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On the Ethnic Origins of African Development Chiefs and Pre-colonial Political Centralization

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  • Stelios Michalopoulos
  • Elias Papaioannou

Abstract

We report on recent findings of a fruitful research agenda that explores the importance of ethnic-specific traits in shaping African development. First, using recent surveys from Sub-Saharan African countries, we document that individuals identify with their ethnic group as often as with the nation pointing to the salience of ethnicity. Second, we focus on the various historical and contemporary functions of tribal leaders (chiefs) and illustrate their influence on various aspects of the economy and the polity. Third, we elaborate on a prominent dimension of ethnicity, that of the degree of complexity of pre-colonial political organization. Building on insights from the African historiography, we review recent works showing a strong association between pre-colonial centralization and contemporary comparative development both across and within countries. We also document that the strong link between pre-colonial political centralization and regional development -as captured by satellite images of light density at night- is particularly strong in areas outside the vicinity of the capitals, where due to population mixing and the salience of national institutions ethnic traits play a lesser role. Overall, our evidence is supportive to theories and narratives on the presence of a "dual" economic and institutional environment in Africa.

Suggested Citation

  • Stelios Michalopoulos & Elias Papaioannou, 2014. "On the Ethnic Origins of African Development Chiefs and Pre-colonial Political Centralization," NBER Working Papers 20513, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20513
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    2. Liya Palagashvili, 2018. "African chiefs: comparative governance under colonial rule," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 174(3), pages 277-300, March.
    3. Michalopoulos, Stelios & Papaioannou, Elias, 2015. "Further evidence on the link between pre-colonial political centralization and comparative economic development in Africa," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 126(C), pages 57-62.
    4. Meriggi, Niccoló F. & Bulte, Erwin, 2018. "Leader and villager behavior: Experimental evidence from Cameroon," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 324-332.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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