Complements or Substitutes? How Institutional Arrangements Bind Chiefs and the State in Africa. Forthcoming, American Political Science Review.

Abstract: How does the central state interact with local actors in providing public goods? I study the effect of state capacity on local governance in sub-Saharan Africa, which I argue depends on whether traditional village chiefs are integrated in the country’s constitution. I use distance to administrative headquarters as a measure of state capacity and estimate a regression discontinuity design around administrative boundaries. If chiefs are not integrated then the state and chiefs compete with each other, working as substitutes. That is, a stronger state undermines the power of chiefs. If traditional chiefs are integrated, then the two work as complements. A stronger state then increases the power of chiefs. I show that these relationships are crucial to understand the effect of the capacity of the state on local economic development.

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Coverage: Development Impact ThisWeekinAfrica

Africa’s Latent Assets. (with James A. Robinson) 2023. Journal of African Economies, Volume 32:i9–i32.

Abstract: Despite the past centuries' economic setbacks and challenges, are there reasons for optimism about Africa's economic prospects? We provide a conceptual framework and empirical evidence that show how the nature of African society has led to three sets of unrecognized "latent assets." First, success in African society is talent driven and Africa has experienced high levels of perceived and actual social mobility. A society where talented individuals rise to the top and optimism prevails is an excellent basis for entrepreneurship and innovation. Second, Africans, like westerners who built the world's most successful effective states, are highly skeptical of authority and attuned to the abuse of power. We argue that these attitudes can be a critical basis for building better institutions. Third, Africa is "cosmopolitan." Africans are the most multilingual people in the world, have high levels of religious tolerance, and are welcoming to strangers. The experience of navigating cultural and linguistic diversity sets Africans up for success in a globalized world.

NBER Working Paper w28603 CEPR Working Paper

Coverage: Marginal Revolution, VoxEU

Working Papers

The Legacies of Atrocities and Who Fights. (with Connor Huff) Revise & Resubmit, World Politics.

Abstract: How do the legacies of atrocities shape who fights? We argue that past atrocities shape local grievances and economic incentives. Increasing grievances make individuals more likely to rebel, and less likely to fight for the perpetrator. When organizations use material incentives to recruit, worsening economic conditions increase the incentives to fight. We study how the atrocity of the 1845–1849 Great Famine affected whether Irishmen fought for or against Britain. Leveraging data on over 150,000 Irish combatants, we show that individuals in places more severely affected by the Famine fought in the pro-British Irish Militia and the WWI British military at lower rates. However, they rebelled against Britain at higher rates. Additional quantitative evidence suggests that historical grievances shaped the choice to fight for both sides, while increasing opportunity costs only mattered when organizations paid combatants. We demonstrate how the memories of the past, and economic conditions in the present, shape who fights.

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The Perils of Building States by Force: How Attempts to Assert the State’s Monopoly of Violence Create Lasting Incentives for Violent Banditry. (with Christian Mastaki Mugaruka, Miguel Ortiz, Raul Sanchez de la Sierra, and David Qihang Wu) Revise & Resubmit, Review of Economic Studies.

Abstract: This article provides evidence from a weak state that attempting to assert the state's monopoly of violence can create incentives for more, rather than less, violence against citizens. To establish this result, we combine information on the behavior of armed actors in 239 municipalities of eastern Congo with quasi-experimental variation induced by one of the largest military efforts to assert the state's monopoly of violence. The campaign successfully weakened targeted armed actors' ability to hold a monopoly of violence. However, the yearly incidence of attacks against the citizens in the targeted villages by the targeted armed actors increased from 9% to 33% for at least three years. The effect is muted for attacks by other armed actors. Using information on the purported motive of the attacks and household panel data, we quantify the value stolen and show that the attacks are violent theft operations. We provide suggestive evidence that the rise can be explained by the disruption in the armed actors' ability to frequently expropriate. Overall, the campaign increased household material welfare, driven by a decrease of informal taxes paid to the armed actors, but led to gruesome violence. We discuss alternative state-building strategies. The results suggest that building states by crushing internal opponents, key to the creation of European modern states, and a common justification for supporting weak states today, can create lasting incentives for violent banditry in weak states. This can undermine the potential welfare gains arising from such policies, and induce a trade-off between growth and safety.

NBER Working Paper w28631 Download PDF

Empires and the Origins of Indirect Rule: Stationary bandits and traditional chiefs in eastern Congo. (with Gauthier Marchais and Raul Sanchez de la Sierra)

Abstract: In the process of state building in new territories, rulers face important trade-offs. They can create their own administration (direct rule) or delegate power to existing political institutions (indirect rule). This choice has important consequences for long-run state building and local political development. Pre-existing empirical work relies on context-dependent country-level episodes which makes it difficult to understand the determinants and consequences of indirect rule. This paper leverages a novel panel data set covering the histories of 456 chiefs and 508 episodes of village governance by armed groups in 106 villages in the DRC. We find that armed groups are more likely to co-opt chiefs when chiefs have more local authority, as measured by their coethnicity. They also rely on indirect rule when the armed group lacks legitimacy among the population, as also measured by their coethnicity. The use of direct rule increases with an armed groups' tenure and the resources of the village. We use survey data and implicit association tests to estimate the effects of indirect rule. We show that indirect rule decreases legitimacy of chiefs. Armed groups, however, increase their legitimacy by delegating power to the chiefs.

On the mechanics of kleptocratic states: Administrators' power, protectors, and taxpayers' false confessions. (with Laura Paler, Wilson Prichard, Cyrus Samii, and Raul Sanchez de la Sierra)

Abstract: Building a successful state requires efficient tax collection. Yet, many developing countries find themselves in a kleptocratic state equilibrium where state administrators take advantage of their positions to extract resources, citizens are reluctant to pay taxes and ultimately the state lacks resources to provide public goods and pay its agents. We provide a model of kleptocratic tax collection where the abusive power of state agents depends on their office, their connections, and superior information. We experimentally change the balance of power between state agents and the population in two ways. First, we organize pro-bono tax consulting. Second, we connect respondents with advocacy resources. To overcome difficulties in measuring taxes and bribes, we develop a smartphone application and train 300 households and businesses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to report all payments weekly. Our results show that empowering citizens can allow them to circumvent the kleptocratic state equilibrium. The tax consulting and protection treatments empower respondents, especially unregistered firms, to engage with the tax collectors. Respondents report paying less bribes and a lengthier negotiation with state agents. Moreover, the treatment induced more interactions with state officials and increased the amount of formal taxes paid. Our findings then suggest that empowerment of citizens may be a promising avenue to move away from a kleptocratic state equilibrium.

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How Unobserved Investments Inhibit Public Service Delivery Improvement in Corrupt Environments. (with Horacio Larreguy and John Marshall) Under Review.

Abstract: Poor local public service delivery is common across the Global South. We argue that the short-term unobservability of investments to improve service delivery combine with adverse selection to weaken incentives for politicians to make such investments. While audits that certify investments can mitigate this monitoring problem, the certification process's effectiveness can be undermined by corruptible politicians and certifiers. We test this argument using a Mexican program designed to certify service delivery investments, where certifications are self-assessed by municipal governments and validated by corruptible third-party institutions. Difference-in-differences estimates show that the program did not ultimately improve municipal public service delivery on average. Consistent with our model, this effect is only positive when the third party is unlikely to be corruptible and when the likelihood that the incumbent is not corruptible in producing the service is large. These findings highlight the challenges in improving service delivery and the importance of incentive-compatible monitoring.

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Missionary Competition, Education, and Long-run Political Development: Evidence from Africa. (with Horacio Larreguy and Carlos Schmidt-Padilla) Under Review.

Abstract: In Africa, missionaries used schooling to gain adherents. We study how historical missionary activity shaped long-run education and political development by exploiting plausibly exogenous variation on exposure to Catholic missionaries, generated by their territorial administration system. Using a regression discontinuity design, we show that proximity to historical diocese headquarters led to an increased presence of Catholic missionaries, as well as long-term positive effects on Catholic identification and educational outcomes. In line with recent literature, the effects on political outcomes by regime type. Only individuals exposed to greater historical missionary activity in open anocracies—relative to those in democracies and closed anocracies—are more likely to participate in politics. Moreover, only these individuals are all more sophisticated, supportive of democratic institutions, and disenchanted with the state of democracy and incumbent in their countries.

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Selected Work in Progress

Can Social Contact Reduce Economic Conflict between Farmers and Herders? Evidence from Nigeria. (with Oeindrila Dube and James A. Robinson)

Kinship and Trust. (with Jingyue Lei and James A. Robinson)

Coexistence and Conflict: Lessons from Africa. (with James A. Robinson)

The Effect of Drug-related Violence on Local State Capacity. (with Horacio Larreguy and John Marshall)

Comparing Development, Public Good Provision, and Capacity of Traditional and State Institutions: Causal Evidence from the DRC. (with Aimable Amani Lameke, Christian Mastaki Mugaruka, and Vincent Tanutama)