Traditional Institutions in Africa, Past and Present

Abstract

To what degree and why are traditional institutions persistent? Following up on the literature on the long-term effects of precolonial institutions in Africa, we investigate whether today’s traditional institutions mirror their precolonial predecessors. We link new data on traditional institutions of African ethnic groups with Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas. We find a robust association between past and present levels of centralization. However, this persistence originates almost exclusively from former British colonies governed with more reliance on precolonial institutions than other colonies, in particular French ones. These findings contribute to research on the development and effects of traditional institutions, highlighting the need to theoretically and empirically differentiate between what we call institutional persistence and persistent effects of past institutions.

Publication
Under review