Traditional Institutions in Africa, Past and Present


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 and where today’s traditional institutions mirror their precolonial predecessors. We do so by linking data on contemporary traditional institutions of African ethnic groups with Murdock’s historical Ethnographic Atlas. We find a robust association between past and present levels of institutional complexity, differentiating between institutions’ political centralization and functional differentiation. 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 account for varying persistence of traditional institutions.

Political Science Research and Methods, FirstView