Proposal preview

“Growing Public” in Africa: State-building and Living Standards.

In recent years, the renaissance of African economic history has generated various new research programs on colonial taxation and public finance, the measurement of living standards and inequality, and the impact of colonial policies and institutions on both state capacity building and living standards. This session aims to take stock of this ongoing research, and gather researchers working on different regions of Africa from a comparative historical perspective.

The consolidation of state capacity, involving in particular the building of a stronger fiscal base, is widely considered to be one of the most important issues for Africa’s economic development. In that respect, extractive colonization is often seen to have determined a bad start, if only in terms of tax structure and expenditure patterns, although the centralization of public revenue in consolidated state funds also laid the foundations for the formation of African states in places where these had been absent before. That said, we still know very little about comparative processes of colonial and post-colonial state formation, and even less on the transition from precolonial to colonial state structures. Moreover, research into the relationship between state building and long-term developments of living standards is still in its infancy.

State capacity can be approached from the revenue side, but also from the expenditure side. The efficiency and sectoral allocation of public expenditures are as important as the level and structure of taxes for “growing public”, and the two sides are tightly linked. At the macro level, the direction of causality between tax revenue and public spending is not univocal; further, successful state investments can enlarge the fiscal base. And at the micro level, early investments in administration and justice can determine tax collection capacity. This session welcomes papers that tease out these relationships in greater detail, applying direct or indirect comparative perspectives.

Living standards are to be understood as broadly as possible, from access to private goods (real wages, consumption, nutrition), to non-monetary aspects such as health, education and access to key utilities like clean water, energy and transport infrastructure. Beyond averages, this session welcomes papers working with innovative measurements and analyses of inequality in living standards, between colonizers and colonized, but also within these groups.

Political economy approaches, in which indigenous class structure and agency play a large role, may be applied to understand how states’ decisions were shaped across time. The historical turns of the colonial conquest, the world wars, of the great depression and of the independence era can be particularly revealing in this respect. Tracing continuities or discontinuities to present-day independent states can also help to shed light on contemporary challenges for state-building, in the economic and political dimensions. Africa has always been connected with all major regions of the world, and not only with Europe. International issues, such as changing positions in the regional/global space, in the past and in the present, are also to be considered. We will therefore also welcome contributions that take up the broader perspective of comparing trajectories of state building and living standard development in Africa with other developing areas.

Organizer(s)

  • Denis Cogneau Paris School of Economics - IRD -EHESS denis.cogneau@psemail.eu France
  • Ewout Frankema Wageningen University ewout.frankema@wur.nl Netherlands

Session members

  • Yannick Dupraz, Warwick University
  • Asante Kofi, Institute of Advanced Studies Toulouse
  • Denis Cogneau, Paris School of Economics
  • Justine Knebelmann, Paris School of Economics
  • Ewout Frankema, Wageningen University
  • Leigh Gardner, London School of Economics
  • Morten Jerven , Norwegian University of Life Sciences & Simon Fraser University
  • Marlous van Waijenburg, Northwestern University

Discussant(s)

  • Gareth Austin Cambridge University gma31@cam.ac.uk

Papers

Panel abstract

In recent years, the renaissance of African economic history has generated various new research programs on taxation and public finance, the measurement of living standards and inequality, and institutions, from precolonial times to present. This session aims to take stock of this ongoing research, and gathers researchers working on different regions of Africa from a comparative historical perspective. Contributions will deal with the construction of state capacity over time, either from the revenue or the expenditure side, or both. Political economy approaches, in which class structure plays a large role, may be applied to understand how states’ decisions were shaped across time. Tracing continuities or discontinuities to present-day independent states will also help to shed light on contemporary challenges for state-building.

1st half

'Purchased allies'?: Africans Merchant Princes and Colonial State Formation in 19th Century Gold Coast

Kofi Takyi Asante

This paper highlights the salience of the dynamics of collaboration and resistance for political and social developments in colony of the Gold Coast. It foregrounds the actions of a group of influential African merchants, known as ‘merchant princes,’ who acted as intermediaries between the African states and the emerging European order on the coast. On both the African and British sides, pragmatic considerations often trumped avowed ideals, goals, or interests in the unfolding drama of Gold Coast politics. This had implications for policy measures such as the abolition of domestic slavery, taxation, and demarcation of the colonial territory. Paying analytical attention to these immediate problems that animated colonised actors allows us to escape the decolonisation teleology, which is an analytical focus that tends to fix eventual independence as the main purpose of political action by colonised actors.

This paper highlights the salience of the dynamics of collaboration and resistance for political and social developments in colony of the Gold Coast. It foregrounds the actions of a group of influential African merchants, known as ‘merchant princes,’ who acted as intermediaries between the African states and the emerging European order on the coast. On both the African and British sides, pragmatic considerations often trumped avowed ideals, goals, or interests in the unfolding drama of Gold Coast politics. This had implications for policy measures such as the abolition of domestic slavery, taxation, and demarcation of the colonial territory. Paying analytical attention to these immediate problems that animated colonised actors allows us to escape the decolonisation teleology, which is an analytical focus that tends to fix eventual independence as the main purpose of political action by colonised actors.

Legacies of indirect rule? African states and developmental colonialism

Jutta Bolt, Leigh Gardner

The final decades of colonial rule saw a rapid expansion in government efforts to promote development and improve African living standards. In British Africa, many such programmes were implemented by Native Authorities established under colonial policies of indirect rule. Native Authorities varied widely both between and within colonies in terms the resources at their disposal, their capacity for providing local services, and their political structure. This paper uses original data on Native Authorities across four former British colonies (Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi and Kenya) to investigate the contribution of Native Authorities to current patterns of local economic development. It finds that Native Authority capacity mattered for some measures of current development, such as road density, but not others. The paper uses these findings to investigate the role of Native Authorities relative to other stakeholders in local development during and after colonial rule.

The final decades of colonial rule saw a rapid expansion in government efforts to promote development and improve African living standards. In British Africa, many such programmes were implemented by Native Authorities established under colonial policies of indirect rule. Native Authorities varied widely both between and within colonies in terms the resources at their disposal, their capacity for providing local services, and their political structure. This paper uses original data on Native Authorities across four former British colonies (Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi and Kenya) to investigate the contribution of Native Authorities to current patterns of local economic development. It finds that Native Authority capacity mattered for some measures of current development, such as road density, but not others. The paper uses these findings to investigate the role of Native Authorities relative to other stakeholders in local development during and after colonial rule.

Imperialism of Jackals and Lions. The Militarization of Portuguese Africa in the British African mirror, 1850-1940

Kleoniki Alexopoulou, Ewout Frankema

How did variation in geo-political power of European metropoles affect colonial state formation? This paper presents the results of a comparison of military capacity building in Portuguese and British Africa 1850-1940. We examine the thesis that Portugal had to invest relatively heavily in its colonial armies to secure internal order as well as to sustain their external position against stronger colonial powers. We argue that the colonial governments of Angola and Mozambique could not benefit from similar economies of scale, imperial cross-subsidies and credible deterrence underpinning security systems in British Africa. Military expenses extracted significantly larger parts of the colonial state budget in Portuguese Africa and required considerable subsidies from the metropole. This reduced the means available for welfare investments. Armies were larger in Portuguese Africa and that recruitment practices relied heavily on coercive institutions. We offer tentative evidence that the Belgian Congo shared some of these features.

How did variation in geo-political power of European metropoles affect colonial state formation? This paper presents the results of a comparison of military capacity building in Portuguese and British Africa 1850-1940. We examine the thesis that Portugal had to invest relatively heavily in its colonial armies to secure internal order as well as to sustain their external position against stronger colonial powers. We argue that the colonial governments of Angola and Mozambique could not benefit from similar economies of scale, imperial cross-subsidies and credible deterrence underpinning security systems in British Africa. Military expenses extracted significantly larger parts of the colonial state budget in Portuguese Africa and required considerable subsidies from the metropole. This reduced the means available for welfare investments. Armies were larger in Portuguese Africa and that recruitment practices relied heavily on coercive institutions. We offer tentative evidence that the Belgian Congo shared some of these features.

Labor coercion and colonial public expenditure: the night-watchman state revisited?

Marlous van Waijenburg

A rapidly expanding literature on colonial public finance is generating new insights into the 'extractive', 'night-watchman' or 'developmental' nature of the colonial state (Booth 2007, Frankema 2011, Huillery 2014). Similar to the revenue-side of the equation (van Waijenburg 2018), public investments resulting from invisible labor services should be incorporated in assessments of colonial expenditure choices. This paper makes a first effort in doing so, raising new questions about the public expenditure priorities of colonial governments.

A rapidly expanding literature on colonial public finance is generating new insights into the 'extractive', 'night-watchman' or 'developmental' nature of the colonial state (Booth 2007, Frankema 2011, Huillery 2014). Similar to the revenue-side of the equation (van Waijenburg 2018), public investments resulting from invisible labor services should be incorporated in assessments of colonial expenditure choices. This paper makes a first effort in doing so, raising new questions about the public expenditure priorities of colonial governments.

2nd half

Cogneau, Dupraz, Mesple-Somps 2018. Fiscal Capacity and Dualism in Colonial States - with appendix

Denis Cogneau, Yannick Dupraz and Sandrine Mesplé-Somps

A novel data collection provides comparative evidence on the colonial states of the “second” French colonial empire, from their foundation to their devolution in the 1960s. Colonial states were neither omnipotent Leviathans nor casual night watchmen. On the one hand, we emphasize the extractive efficiency and capacity of adaptation of colonial states to different socioeconomic contexts and varying historical conditions. On the other hand, we put forward dualism as their main common feature and legacy. Colonial public expenditure was biased towards the needs of French settlers and capitalists. It was also costly, as high wages had to be paid to expatriated civil servants.

A novel data collection provides comparative evidence on the colonial states of the “second” French colonial empire, from their foundation to their devolution in the 1960s. Colonial states were neither omnipotent Leviathans nor casual night watchmen. On the one hand, we emphasize the extractive efficiency and capacity of adaptation of colonial states to different socioeconomic contexts and varying historical conditions. On the other hand, we put forward dualism as their main common feature and legacy. Colonial public expenditure was biased towards the needs of French settlers and capitalists. It was also costly, as high wages had to be paid to expatriated civil servants.

The Fiscal State in Africa: State Capacity and Development in the Long Run, 1890-2010

Thilo Albers, Morten Jerven, Marvin Suesse

To some, the state in Africa is the solution to the development problem, and its functions should thus be enhanced. To others, it is the root cause of the problem, and its operations should accordingly be curtailed or changed fundamentally. The reason for the confusion lies to a large extent in the fact that little is known about the precise trajectory of African development in the longer run. We bring clarity to the debate by expanding the statistical and empirical basis on which assessments of the efficacy of African states are based. For 1960-2010, We investigate to what degree shortfalls in tax revenue cause shortfalls in the funding of public goods, or whether they are absorbed in other expenditure cuts, debt uptake, or increased aid flows; to what degree revenue fluctuations cause regime instability or civil conflict, as well as changes in economic growth rates.

To some, the state in Africa is the solution to the development problem, and its functions should thus be enhanced. To others, it is the root cause of the problem, and its operations should accordingly be curtailed or changed fundamentally. The reason for the confusion lies to a large extent in the fact that little is known about the precise trajectory of African development in the longer run. We bring clarity to the debate by expanding the statistical and empirical basis on which assessments of the efficacy of African states are based. For 1960-2010, We investigate to what degree shortfalls in tax revenue cause shortfalls in the funding of public goods, or whether they are absorbed in other expenditure cuts, debt uptake, or increased aid flows; to what degree revenue fluctuations cause regime instability or civil conflict, as well as changes in economic growth rates.

Taxation in former French Africa from colonial times to present

Denis Cogneau, Yannick Dupraz, Justine Knebelmann, Sandrine Mesplé-Somps

This is an ongoing project on the trajectories of African states, in terms of taxation and expenditure, from colonial times to the present. Using novel and detailed data, we first present results on the evolutions of taxation in “Francophone” African countries, as well as in a few “Anglophone” comparators. Following previous work focused on colonial public finance (in this session), we study the critical juncture of independence, socialist experiences, the impact of commodities bonanzas, and the consequences of structural adjustment policies.

This is an ongoing project on the trajectories of African states, in terms of taxation and expenditure, from colonial times to the present. Using novel and detailed data, we first present results on the evolutions of taxation in “Francophone” African countries, as well as in a few “Anglophone” comparators. Following previous work focused on colonial public finance (in this session), we study the critical juncture of independence, socialist experiences, the impact of commodities bonanzas, and the consequences of structural adjustment policies.