Historical Legacies and African Development
As Africa's role on the global stage is rising, so does the need to understand the shadow of history on the continent's economy and polity. We discuss recent works that shed light on Africa's colonial and precolonial legacies. The emerging corpus is remarkably interdisciplinary. Archives, ethnographic materials, georeferenced censuses, surveys, and satellite imagery are some of the sources often combined to test influential conjectures put forward in African historiography. Exploiting within-country variation and employing credible, albeit mostly local, identification techniques, this recent literature has uncovered strong evidence of historical continuity as well as instances of rupture in the evolution of the African economy. The exposition proceeds in reverse chronological order. Starting from the colonial period, which has been linked to almost all of Africa's post-independence maladies, we first review works that uncover the lasting legacies of colonial investments in infrastructure and human capital and quantify the role of various extractive institutions, such as indirect rule and oppression associated with concessionary agreements. Second, we discuss the long-lasting impact of the "Scramble for Africa" which led to ethnic partitioning and the creation of artificial modern states. Third, we cover studies on the multi-faceted legacy of the slave trades. Fourth, we analyze the contemporary role of various precolonial, ethnic-specific, institutional and social traits, such as political centralization. We conclude by offering some thoughts on what we view as open questions.
We thank three anonymous referees and Steven Durlaf (the editor) for useful suggestions. A special thanks to Remi Jedwab, Alex Moradi, Julia Cage, Valeria Rueda, Nathan Nunn, and Adam Storeygard for kindly sharing digitized data and maps. We are also thankful to Sebastian Hohmann, Dozie Okoye, Julia Cage, David Laitin, Marie Lechter, and Lars-Erik Cederman for useful and comments and help. A special thank to Rouven Kunstmann and Felix Meier Zu Selhausen for very detailed feedback and suggestions. All errors are our own responsibility. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Stelios Michalopoulos & Elias Papaioannou, 2020. "Historical Legacies and African Development," Journal of Economic Literature, vol 58(1), pages 53-128. citation courtesy of