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Does Land Abundance Explain African Institutions?

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  • James Fenske

    ()
    (Department of Economics, 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 Economic Growth Center, Yale University in its series Working Papers with number 981.

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Length: 62 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:egc:wpaper:981

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Keywords: Africa; institutions; land rights; slavery; polygyny;

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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. 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," African Economic History Working Paper, African Economic History Network 1/2012, African Economic History Network.
  2. Michalopoulos, Stelios & Papaioannou, Elias, 2010. "Divide and Rule or the Rule of the Divided? Evidence from Africa," CEPR Discussion Papers 8088, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. James Fenske, 2012. "Ecology, Trade and States in Pre-Colonial Africa," Economics Series Working Papers WPF/2012-18, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  4. James Fenske, 2012. "Land abundance and economic institutions: Egba land and slavery, 1830–1914," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, Economic History Society, vol. 65(2), pages 527-555, 05.
  5. Ewout Frankema & Marlous van Waijenburg, 2011. "African Real Wages in Asian Perspective, 1880-1940," Working Papers 0002, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
  6. Emilio Depetris-Chauvin & David N. Weil, 2013. "Malaria and Early African Development: Evidence from the Sickle Cell Trait," NBER Working Papers 19603, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. 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.
  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. Denis Cogneau & Yannick Dupraz, 2014. "Questionable Inference on the Power of Pre-Colonial Institutions in Africa," PSE Working Papers halshs-01018548, HAL.
  10. Nils-Petter Lagerlöf, 2010. "Pacifying monogamy," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 15(3), pages 235-262, September.
  11. Boris Gershman, 2013. "The Economic Origins of the Evil Eye Belief," Working Papers 2013-14, American University, Department of Economics.

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