Chiefs, Pre-Colonial Centralization and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa


A recent literature shows that pre-colonial political centralization fosters public goods provision in contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa. In this project, we test whether differences in public goods provision across areas with varying pre-colonial centralization results from more transfers of resources from governments, in exchange for electoral support, in areas where chiefs have a historical advantage in mobilizing their communities. We first develop a simple model where an incumbent politician garners support through targeted transfers. The electoral efficiency of these transfers depends on the ability of chiefs to mobilize voters, and increases when these are co-ethnics of the incumbent. We test the distinct predictions the model generates using a newly constructed constituency-level dataset combining electoral outcomes and satellite lights from 35 Sub-Saharan African countries.