Does Local State Capacity Foster Development in Africa? New Data and Analysis


The colonial making of African states’ geographies has limited their capacity and caused currently low levels of development on the continent. To test this prominent argument, I provide comprehensive panel data on local state capacity and estimate the effect of state capacity on local development. I proxy African states’ time-varying capacity through local travel times to national and regional administrative capitals. Travel times are computed on a yearly 5x5km grid with new data on roads and administrative units and capitals (1966-2016). With these data, I estimate the effect of changes in travel times to capitals on local education and infant mortality rates as well as nightlight emissions. Within the same location, development outcomes generally improve as travel times to its capitals decrease. The data and evidence presented in this paper improve the measurement of local state capacity and contribute to the understanding of its effects on human welfare.