Divide and Rule or the Rule of the Divided? Evidence from Africa
We investigate jointly the importance of contemporary country-level institutional structures and local ethnic-specific pre-colonial institutions in shaping comparative regional development in Africa. We utilize information on the spatial distribution of African ethnicities before colonization and regional variation in contemporary economic performance, as proxied by satellite light density at night. We exploit the fact that political boundaries across the African landscape partitioned ethnic groups in different countries subjecting identical cultures to different country-level institutions. Our regression discontinuity estimates reveal that differences in countrywide institutional arrangements across the border do not explain differences in economic performance within ethnic groups. In contrast, we document a strong association between pre-colonial ethnic institutional traits and contemporary regional development. While this correlation does not necessarily identify a causal relationship, this result obtains conditional on country fixed-effects, controlling for other ethnic traits and when we focus on pairs of contiguous ethnic homelands.
We would like to thank 4 referees and the Editor for their invaluable comments. We thank seminar participants at Dartmouth, Tufts, Oxford, Vienna, Brown, Harvard, NYU, the CEPR Development Economics Workshop, Stanford, UC-Berkeley, UC-Davis, IMF, the NBER Political Economy Meetings, the NBER Summer Institute Meetings in Economic Growth and Income Distribution and the Macroeconomy for valuable comments. We also benefited from discussions with Yannis Ioannides, Rafael La Porta, Antonio Ciccone, Rob Johnson, Raphael Frank, Jim Feyrer, Ross Levine, Avner Greif, Jeremiah Dittmar, David Weil, Sandip Sukhtankar, Quamrul Ashraf, Oded Galor, Ed Kutsoati, Pauline Grosjean, Enrico Perotti, Pedro Dal Bó, Nathan Nunn, Raquel Fernandez, Jim Robinson, and Enrico Spolaore. We are particularly thankful to Andy Zeitlin, Melissa Dell, Andei Shleifer, Nico Voigtländer, and Daron Acemoglu for detailed comments and useful suggestions. We also thank Nathan Nunn for providing the digitized version of Murdock's Tribal Map of Africa. A Supplementary Appendix with additional sensitivity checks is available online at: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~elias/ and http://sites.google.com/site/steliosecon/. All errors are our sole responsibility. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.