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The economic legacies of the ‘thin white line’: indirect rule and the comparative development of sub-Saharan Africa

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  • Peter Richens
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    Abstract

    Recent empirical studies claim to have identified roots of Africa’s poverty in its colonial past, particularly in the ‘extractive’ or ‘illegitimate’ institutions that the colonial powers bequeathed. While taking a similar quantitative approach this paper accepts the view of many historians that colonial institutions were just as much African in origin as they were exogenously imposed. The number of colonial administrators relative to the African population – or the ‘thin white line’ – in 33 African colonies is examined. This varied considerably across the continent but is largely explicable by factors which appear to have had little direct effect on economic performance. There is found to be a strong and robust positive correlation between the closeness of administration during the colonial period and economic growth since independence, particularly where pre-colonial political systems were relatively decentralised. It is proposed that this correlation is the result of a causal relationship: where colonial powers were unable or unwilling to rule over their subjects directly they inadvertently increased competition between Africans over productive resources and political power. This has aggravated the insecurity of the poorest and least connected within African societies and rendered the pursuit of wealth contingent on active participation in political processes.

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    File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/27879/
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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History in its series Economic History Working Papers with number 27879.

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    Length: 80 pages
    Date of creation: Nov 2009
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:27879

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    Postal: LSE, Dept. of Economic History Houghton Street London, WC2A 2AE, U.K.
    Phone: +44 (0) 20 7955 7084
    Web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/
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    1. Sue Bowden & Blessing Chiripanhura & Paul Mosley, 2008. "Measuring and explaining poverty in six African countries: A long-period approach," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 20(8), pages 1049-1079.
    2. Nathan Nunn, 2007. "The Long-Term Effects of Africa's Slave Trades," NBER Working Papers 13367, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2000. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," NBER Working Papers 7771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Nicola Gennaioli & Ilia Rainer, 2007. "The modern impact of precolonial centralization in Africa," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 12(3), pages 185-234, September.
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    6. Graziella Bertocchi & Fabio Canova, 1996. "Did colonization matter for growth? An empirical exploration into the historical causes of Africa's underdevelopment," Economics Working Papers 202, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    7. Lange, Matthew K., 2004. "British Colonial Legacies and Political Development," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 32(6), pages 905-922, June.
    8. Easterly, William & Levine, Ross, 1997. "Africa's Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1203-50, November.
    9. Englebert, Pierre, 2000. "Solving the Mystery of the AFRICA Dummy," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 28(10), pages 1821-1835, October.
    10. Grier, Robin M, 1999. " Colonial Legacies and Economic Growth," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 98(3-4), pages 317-35, March.
    11. World Bank, 2008. "World Development Indicators 2008," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 11855, October.
    12. Rafael LaPorta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes & Andrei Shleifer & Robert Vishny, . "The Quality of Government," Working Paper 19452, Harvard University OpenScholar.
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    Cited by:
    1. Frankema, Ewout, 2011. "Colonial taxation and government spending in British Africa, 1880-1940: Maximizing revenue or minimizing effort?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 136-149, January.

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