Colonialism and State Development in Africa: A Comparative-Historical Analysis Based on a Natural Experiment

Salih Noor, Northwestern University

It is widely claimed that indirect colonial rule had negative effects on state development, democracy, and economic development in Africa. The main mechanism is fragmented state and empowered local power such as traditional chiefs, religious authorities, or other informal institutions. I will test the argument using a natural experiment in the Tigrigna ethnic homeland that straddles the colonial boundary between Ethiopia (non-colonized) and Eritrea (colonized). Both communities had a shared history of state-building, culture, social organization, and authority structures (i.e. chiefs who consulted a council of village elders) before colonialism. I will test the ways Italian colonialism might have altered these precolonial authority structures and state-building process, and in turn, negatively affected post-colonial institutional development north of the border versus south of the border. Scholars who exploit such "natural experiments of history" such as different colonial institutions or other forms of external interventions often rely either on non-quantitative historical narrative (traditional historians) or on quantitative methods (social scientists) to infer causality. Both approaches suffer from serious limitations (Diamond and Robinson 2010; Mahoney and Rueschemeyer 2003). I think comparative-historical techniques of causal inference allows us to overcome the weaknesses of both approaches to natural experiments and draw more valid inferences by integrating the logic of natural experiments with comparative-historical analytical frameworks (e.g. critical junctures, path-dependence) and techniques (cross-case comparison and within-case process tracing).

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 86. New Frontiers in Comparative Development