Is Africa Different? Historical Conflict and State Development
Mark Dincecco (University of Michigan firstname.lastname@example.org)
James Fenske (University of Oxford email@example.com)
Massimiliano Gaetano Onorato (IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca firstname.lastname@example.org)
ABSTRACT: We show that the consequences of historical warfare for state development differ for Sub-Saharan Africa. We identify the locations of more than 1,500 conflicts in Africa, Asia, and Europe from 1400 to 1799. We find that historical warfare predicts common-interest states defined by high fiscal capacity and low civil conflict across much of the Old World. For Sub-Saharan Africa, historical warfare predicts special-interest states defined by high fiscal capacity and high civil conflict. Our results offer new evidence about where and when war makes states.
Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2015-09-05
Review by Anna Missiaia
The consequences of war on the development of nations have been gaining increasing attention in both Economics and Economic History alike. This paper by Dincecco, Frenske and Onorato, distributed on NEP-HIS on 2015-09-05 studies the consequences of wars on state development for Sub-Saharan Africa.
The paper refers to a rather large body of research developed within the field of Political Economics. The standard account, mostly focused on the European experience, predicts that the rise of warfare will lead, after the end of a conflict, to greater fiscal capacity and less civil conflict. The mechanism was first studied for Europe in the period 1500-1800 by Tilly (1993). Rulers generally had little political consequences from defeats, at least until the early 1800s, when Napoleon started replacing monarchs who had lost wars. Before then, wars were a quite regular phenomenon. Wars led to the expansion of the sources of taxations which was easily maintained in peace time. This enabled European states to enforce internal security more effectively, lowering civil conflict. The major implication of this perspective is that countries that experienced more wars in the past, today show greater fiscal capacity and less civil conflict (Fearon and Laiting, 2014; Besley and Persson, 2015).
As noted existing research focuses on Europe, so it is interesting to see that Dincecco, Frenske and Onorato (DFO) find different results when applying the same premises to Sub-Saharan Africa. The paper by DFO begins by presenting two opposing views. On the one hand, there is evidence that the standard account of more wars in the past lead to greater fiscal capacity and less conflict today also applies to Sub-Sahara Africa. Specifically Michalopoulos and Papaioannou (2013) document evidence suggesting that more conflicts lead to more state centralization. Meanwhile that of Bates (2014) suggests that more centralized states are the most developed in the African continent. On the other hand, the opposing view focuses on a series of characteristics of the Sub-Saharan region (such as slave trade and colonization) that are responsible for the failure by the standard account to explain the trajectory of African states.
The Battle of Rocroi, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau.
The paper by DFO takes a comparative approach, testing the relationship between historical warfare and state development in several continents. The empirical strategy is rather intuitive, taking four measure of fiscal capacity of states today and regressing them on the number of conflicts that affected each region. They include a set of standard controls (latitude, population density, arable land and so on) and also continental fixed effects. The same procedure is then repeated for three measure of civil conflict today.
The first result is that fiscal capacity today does increase in all continents for countries that experienced more wars in the past. Sub-Sahara Africa makes no exception here. The second result deals with civil conflict and this is different. Here, unlike the other continents, Sub-Sahara Africa shows a positive correlation between historical warfare and civil conflict today.
DFO are well aware of the possible shortcomings of their strategy, which are shared with virtually all works trying to address outcomes today caused by institutional arrangements from the past (one above all, Acemoglu et al. 2005). Dincecco and coauthors provide a comprehensive list of robustness checks by adding further observable controls. They also acknowledge that in spite of these controls, unobservable characteristics related to both historical warfare and present state development might still bias their results. They apply a quite interesting methodology to give an idea of the potential bias: they provide a measure, used by authors like Nunn and Wantchekon (2011), that estimates how much greater the impact of unobservable variables should be, relative to the observable, to explain the variation in the data. The result is that unobservable variables would need to have a nearly 20 times stronger impact to explain the variation in the sample. This result of course does not rule out that some of these variables have a role, but it ensure us that a fair amount of the explanatory power lies in the observable variables. Another remarkable feature of the paper by DFO is that it addresses the issue of the time span between the dependent and the explanatory variables. This is in a way a structural issue of all this branch of research, but it is always reassuring to see authors taking it into account. They do so by running the model with intermediate outcomes (around the beginning of the 20th century) and showing that these two showed a similar pattern to today’s.
Somalia’s 1991 civil war
DFO also provide a tentative explanation to why states in Sub-Sahara Africa might behave differently than Europeans. DFO do so by including measures of democratization, ethnic fractionalization and social trust as controls in the regression. They add these one by one, looking at the effect of these controls on the magnitude of the coefficients of interest. The only control here that seems to have an effect on the coefficients is social trust. However, the authors interpret the result with caution because of the small sample size (here only Sub-Sahara Africa is included, lowering the number of observations to only 47).
Regarding the use of measure of social trust to explain the relationship between warfare and fiscal capacity/civil conflict today, I would also be worried about two other points: firstly, the measure of social trust is based on a survey from relatively recent times (1980s onward) while the relationship tested is between historical warfare and fiscal capacity/civil conflict today; secondly, this measure could be highly collinear with the variables considered (of course, the usual caveats on reverse causality that are typical in this line of research also apply here).
To conclude, the paper by DFO contributes to both the debate within Political Economics by quantitatively testing a well-established narrative on a region of the world that is very different from the standard one used in the past (meaning empirical studies based on Europe). By doing so, it does find that Sub-Sahara Africa experienced a different dynamic that led to a different outcome today. It also shows a very careful work on the data used and it addresses several sources of criticism. A possible next step could be to take further the analysis of the mechanism behind through which war impacts state development.
Acemoglu, D., , S. Johnson and J. Robinson (2001). “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation.” American Economic Review, 91: 1369-1401.
Bates, R. (2014). “The Imperial Peace,” in E. Akyeampong, R. Bates, N. Nunn, and J. Robinson, eds., Africa’s Development in Historical Perspective, pp. 424-46, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Besley, T. and T. Persson (2015). “State Capacity, Institutions, and Development.” The Political Economist Newsletter.
Fearon, J. and D. Laitin (2014). “Does Contemporary Armed Conflict Have Deep Historical Roots?” Working paper, Stanford University.
Michalopoulos, S. and E. Papaioannou (2011). “The Long-Run Effects of the Scramble for Africa.” NBER Working Paper 17620.
Nunn, N. and L. Wantchekon (2011). “The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa.” American Economic Review, 101: 3221-52.
Tilly, C. (1992). Coercion, Capital, and European States, 990-1992. Cambridge: Blackwell