-Term Effect of Africa's Slave Trades?," Quaderni di storia economica (Economic History Working Papers) 30, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
  9. Jerven, Morten & Austin, Gareth & Green, Erik & Uche, Chibuike & Frankema, Ewout & Fourie, Johan & Inikori, Joseph & Moradi, Alexander & Hillbom, Ellen, 2012. "Moving Forward in African Economic History. Bridging the Gap Between Methods and Sources," Lund Papers in Economic History 124, Department of Economic History, Lund University.

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