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The transatlantic slave trade and the evolution of political authority in West Africa

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  • Whatley, Warren

Abstract

I trace the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on the evolution of political authority in West Africa. I present econometric evidence showing that the trans-Atlantic slave trade increased absolutism in pre-colonial West Africa by approximately 17% to 35%, while reducing democracy and liberalism. I argue that this slavery-induced absolutism also influenced the structure of African political institutions in the colonial era and beyond. I present aggregate evidence showing that British colonies that exported more slaves in the era of the slave trade were ruled more-indirectly by colonial administrations. I argue that indirect colonial rule relied on sub-national absolutisms to control populations and extract surplus, and in the process transformed absolutist political customs into rule of law. The post-colonial federal authority, like the colonial authority before it, lacked the administrative apparatus and political clout to integrate these local authorities, even when they wanted to. From this perspective, state-failure in West Africa may be rooted in a political and economic history that is unique to Africa in many respects, a history that dates at least as far back as the era of the transatlantic slave trade.

Suggested Citation

  • Whatley, Warren, 2012. "The transatlantic slave trade and the evolution of political authority in West Africa," MPRA Paper 44932, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:44932
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Slavery and the Modern World
      by stephdeck1 in NEP-HIS blog on 2014-03-03 18:22:25

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    1. repec:eee:exehis:v:67:y:2018:i:c:p:80-104 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Graziella Bertocchi, 2016. "The legacies of slavery in and out of Africa," IZA Journal of Migration and Development, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 5(1), pages 1-19, December.
    3. Whatley, Warren C., 2018. "The gun-slave hypothesis and the 18th century British slave trade," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 80-104.
    4. Henderson, Morgan & Whatley, Warren, 2014. "Pacification and Gender in Colonial Africa: Evidence from the Ethnographic Atlas," MPRA Paper 61203, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Graziella Bertocchi, 2016. "The Legacies of Slavery in and out of Africa," Department of Economics 0096, University of Modena and Reggio E., Faculty of Economics "Marco Biagi".
    6. Fenske, James & Kala, Namrata, 2015. "Climate and the slave trade," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 19-32.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Africa; slave trade; institutions; long-term deveopment;

    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
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development

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