NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Indirect Rule and State Weakness in Africa: Sierra Leone in Comparative Perspective

Daron Acemoglu, Isaías N. Chaves, Philip Osafo-Kwaako, James A. Robinson

Chapter in NBER book African Successes, Volume IV: Sustainable Growth (2016), Sebastian Edwards, Simon Johnson, and David N. Weil, editors (p. 343 - 370)
Published in September 2016 by University of Chicago Press
© 2016 by the National Bureau of Economic Research
in Research on Africa

A fundamental problem for economic development is that most poor countries have `weak states' which are incapable or unwilling to provide basic public goods such as law enforcement, order, education and infrastructure. In Africa this is often attributed to the persistence of `indirect rule' from the colonial period. In this paper we discuss the ways in which a state constructed on the basis of indirect rule is weak and the mechanisms via which this has persisted since independence in Sierra Leone. We also present a hypothesis as to why the extent to which indirect rule has persisted varies greatly within Africa, linking it to the presence or the absence of large centralized pre-colonial polities within modern countries. Countries which had such a polity, such as Ghana and Uganda, tended to abolish indirect rule since it excessively empowered traditional rulers at the expense of post-colonial elites. Our argument provides a new mechanism which can explain the positive correlation between pre-colonial political centralization and modern public goods and development outcomes.

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w20092, Indirect Rule and State Weakness in Africa: Sierra Leone in Comparative Perspective, Daron Acemoglu, Isaías N. Chaves, Philip Osafo-Kwaako, James A. Robinson
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