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Healing the Wounds: Learning from Sierra Leone's Post-war Institutional Reforms


  • Katherine Casey
  • Rachel Glennerster
  • Edward Miguel


While its recent history of civil war, chronic poverty and corrupt governance would cause many to dismiss Sierra Leone as a hopeless case, the country's economic and political performance over the last decade has defied expectations. We examine how several factors--including the legacy of war, ethnic diversity, decentralization and community-driven development (CDD)--have shaped local institutions and national political dynamics. The story that emerges is a nuanced one: war does not necessarily destroy the capacity for local collective action; ethnicity affects residential choice, but does not impede local public goods provision; while politics remain heavily ethnic, voters are willing to cross ethnic boundaries when they have better information about candidates; decentralization can work even where capacity is limited, although the results are mixed; and for all of its promise, CDD does not appear to transform local institutions nor social norms. All of these findings are somewhat "unexpected," but they are quite positive in signaling that even one of the world's poorest, most violent and ethnically diverse societies can overcome major challenges and progress towards meaningful economic and political development.

Suggested Citation

  • Katherine Casey & Rachel Glennerster & Edward Miguel, 2012. "Healing the Wounds: Learning from Sierra Leone's Post-war Institutional Reforms," NBER Working Papers 18368, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18368
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Assar Lindbeck & Jörgen Weibull, 1987. "Balanced-budget redistribution as the outcome of political competition," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 52(3), pages 273-297, January.
    2. William Easterly & Ross Levine, 1997. "Africa's Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1203-1250.
    3. Rachel Glennerster & Edward Miguel & Alexander D. Rothenberg, 2013. "Collective Action in Diverse Sierra Leone Communities," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 0, pages 285-316, May.
    4. Abhijit Banerjee & Lakshmi Iyer, 2005. "History, Institutions, and Economic Performance: The Legacy of Colonial Land Tenure Systems in India," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1190-1213, September.
    5. Larcinese, Valentino & Snyder, James M. & Testa, Cecilia, 2013. "Testing Models of Distributive Politics using Exit Polls to Measure Voters’ Preferences and Partisanship," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(04), pages 845-875, October.
    6. Pranab Bardhan & Dilip Mookherjee, 2006. "Decentralisation and Accountability in Infrastructure Delivery in Developing Countries," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 116(508), pages 101-127, January.
    7. Habyarimana, James P. & Humphreys, Macartan & Posner, Daniel N. & Weinstein, Jeremy, 2006. "Why Does Ethnic Diversity Undermine Public Goods Provision? An Experimental Approach," IZA Discussion Papers 2272, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Bellows, John & Miguel, Edward, 2009. "War and local collective action in Sierra Leone," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(11-12), pages 1144-1157, December.
    9. Miguel, Edward & Gugerty, Mary Kay, 2005. "Ethnic diversity, social sanctions, and public goods in Kenya," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(11-12), pages 2325-2368, December.
    10. Wallace E. Oates, 1999. "An Essay on Fiscal Federalism," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(3), pages 1120-1149, September.
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    12. Larcinese, Valentino & Snyder, Jr., James M. & Testa, Cecilia, 2006. "Testing models of distributive politics using exit polls to measure voter preferences and partisanship," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 3605, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    13. Fearon, James D, 2003. "Ethnic and Cultural Diversity by Country," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 195-222, June.
    14. Edward Miguel, 2009. "Africa's Turn?," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262012898, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. King, Elisabeth & Samii, Cyrus, 2014. "Fast-Track Institution Building in Conflict-Affected Countries? Insights from Recent Field Experiments," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 740-754.

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    JEL classification:

    • F35 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - Foreign Aid
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General

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