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Chiefs: Elite Control of Civil Society and Economic Development in Sierra Leone

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  • Daron Acemoglu
  • Tristan Reed
  • James A. Robinson

Abstract

The lowest level of government in sub-Saharan Africa is often a cadre of chiefs who raise taxes, control the judicial system and allocate the most important scarce resource - land. Chiefs, empowered by colonial indirect rule, are often accused of using their power despotically and inhibiting rural development. Yet others view them as traditional representatives of rural people, and survey evidence suggests that they maintain widespread support. We use the colonial history of Sierra Leone to investigate the relationships between chiefs' power on economic development, peoples' attitudes and social capital. There, a chief must come from one of the ruling families recognized by British colonial authorities. Chiefs face less competition and fewer political constraints in chiefdoms with fewer ruling families. We show that places with fewer ruling families have significantly worse development outcomes today - in particular, lower rates of educational attainment, child health, and non-agricultural employment. But the institutions of chiefs' authority are also highly respected among villagers, and their chiefdoms have higher levels of "social capital," for example, greater popular participation in a variety of "civil society" organizations and forums that might be used to hold chiefs accountable. We argue that these results are difficult to reconcile with the standard principle-agent approach to politics and instead reflect the capture of civil society organizations by chiefs. Rather than acting as a vehicle for disciplining chiefs, these organizations have been structured by chiefs to control society.

Suggested Citation

  • Daron Acemoglu & Tristan Reed & James A. Robinson, 2013. "Chiefs: Elite Control of Civil Society and Economic Development in Sierra Leone," NBER Working Papers 18691, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18691
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18691.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ndulu,Benno J. & O'Connell,Stephen A. & Bates,Robert H. & Collier,Paul & Soludo,Chukwuma C., 2009. "The Political Economy of Economic Growth in Africa, 1960–2000," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521127752, April.
    2. Tommaso Nannicini & Andrea Stella & Guido Tabellini & Ugo Troiano, 2013. "Social Capital and Political Accountability," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 222-250, May.
    3. Besley, Timothy, 2007. "Principled Agents?: The Political Economy of Good Government," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199283910.
    4. Jerven, Morten, 2006. "Social Capital as a Determinant of Economic Growth in Africa," Ratio Working Papers 108, The Ratio Institute.
    5. James D. Fearon & Macartan Humphreys & Jeremy M. Weinstein, 2009. "Can Development Aid Contribute to Social Cohesion after Civil War? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Post-conflict Liberia," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 287-291, May.
    6. Gary S. Becker, 1983. "A Theory of Competition Among Pressure Groups for Political Influence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(3), pages 371-400.
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    Cited by:

    1. Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo, 2014. "Under the Thumb of History? Political Institutions and the Scope for Action," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 6(1), pages 951-971, August.
    2. repec:eee:wdevel:v:95:y:2017:i:c:p:254-267 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Mizuno, Nobuhiro, 2016. "Political structure as a legacy of indirect colonial rule: Bargaining between national governments and rural elites in Africa," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(4), pages 1023-1039.
    4. Tribín Ana María, 2015. "Paramilitaries and Electoral Support," Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 21(2), pages 191-216, April.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • N27 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - Africa; Oceania
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development

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