Institutional and economic consequences of precolonial state building in sub-Saharan Africa: New data and evidence from Madagascar
Recent research has linked sub-national variation in development outcomes within sub-Saharan Africa to differences in the level of centralization of precolonial African states and ethnic institutions (see e.g. Gennaioli and Rainer, 2006; Michalopoulos and Papaioannou, 2015). Much of this literature assumes that higher levels of precolonial centralization are a good thing. However, it is also possible to think of negative consequences of precolonial state building and centralization: Many precolonial states in Africa relied on oppressive and violent forms of control, engaged in destructive practices like slave raiding, and suppressed weaker ethnic groups around them. It is very probable that these features of precolonial state building would have hindered, not fostered, the development of functioning local institutions and markets in the long run. The presentation discusses new data and evidence about the consequences of precolonial state building under the 19th century Merina Empire in Madagascar. Drawing on new historical cartographic information, I document distinct disagreements between local levels of centralized political control under the Merina state and the widely used measure of precolonial centralization in Murdock's (1967) ethnographic atlas. I also report preliminary sub-national evidence that more direct forms of Merina control contributed to more weakly implanted modern state institutions and lower levels of economic wellbeing today. Results are robust to tests for unobserved geographic and ethnicity-specific influences. My findings support claims that direct links between historical statebuilding processes and current development outcomes work less well in regions of sub-Saharan Africa, where early stages of state building were not followed by a more inclusive and pluralist model of political governance.
Frank Borge Wietzke is Assistant Professor at IBEI. He works at the intersection of comparative politics and economics. His research interests include the historical origins of inequality and institutional development with a focus on the long-term consequences of missionary work and colonialism in the developing world. Borge’s recent research explores the drivers and consequences of recent ‘middle class’ growth in developing countries, including the political behaviours and redistribution preferences of the ‘new middle classes’, and the political economy of social policy reform and development finance in middle income countries. Borge’s research typically combines detailed econometric evidence with thorough contextual and political economy analysis. Originally trained as a political scientist (University of Leipzig and Science Po Paris) Borge holds a PhD in Development Studies from the London School of Economics. Borge also has extensive policy experience with the World Bank and the United Nations, where he has worked on issues related to social protection, decentralization, and development finance.
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