Who Governs? Colonial Education and Regional Political Inequality


The regional composition of a government affects conflict, clientelism and public goods provision in developing countries, many of which are former colonies. But what explains how power is distributed across regions to begin with? Given the strategic nature of cabinet formation, extant explanations focus on bargaining---leaders allocate portfolios strategically to minimize unrest---but fail to consider long-term factors. Using a sample of 16 former British and French African colonies, I find that some colonial districts were represented in post-colonial governments much more than others even adjusting for population. By combining historical records and geospatial data, I show that this regional political inequality derives from colonial investments in public (missionary) education in French (British) colonies but not from other colonial investments, levels of development during colonialism or pre-colonial factors. I argue that post-colonial ministers are a byproduct of a civil service recruitment practice among European administrators focused on natives' literacy rather than ethnicity. Thus, regional political inequality after the end of foreign rule has a structural human capital component which may mediate the relationship between colonialism and current political and economic development.

Last updated on 07/31/2018