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Divide and Rule or the Rule of the Divided? Evidence from Africa

  • Stelios Michalopoulos
  • Elias Papaioannou

We investigate jointly the importance of contemporary country-level institutional structures and local ethnic-specific pre-colonial institutions in shaping comparative regional development in Africa. We utilize information on the spatial distribution of African ethnicities before colonization and regional variation in contemporary economic performance, as proxied by satellite light density at night. We exploit the fact that political boundaries across the African landscape partitioned ethnic groups in different countries subjecting identical cultures to different country-level institutions. Our regression discontinuity estimates reveal that differences in countrywide institutional arrangements across the border do not explain differences in economic performance within ethnic groups. In contrast, we document a strong association between pre-colonial ethnic institutional traits and contemporary regional development. While this correlation does not necessarily identify a causal relationship, this result obtains conditional on country fixed-effects, controlling for other ethnic traits and when we focus on pairs of contiguous ethnic homelands.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17184.

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Date of creation: Jun 2011
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17184
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