Ethnicity, institutions & governance in Sub-Saharan Africa

Stelios Michalopoulos and Elias Papaioannouby have a great new working paper called “On the Ethnic Origins of African Development Chiefs and Pre-colonial Political Centralization.”  The authors make the excellent point that there is a tension between the focus on the nation-state in Sub-Saharan Africa and the reality that national governments often don’t effectively govern all of their territory and that ethnicity matters.  The authors note:

“Herbst (2000) notes that quite often Western policy makers and academics alike when discussing African countries project their notion of nation-states that is based on strong governments, pervasive national identification, and well-defined political boundaries. Yet, most African states defy the Weberian notion of an entity that enjoys a legitimate monopoly of violence providing order, security, and protection of private contracts. Throughout most of its post-independence history, most African states have not been able to monopolize violence and uniformly enforce the law. Moreover, national identity has only recently started to emerge, as most African states are colonial makings without strong historical antecedents (notable exceptions include Ethiopia and to a certain extent Botswana).

They go on in the paper to show that:

1. “Individuals identify with their ethnic group as often as with the nation pointing to the salience of ethnicity.”

2. “The strong link between pre-colonial political centralization and regional development -as captured by satellite images of light density at night- is particularly strong in areas outside the vicinity of the capitals, where due to population mixing and the salience of national institutions ethnic traits play a lesser role. Overall, our evidence is supportive to theories and narratives on the presence of a “dual” economic and institutional environment in Africa.”

Really interesting work.

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