In this study we evaluate the impact of colonialism on development in Africa. In the world context, colonialism had very heterogeneous effects, operating through many mechanisms, sometimes encouraging development sometimes retarding it. In the African case, however, this heterogeneity is muted, making an assessment of the average effect more interesting. We emphasize that to draw conclusions it is necessary not just to know what actually happened to development during the colonial period, but also to take a view on what might have happened without colonialism and also to take into account the legacy of colonialism. We argue that in the light of plausible counter-factuals, colonialism probably had a uniformly negative effect on development in Africa. To develop this claim we distinguish between three sorts of colonies: (1) those which coincided with a pre-colonial centralized state, (2) those of white settlement, (3) the rest. Each have distinct performance within the colonial period, different counter-factuals and varied legacies.

1.1 Background of study
What is the impact of colonialism on the economic development of Africa (Africa) or more generally the colonized countries? This is a question which has reverberated though the social sciences for over a century. In the context of the late 19th Century “Scramble for Africa”, Marxists like Lenin formed an unlikely consensus with colonial administrators in believing that European colonization would have very positive effects on African economic development. By 1926 a British academic was writing of an “EconomicRevolution in British West Africa” unleashed by the colonial powers on backward Africa (McPhee, 1926). This consensus between left and right continues to the present, with Lenin being replaced by Birnberg and Resnick (1975), Warren (1980), and Sender and Smith (1986), who argue that the empirical evidence is consistent with the Marxist view that imperialism has dragged Africa closer to capitalism, and colonial administrators being replaced by Bauer (1972) and Ferguson (2002, 2011). Interestingly, these scholars refer to many of the same empirical outcomes though starting from a different set of presumptions about the intentions of the colonizers. Perhaps even more interesting, they often have the same counter-factual in mind - without colonial intervention Africa would have stayed backward. Opposed to this eccentric consensus is a vast literature blaming colonization for all the ills of former colonies, including persistent poverty and dictatorship.

Colonialism is neither a European phenomenon, nor is it restricted to the Scramble for Africa (which may itself not have been a completely European phenomenon since one can argue that Ethiopia under Menelik II also took part). Modern China is an Empire constructed over millennia primarily by the Han Chinese. The Ottomans constructed a vast empire in the late middle ages and Early Modern period which stretched from the Gates of Vienna to Iraq, Yemen and Tunisia. The Russians colonized Siberia and large parts of Central Asia and in the 100 years before the conquest of the Americas the Incas created a huge empire stretching from southern Colombia to Chile and northwestern Argentina. Britain was colonized by the Angles, Danes, Jutes and Saxons and subsequently the Normans.

In this essay we restrict attention to European colonization and focus on Africa since this has been the crucible of much of the academic debate and where the literature spans the entire spectrum of answers. We also restrict our attention to formal colonization rather than more general ‘interaction’ with potential colonial powers or the type of ‘informal empires’ postulated to exist by Gallagher and Robinson (1953). This means we leave a lot out. In the context of African development for instance we put aside the issue of the impact of the Atlantic and other slave trades on the development of Africa (Lovejoy, 1989, Nunn, 2008) except to the extent that it molds the initial conditions at the time of colonization. We also set aside the question of whether the huge adverse health effects of colonialism were really just due to ‘contact’ (and thus would invariably have happened in the wake of simple trade expansion) or can be attributed to colonialism. We also focus simply on the impact of colonialism for the development of the colonies not the colonizing country, even though this is an important topic (Williams, 1944, Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, 2005).

The obvious reason for the very wide dispersion of views about the role of colonialism is that it is very difficult to construct a convincing research design to examine its impact. Without such a systematic approach ideology has much more scope for allowing scholars to pick and choose facts which fit into their view of the world. Central is the problem that there is not a well defined counter-factual to answer the question: what would the income per-capita of Ghana be today if it had not been colonized? Though a few countries were not colonized by the Europeans such as China, Iran, Japan, and Thailand, one cannot use these as a control group because it is surely not a coincidence that these countries were not colonized, potentially biasing the findings. In other cases, such as Barbados or Mauritius which were uninhabited at the time of colonization, the counter-factual question becomes exceedingly speculative.

Nevertheless, it is also clear from Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2001, 2002) that colonialism had very heterogeneous effects. It seems difficult to believe that in any plausible counter-factual Australia or the United States would today have higher GDP per-capita if they had not been colonized.[1]At the same time, as we will argue in the essay it is difficult (for us) to believe that the income per-capita of Botswana or Ghana would not be higher today had it not been colonized (as we argue in detail later). Even though Botswana has been an economic success since independence in 1966 this was not because of colonialism, but despite it (Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, 2003, Leith, 2005, Parsons and Robinson, 2006). Other cases are of course much more ambiguous. Most parts of Africa did not have the types of centralized political institutions that Botswana or Ghana had and even when they did they were often much less accountable and militarized, as in Buganda, Rwanda or Zululand.

Because colonialism was such a heterogeneous phenomenon taking different forms and interacting with different circumstances this means that it is not very interesting to inquire as to what the average effect of colonialism was on development. Of course this would not be true if ones approach was normative. We do not believe that colonialism could have ever have been good according to any coherent normative criteria. When the focus is on development, income per-capita, average educational attainment, or average life expectancy, however, one cannot generally say colonialism was good or bad independent of context. If one accepts this position, then our inability to propose a definitive identification strategy to estimate “the causal effect of colonialism on development” turns out to be less of a problem. There is no one causal effect, but rather different effects working through different mechanisms and channels. Sometimes the net effect of these in a country is (almost surely) positive (Australia) sometimes it is (probably) negative (Botswana and Ghana). The more interesting thing is to conceptualize the mechanisms via which colonialism influenced development and try to investigate empirically how these worked. Providing causal estimates of the impact of specific mechanisms may be much more feasible and, subject to issues of external validity, it may even then be possible to aggregate these as one way to come to a conclusion about the net effect of colonialism.

That being said when the focus is on Africa the types of heterogeneity which characterize colonialism more generally are muted. There is no success story like Australia or the United States from which economically dynamic settler economies emerged. Moreover, we believe that it is possible to make some sensible counter-factual conjectures. This will be far from a definitive empirical exercise and it is offered more in the spirit of focusing the issues where we believe they should be focused. This being the case we do not restrict ourselves simply to mechanisms but also construct what we believe what the development consequences of colonialism were in Africa in the light of plausible counter-factuals.[2]

We emphasize four basic points that are critical in evaluating the African experience. First, at a purely factual level the impact of colonialism on development differed greatly within Africa. The broad pattern of GDP per-capita is that on average this increased in the places for which there is reliable data relative to the base year of around 1885. This is quite plausible. Europeans brought technology, such as railways and mining techniques and integrated their colonies more fully into world trade taking advantage of existing patterns of comparative advantage. Agriculture and mining exports certainly expanded relative to what they were at the time of the scramble for Africa. Nevertheless, the rates of economic growth were extremely modest. Existing incomplete data also suggests that stature and life expectancy improved as did literacy and educational attainment from very low bases (Prados de la Escosura, 2011, brings much of the available evidence together).

Second, and still at a factual level, that this happened on average does not imply that everybody’s living standards increased. Of particular relevance is the impact on African living standards. This appears to have differed depending on the type of colony. In Southern Africa and the white settler colonies simple calculations about the immizerizing impact of land expropriation and the creation of ‘dual economies’ (Palmer and Parsons, 1977, Bundy, 1979, Acemoglu and Robinson, 2012) on African incomes suggests that Africans experienced a severe deterioration in living standards as the consequence of colonialism. Indeed, given the extent of land expropriated from Africans by Europeans, living standards might have fallen by about 50%. These calculations are supported by evidence on real wages (Wilson, 1972, Mosley, 1983, Bowden and Mosley, 2010, de Zwart, 2011). Falling African incomes in conjunction with rising average incomes implies that there was a huge increase in inequality as the consequence of colonialism. Outside of the settler colonies the situation was different. There is evidence that nominal and real wages in the formal sector increased in British West Africa (Bowden and Mosley, 2010, Frankema and van Waijenburg, 2011). This evidence of course tells us little about what was happening to the living standards of the vast mass of rural people. However, other evidence on development outcomes is relevant here. For example, recent research has shown that the stature of military recruits increased in Ghana and also British East Africa during the colonial period (Moradi, 2008, 2009, Austin, Baten and Moradi, 2011). Since military recruits likely represented a much more representative cross-section of society than those paid formal sector wage rates, this evidence is consistent with much more general improvements in living standards.

Third, one has to be very cautious in interpreting this evidence as saying anything about the impact of colonialism because this involves not just looking at the raw numbers but considering the counterfactual. To take this into account we have to think about what the trajectories of African societies would have been in the absence of colonialism. For example, would the type of immizerization of Africans documented by Wilson (1972) have happened if the Zulu state had taken over the Rand and developed the gold mining industry? If the Europeans brought technology or institutions, absent colonialism Africans could have adopted or innovated these themselves. In addition any of this data has to be seen in the context of pre-existing trends and international comparisons. Even in the absence of colonialism, technology diffuses across countries, including medical technology, and there are other instruments of diffusion such as missionaries who played a significant role in the spread of education before and during the colonial period in Africa (Nunn, 2012, Frankema, 2010, 2011). It seems plausible that even without the Scramble for Africa, the impact of missionaries would have been similar. Similarly many positive trends in human development outcomes in Africa since the 1960s have been more due to international NGOs, the World Health Organization and the World Bank (see Acemoglu and Johnson, 2007, of the impact of this dissemination which is independent of the actions of countries in Africa). This is brought out quite dramatically in the work of Prados de la Escosura (2011). For instance he finds that human development in Uganda increased monotonically during the murderous dictatorship of Idi Amin between 1971 and 1979 while a similar outcome arose during the maniacal regime of Jean-B´edel Bokassa in the Central African Republic between 1966 and 1976. That these outcomes arose despite the almost complete disregard these regimes showed for development indicates that taking into account world trends or other methods of dissemination is critical in evaluating the impact of colonialism.

To make any type of conclusion therefore we need to be clear about the counterfactuals we conjecture. To do this we distinguish between three types of colony: the first are those with a centralized state at the time of Scramble for Africa, such as Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Lesotho, Rwanda, and Swaziland; the second, those of white settlement, such as Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and probably the Portuguese cases of Angola and Mozambique as well; the third everyone else - colonies which did not experience significant white settlement and where there was either no significant pre-colonial state formation (like Somalia or South Sudan) or where there was a mixture of centralized and uncentralized societies (like Congo Brazzaville, Nigeria, Uganda or Sierra Leone). We believe it is reasonable to assume that all groups would have continued to experience the type of contact with the rest of the world they had had prior to the Scramble for Africa and which impinged on them when they were colonies and afterwards. This implies missionaries would have gone to convert people and built schools, the League of Nations would have tried to abolish coerced labor, and the World Health Organization would have tried to disseminate medical technology. Moreover, it implies that African countries would have continued to export, as many had prior to 1885.

1.2 Statement of problem
The most important assumptions are about the counter-factual evolution of political and economic institutions. It seems unreasonable to assume that these would have changed dramatically in lieu of colonialism. In terms of political institutions in the first set of countries we assume that the type of state formation and development which had taken place in the 19th century would have continued. The evidence clearly suggests that states such as the Tswana states in Botswana, the Asante state in Ghana, or the Rwanda state were becoming more centralized and consolidated. This does not imply that economic institutions were necessarily becoming better. For instance, economic institutions in 19th century Rwandan deteriorated sharply as the state enserfed most of the rural population. Nevertheless, political centralization is a prerequisite for order and public good provision[3]and though states also collapse, once started there are strong forces leading political centralization to intensify. In the second and third sets we similarly assume that political institutions would have continued on the path they had in the 19th century. Absent colonialism, for instance, it does not seem reasonable to assume that a large centralized polity would have developed in Kenya or Sierra Leone. In the former, societies like the Masai or Kikuyu would have likely remained largely unchanged. In the latter, it plausibly follows from Abraham (2003) that even if a single Mende state would not have come into existence in the south of the country, there would have been fewer and more centralized and institutionalized Mende polities. In terms of economic institutions we similarly do not argue that radical change would have happened though we believe that these would have evolved under the influence of international forces, for example which led to the gradual abolition of slavery throughout the world in the 20th century including in places like Liberia and Thailand which were not colonized.

1.4 Objectives of study
To understand the impact of colonialism on development one has to think carefully about what happened after colonialism as well. To judge the impact of colonialism on development in Africa simply by looking at outcomes during the colonial period is a conceptual mistake even with a well posed counterfactual. But interpreting what happened afterwards is just as fraught with conceptual issues as what happened during it. As we will see, after independence most African countries experienced economic decline.

1.4 Organization of chapter
The paper proceeds as follows. In the next section we summarize briefly our views on the nature of African economic development at the start of the colonial period as a base for the main discussion. Section 3 reviews in more detail the basic facts about what happened to various development outcomes during and after the colonial period (roughly from 1885 to 2010). Section 4 then discusses in more detail some mechanisms which have been proposed as connecting colonialism and development and we try to evaluate the evidence from them. Section 5 then proposes our very speculative balance of the evidence in more detail and section 6 concludes.

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