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Colonial taxation and government spending in British Africa, 1880-1940: Maximizing revenue or minimizing effort?

  • Frankema, Ewout

Colonial state institutions are widely cited as a root cause of sub-Saharan African underdevelopment, but the opinions differ on the channels of causation. Were African colonial states ruled by near absolutist governments who strived to maximize revenue extraction in order to strengthen their grip on native African societies? Or did European powers build 'states without substance', governed with minimal resources and effort, failing to invest in basic public goods? This paper develops an analytical framework for comparing colonial tax and spending patterns and applies it to eight British African colonies (1880-1940). We show that colonial fiscal systems did not adhere to a uniform logic, that minimalism prevailed in West Africa, extractive features were more pronounced in East Africa, and that Mauritius revealed characteristics of a developmental state already before 1940.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Explorations in Economic History.

Volume (Year): 48 (2011)
Issue (Month): 1 (January)
Pages: 136-149

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Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:48:y:2011:i:1:p:136-149
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622830

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  1. Alexander Moradi, 2008. "Towards an Objective Account of Nutrition and Health in Colonial Kenya: A Study of Stature in African Army Recruits and Civilians, 1880-1980," CSAE Working Paper Series 2008-04, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  2. Frankema, Ewout, 2010. "Raising revenue in the British empire, 1870–1940: how ‘extractive’ were colonial taxes?," Journal of Global History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 5(03), pages 447-477, November.
  3. Peter Richens, 2009. "The economic legacies of the ‘thin white line’: indirect rule and the comparative development of sub-Saharan Africa," Economic History Working Papers 27879, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
  4. Jamal, Vali, 1978. "Taxation and Inequality in Uganda, 1900–1964," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 38(02), pages 418-438, June.
  5. Elise Huillery, 2013. "The Black Man's Burden - The Cost of Colonization of French West Africa," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/7o52iohb7k6, Sciences Po.
  6. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1369-1401, December.
  7. Edward L. Glaeser & Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silane & Andrei Shleifer, 2004. "Do Institutions Cause Growth?," NBER Working Papers 10568, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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