European colonization and the corruption of local elites: The case of chiefs in Africa

Merima Ali, Odd‐Helge H. Fjeldstad, Abdulaziz B. Shifa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The association between British colonial rule and lower levels of corruption is often emphasized in legal origins literature (La Porta et al., 2008). However, given the historical context of Africa, we hypothesize that Britain's system of colonial control suggests a legacy of higher corruption among local elites (chiefs). First, much of the colonial control of the local population occurred through chiefs instead of the central state. Hence, the formal legal systems introduced by the colonial powers, while mostly applicable to the central state, had limited relevance to governing much of the population. Moreover, British rule entrenched the power of chiefs and undermined their accountability to the local population. Data from nationally representative surveys on the attitudes of adult Africans from anglophone and francophone countries reveal empirical patterns consistent with this hypothesis. In anglophone countries, the level of corruption among chiefs is found to be significantly higher than in francophone countries. Chiefs in anglophone countries also command a significantly lower level of public trust. These results remain robust when including a diverse set of controls, as well as in a discontinuity analysis on observations near the borders between anglophone and francophone countries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-100
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Africa
  • Chiefs
  • Colonial rule
  • Corruption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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