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Colonialism and Economic Development in Africa

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  • Leander Heldring
  • James A. Robinson

Abstract

In this paper we evaluate the impact of colonialism on development in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the world context, colonialism had very heterogeneous effects, operating through many mechanisms, sometimes encouraging development sometimes retarding it. In the African case, however, this heterogeneity is muted, making an assessment of the average effect more interesting. We emphasize that to draw conclusions it is necessary not just to know what actually happened to development during the colonial period, but also to take a view on what might have happened without colonialism and also to take into account the legacy of colonialism. We argue that in the light of plausible counter-factuals, colonialism probably had a uniformly negative effect on development in Africa. To develop this claim we distinguish between three sorts of colonies: (1) those which coincided with a pre-colonial centralized state, (2) those of white settlement, (3) the rest. Each have distinct performance within the colonial period, different counter-factuals and varied legacies.

Suggested Citation

  • Leander Heldring & James A. Robinson, 2012. "Colonialism and Economic Development in Africa," NBER Working Papers 18566, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18566
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    Cited by:

    1. Dambala Gelo & Edwin Muchapondwa & Steven F. Koch, 2013. "Do the Poor Benefit from Devolution Policies? Evidences from Quantile Treatment Effect Evaluation of Joint Forest Management," Working Papers 400, Economic Research Southern Africa.
    2. Ignacio Amate-Fortes & Almudena Guarnido-Rueda & Agustin Molina-Morales, 2017. "Economic and Social Determinants of Human Development: A New Perspective," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 133(2), pages 561-577, September.
    3. Vibeke Bjornlund & Henning Bjornlund & André Rooyen, 2022. "Why food insecurity persists in sub-Saharan Africa: A review of existing evidence," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 14(4), pages 845-864, August.
    4. Leandro Prados de la Escosura, 2012. "Output Per Head In Pre-Independence Africa: Quantitative Conjectures," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 27(2), pages 1-36, December.
    5. Johan Fourie & Nonso Obikili, 2019. "Decolonizing with data: The cliometric turn in African economic history," Working Papers 02/2019, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    6. Birchenall, Javier A., 2023. "Disease and diversity in long-term economic development," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 161(C).
    7. Huang Flora & Yeung Horace, 2018. "Law–Finance–Growth Nexus in the Context of Africa," The Law and Development Review, De Gruyter, vol. 11(2), pages 513-555, December.
    8. Papaioannou, Kostadis J. & de Haas, Michiel, 2017. "Weather Shocks and Agricultural Commercialization in Colonial Tropical Africa: Did Cash Crops Alleviate Social Distress?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 94(C), pages 346-365.
    9. Prados de la Escosura, Leandro, 2013. "Human development in Africa: A long-run perspective," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 179-204.
    10. Léonce Ndikumana, 2013. "Overcoming Low Political Equilibrium in Africa: Institutional Changes for Inclusive Development," Working Papers wp331, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
    11. Paz, Santiago, 2023. "Long Run Consequences of Ethnic Conflict On Social Capital: Evidence from South Africa," Documentos CEDE 20923, Universidad de los Andes, Facultad de Economía, CEDE.
    12. Dimico, Arcangelo, 2014. "Poverty trap and educational shock: Evidence from missionary fields," QUCEH Working Paper Series 14-07, Queen's University Belfast, Queen's University Centre for Economic History.
    13. Agbor, Julius A & Fedderke, Johannes W & Viegi, Nicola, 2013. "How colonial education practices helped shape the pattern of decolonization in West Africa," International Journal of Development and Conflict, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, vol. 3(2), pages 1-23.
    14. Baten, Joerg & Maravall, Laura, 2021. "The influence of colonialism on Africa's welfare: An anthropometric study," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 751-775.
    15. Arcangelo Dimico, 2017. "Size Matters: The Effect of the Size of Ethnic Groups on Development," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 79(3), pages 291-318, June.
    16. Nadia Huffman & Wallace Huffman, 2021. "Convergence theory and conditional income convergence among sub‐Saharan African countries," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 52(6), pages 915-925, November.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N37 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Africa; Oceania
    • N47 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Africa; Oceania
    • O55 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Africa

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