Colonial legacy, state-building and the salience of ethnicity in sub-saharan africa

Merima Ali, Odd Helge Fjeldstad, Boqian Jiang, Abdulaziz B. Shifa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ethnicity has received increased attention in studies of Africa’s economic and institutional development. We present evidence on the long-term effects of Britain’s "divide-and-rule" colonial strategy that deliberately fostered ethnic rivalries to weaken and control locals. Using micro data from Sub-Saharan Africa, we find that citizens of Anglophone (as compared to Francophone) countries are more likely to: (1) attach greater importance to ethnic identity (vis-á-vis national identity); (2) have weaker norms against tax evasion; and (3) face extortion by non-state actors. We address endogeneity concerns using IV regression and regression-discontinuity. These results suggest that Britain’s divide-and-rule strategy may have undermined state-building.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-48
Number of pages48
JournalWorking Paper - Chr. Michelsen Institute
Issue number16
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Colonial legacy
  • Development
  • Ethnicity
  • State capacity
  • Sub-saharan Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development


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