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The Impact of European Settlement within French West Africa: Did Pre-colonial Prosperous Areas Fall Behind?

  • Elise Huillery

Did colonisation change the distribution of prosperity within French-speaking West Africa? Using a new database on both pre-colonial and colonial contexts, this paper gives evidence that Europeans tended to settle in more prosperous pre-colonial areas and that the European settlement had a strong positive impact on current outcomes, even in an extractive colonial context, resulting in a positive relationship between pre- and post-colonial performances. I argue that the African hostility towards colonial power to colonisation provides a random variation in European settlement since it damaged the profitability of colonial activities and dissuaded Europeans from settling, but does not have a direct effect on current outcomes. Rich and hostile areas received less European settlers than they would have received had they not been so hostile, resulting in lower current performances partly due to lower colonial investments. Despite the absence of a 'reversal of fortune' within former French West Africa, some of the most prosperous pre-colonial areas lost their advantage because of their hostility: other areas caught up and became the new leaders in the region. Copyright 2011 The author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Centre for the Study of African Economies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:, Oxford University Press.

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Article provided by Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE) in its journal Journal of African Economies.

Volume (Year): 20 (2011)
Issue (Month): 2 (March)
Pages: 263-311

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Handle: RePEc:oup:jafrec:v:20:y:2011:i:2:p:263-311
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