Political Centralization in Pre-Colonial Africa

Philip Osafo-Kwaako, James A. Robinson

NBER Working Paper No. 18770
Issued in February 2013
NBER Program(s):   DAE

In this paper we investigate the empirical correlates of political centralization using data from the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample. We specifically investigate the explanatory power of the standard models of Eurasian state formation which emphasize the importance of high population density, inter-state warfare and trade as factors leading to political centralization. We find that while in the whole world sample these factors are indeed positively correlated with political centralization, this is not so in the African sub-sample. Indeed, none of the variables are statistically related to political centralization. We also provide evidence that political centralization, where it took place, was indeed associated with better public goods and development outcomes. We conclude that the evidence is quite consistent with the intellectual tradition initiated in social anthropology by Evans-Pritchard and Fortes in the 1940s which denied the utility of Eurasian models in explaining patterns of political centralization in Africa.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Information about Free Papers

You should expect a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18770

Published: Journal of Comparative Economics Volume 41, Issue 1, February 2013, Pages 6–21 Symposium in Honor of Thrainn Eggertson Cover image Political centralization in pre-colonial Africa Philip Osafo-Kwaakoa, , , James A. Robinsonb,

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Heldring and Robinson w18566 Colonialism and Economic Development in Africa
Michalopoulos and Papaioannou w18224 Pre-colonial Ethnic Institutions and Contemporary African Development
Acemoglu, Reed, and Robinson w18691 Chiefs: Elite Control of Civil Society and Economic Development in Sierra Leone
Katz and Margo w18752 Technical Change and the Relative Demand for Skilled Labor: The United States in Historical Perspective
Ashraf and Michalopoulos w18765 Climatic Fluctuations and the Diffusion of Agriculture
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us