Political Centralization in Pre-Colonial Africa
NBER Working Paper No. 18770
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.
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