Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 September 2014
The historical and social science literature is divided about the importance of metropolitan blueprints of colonial rule for the development of colonial states. We exploit historical records of colonial state finances to explore the importance of metropolitan identity on the comparative development of fiscal institutions in British and French Africa. Taxes constituted the financial backbone of the colonial state and were vital to the state building efforts of colonial governments. A quantitative comparative perspective shows that pragmatic responses to varying local conditions can easily be mistaken for specific metropolitan blueprints of colonial governance and that under comparable local circumstances the French and British operated in remarkably similar ways.
We are grateful to Daron Acemoglu, Julius Agbor, Ralph Austen, Gareth Austin, Rachel Jean Baptiste, Jeremy Baskes, Catherine Boone, Anne Booth, Stephen Broadberry, Morten Jerven, Leigh Gardner, Jonathan Glassman, Regina Grafe, Joseph Inikori, Patrick Manning, Joel Mokyr, Alexander Moradi, Claudia Rei, Yannay Spitzer, Hendrik Spruyt, Helen Tilley, and three anonymous referees of the JAH. We are grateful for the financial support of the Program of African Studies and the Buffett Center for International Comparative Studies at Northwestern University, the Economic History Association, the European Research Council under the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (ERC Grant Agreement no. 313114) as part of the project ‘Is Poverty Destiny? A New Empirical Foundation for Long-Term African Welfare Analysis’ and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research for the project ‘Is Poverty Destiny? Exploring Long Term Changes in African Living Standards in Global Perspective’ (NWO VIDI Grant no. 016.124.307). Authors’ email: email@example.com and MarlousVan2015@u.northwestern.edu
3 Austin, G., Labour, Land and Capital in Ghana: From Slavery to Free Labour in Asante, 1807–1956 (Rochester, NY, 2005)Google Scholar.
4 Frankema, E., ‘Colonial taxation and government spending in British Africa, 1880–1940: maximizing revenue or minimizing effort?’, Explorations in Economic History, 48:1 (2011), 136–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gardner, L., Taxing Colonial Africa: The Political Economy of British Imperialism (Oxford, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
5 Bertocchi, G. and Canova, F., ‘Did colonization matter for growth? An empirical exploration into the historical causes of Africa's underdevelopment’, European Economic Review, 46:10 (2002), 1851–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Grier, R. M., ‘Colonial legacies and economic growth’, Public Choice, 98:3–4 (1999), 317–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar; La Porta, R., Lopez-de-Silanes, F., Schleifer, A., and Vishny, R., ‘The quality of government’, The Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 15:1 (1999), 222–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lange, M. K., ‘British colonial legacies and political development’, World Development, 32:6 (2004), 905–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
6 Bolt, J. and Bezemer, D. ‘Understanding long-run African growth: colonial institutions or colonial education?’, Journal of Development Studies, 45:1 (2009), 24–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Brown, D. S., ‘Democracy, colonization, and human capital in sub-Saharan Africa’, Studies in Comparative International Development, 35:1 (2000), 20–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cogneau, D. and Moradi, A., ‘Borders that divide: education and religion in Ghana and Togo since colonial times’, Center for the Study of African Economics Working Paper, University of Oxford, 2011/21Google Scholar; White, B. W., ‘Talk about school: education and the colonial project in French and British Africa (1860–1960)’, Comparative Education, 32:1 (1996), 9–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
7 See, for example, the massive volume of Lord Hailey, W. M. H., An African Survey: A Study of Problems Arising in Africa South of the Sahara (London, 1938)Google Scholar; as well as Gifford, P. and Louis, W. R., France and Britain in Africa: Imperial Rivalry and Colonial Rule (New Haven, CT, 1971)Google Scholar; and Sutton, F., ‘Education and the making of modern nations’, in Coleman, J. S. (ed.), Education and Political Development, (Princeton, 1965), 51–74Google Scholar. For a more recent appraisal of British rule in particular, see Ferguson, N., Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (New York, 2002)Google Scholar.
8 Thandika Mkandawire compares postcolonial African tax systems from a ‘colonial legacies’ lens, identifying different types of colonial economies as the root cause, but does not find a specific impact of metropolitan identity. See Mkandawire, T., ‘On tax efforts and colonial heritage in Africa’, Journal of Development Studies, 46:10 (2010), 1647–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
9 In the social science literature, especially when using econometric analysis, the terms ‘first order effect’ or ‘first order determinant’ are often used to indicate which ‘variable’ has the greatest impact on the outcome that is to be explained.
10 Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., and Robinson, J., ‘The colonial origins of comparative development: an empirical investigation’, American Economic Review, 91:5 (2001), 1369–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., and Robinson, J., ‘Reversal of fortune: geography and institutions in the making of the modern world income distribution’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117:4 (2002), 1231–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
11 In more recent work Acemoglu and Robinson have changed the pairs ‘extractive’ and ‘developmental’ into ‘extractive’ and ‘inclusive’ institutions: see Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J., Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (New York, 2012), 73–83Google Scholar.
13 For some critical responses in addition to Hopkins’, see Austin, G., ‘The ‘reversal of fortune’ thesis and the compression of history: perspectives from African and comparative economic history’, Journal of International Development, 20:8 (2008), 996–1027CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bayly, C., ‘Indigenous and colonial origins of comparative economic development: the case of colonial India and Africa’, Policy Research Working Papers, 4474 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Frankema, E. and Waijenburg, M. Van, ‘Structural impediments to African growth? new evidence from real wages in British Africa, 1880–1965’, Journal of Economic History, 72:4 (2012), 895–926CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bowden, S., Chiripanhura, B., and Mosley, P., ‘Measuring and explaining poverty in six African countries: a long-period approach’, Journal of International Development, 20:8 (2008), 1049–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
14 Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson, ‘Colonial origins’, 1375.
15 The debate on the importance of metropolitan identity for the nature of colonial institutions is not confined to Africa, but also plays an important role in the evaluation of colonial legacies in Spanish and British America and in Asia. The emphasis on colonizer identity as a key determinant of colonial legacies has received substantial criticism over the past 15 years. In a series of studies comparing Spanish and British colonial projects in the Americas, Stanley Engerman and Kenneth Sokoloff point to the role of local geographical factors (such as climate, minerals, location, and soil) and native population densities to explain variations in economic and political development in North and South America: Engerman, S. L. and Sokoloff, K. L., ‘Factor endowments, institutions, and differential paths of growth among New World economies: a view from economic historians of the United States’, in Haber, S. (ed.), How Latin America Fell Behind: Essays on the Economic Histories of Brazil and Mexico, 1800–1914, (Stanford, CA, 1997), 260–304Google Scholar; and S. L. Engerman and K. L. Sokoloff, ‘Colonialism, inequality, and long-run paths of development’, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 11057 (2005). John Elliott's comparative account Spanish and British America shows in detail how institutional development in the spheres of governance, trade, education, and religion was endogenous to the interaction of, and conflict between, metropolitan conceptions and local conditions: Elliott, J. H., Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492–1830 (New Haven, CT, 2006)Google Scholar. See also Mahoney, J., Colonialism and Postcolonial Development: Spanish America in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Booth, A., ‘Night watchmen, extractive, or developmental states? Some evidence from late colonial south-east Asia’, Economic History Review, 60:2 (2007), 241–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
16 Young, C., The African Colonial State in Comparative Perspective (New Haven, CT, 1994), 129Google Scholar.
17 Reid, R. J., A History of Modern Africa: 1800 to the Present (Malden, MA, 2009), 146Google Scholar.
18 Mamdani, M., Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (Princeton, NJ, 1996), 56Google Scholar.
19 Berg, E. J., ‘The development of a labour force in sub-Saharan Africa’, in Konczacki, Z. A. and Konczacki, J. M. (eds.), An Economic History of Tropical Africa, Volume I: The Pre-Colonial Period (London, 1977), 394–412Google Scholar; Bush, B. and Maltby, J., ‘Taxation in West Africa: transforming the colonial subject into the “governable person”’, Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 15:1 (2004), 5–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Conklin, A. L., A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895–1930 (Stanford, CA, 1997)Google Scholar; Davis, L. E. and Huttenback, R. A., Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire: The Economics of British Imperialism (Cambridge, 1988)Google Scholar; Freund, B., The Making of Contemporary Africa: The Development of African Society since 1800 (Bloomington, IN, 1984)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Munro, J. F., Britain in Tropical Africa, 1880–1960: Economic Relationships and Impact (London, 1984)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wrigley, C. C., ‘Aspects of economic history’, in Roberts, A. (ed.), The Colonial Moment in Africa: Essays on the Movement of Minds and Materials, 1900–1940 (Cambridge, 1992), 77–139Google Scholar; Young, The African Colonial State.
20 The metaphor Crawford Young uses to describe the African colonial state is ‘Bula Matari’, which means ‘he who crushes rocks’: Young, The African Colonial State, 1.
21 Herbst, States, 94.
22 Frankema, ‘Colonial taxation’.
24 Wesseling, H. L., Verdeel en Heers: de deling van Afrika, 1880–1914 (Amsterdam, 2003)Google Scholar.
25 Davis and Huttenback, Mammon; Pakenham, T., The Scramble for Africa: The White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876–1912 (New York, 1991)Google Scholar.
26 Some of the outcomes may have less to do with Britain being at the height of its imperial powers and more to do with the fact that Germany (and to a lesser extent France) were more than willing to initiate and sanction claims in tropical Africa before Britain could do anything to stop them. British imperial power in some ways continued to grow, but it had more competitors and so its power relative to its competitors diminished. To the best of our knowledge, it is still an open question whether the British could have secured control over Tanzania if they had really wanted lots of territories in sub-Saharan Africa. It seems that the outcome was ultimately determined by Germany wanting Tanzania more.
27 Burbank, J. and Cooper, F., Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton, NJ, 2010), 315Google Scholar.
28 Frankema, E., ‘The origins of formal education in sub-Saharan Africa: was British rule more benign?’, European Review of Economic History, 16:4 (2012), 335–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Green, E., ‘On the size and shape of African states’, International Studies Quarterly, 56:2 (2012), 229–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
29 Cooper, Africa since 1940.
30 Crowder, M., ‘Indirect rule: French and British style’, in Collins, R. O. (ed.), Problems in the History of Colonial Africa, 1860–1960 (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1970), 212–14Google Scholar.
31 Manning, P., Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa, 1880–1985 (Cambridge, 1988)Google Scholar; Conklin, A Mission.
32 The 1920 benchmark may suffer from potentially distorting effects since the immediate post-First World War era was plagued by high inflation and may have artificially inflated fiscal revenues, without a (fully) equalizing change in the cost-structure of the government. Therefore, the 1920 benchmark should be interpreted with care.
33 Both in British and French Africa, colonies were in principle on their own when it came to their state finances. With the exception of providing a military umbrella under the imperial army, British and French taxpayers were not supposed to pay for empire. The French Ministry of the Colonies budget (Ministère des Colonies) relied on metropolitan taxes and its funds were used for military expenses only. This was not very different from the British system, where metropolitan taxpayers supported the expensive British navy, while African colonies cofinanced standing armies in the region.
34 Conklin, A Mission.
35 Coquery-Vidrovitch, C., ‘French colonization in Africa to 1920: administration and economic development’, in Gann, L. H. and Duignan, P. (eds.), Colonialism in Africa, 1870–1914, Volume I: The History and Politics of Colonialism, 1870–1914 (Cambridge, 1969), 165–98Google Scholar; Huillery, E., ‘History matters: the long-term impact of colonial public investments in French West Africa’, American Economic Journal – Applied Economics, 1:2 (2009), 176–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
36 Note that our GPR per capita figures solely consists of ‘ordinary’ revenue (in other words, regular posts of income) and that extraordinary revenue elements have been excluded.
37 Patrick Manning, for example, estimates that between 1905 and the onset of the First World War, the federation absorbed more than half of Dahomey's GNP through such redistributive payments. See Manning, P., Slavery, Colonialism, and Economic Growth in Dahomey, 1640–1960 (Cambridge, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
38 Frankema, E. and Jerven, M. ‘Writing history backwards and sideways: towards a consensus on African population, 1850–present’, Economic History Review, 67 (2014, forthcoming)Google Scholar; Manning, P., ‘African population: projections, 1850–1960’, in Ittmann, K., Cordell, D. D., and Maddox, G. H. (eds.), The Demographics of Empire: The Colonial Order and the Creation of Knowledge (Athens, OH, 2010), 245–75Google Scholar. We adjusted population figures for Togo and Cameroon to account for their post-First World War split up.
39 Kuczynski, R. R., Demographic Survey of the British Colonial Empire, Volumes I and II (London, 1948–9)Google Scholar; Cordell, D. D. and Gregory, J. W., ‘Labour reservoirs and population: French colonial strategies in Koudougou, Upper Volta, 1914 to 1939’, The Journal of African History, 23:2 (1982), 205–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Green, ‘On the size’.
40 We chose the year 1925 here to illustrate our findings because it was the first year for which all of our observations are present. As can be derived from the regressions, the stylized fact we set out to illustrate does not differ significantly when selecting another year.
41 A simple OLS and pooled OLS regression reveals that those differences are statistically significant while controlling for other geographical variables. Readers interested in these results are invited to contact the authors.
43 Frankema and Van Waijenburg, ‘Structural impediments’, 916.
44 Gray, C. J., Colonial Rule and Crisis in Equatorial Africa: Southern Gabon, c. 1850–1940 (Rochester, NY, 2002)Google Scholar.
45 Evidently, this number, which has been derived from the colonial statistical yearbooks, is only a lower bound estimate of how much chiefs could possibly (legally or illegally) earn through their position. See Zwanenberg, R. Van and King, A., An Economic History of Kenya and Uganda, 1800–1970 (London, 1975)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gardner, ‘Decentralization’.
46 Berry, S., No Condition is Permanent: The Social Dynamics of Agrarian Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (Madison, WI, 1993), 25Google Scholar.
47 In 1851, a hut tax had been imposed in the Gold Coast, but it was abandoned in 1861 because it was unsuccessful in terms of the revenue it yielded and custom duties soon proved to be a far better alternative.
48 There was a difference between the fiscal strategies in Northern and Southern Nigeria. As pointed out by Bush and Maltby in ‘Taxation in West Africa’, the Southern part, which was ‘far more prosperous and economically active’, had no direct taxes until after the First World War. Even when an income tax was imposed in the 1920s, incomes under £30 per year were exempted from this tax. Taking contemporary wage rates into account, which fluctuated between 12 and 17 pence per day in the 1920s, the annual income of an unskilled urban laborer would not exceed £22 per year, assuming a 6-day workweek. It was not until 1937 that the lower income exception was abolished, and that the native income tax thus became applicable to all inhabitants of Southern Nigeria.
49 Our conclusions for British and French Africa are in line with several other recent studies observing similar patterns within British Africa. For examples, see Frankema, ‘Colonial taxation’; Gardner, Taxing Colonial Africa, 24–5; and Mkandawire, ‘On tax efforts’.
50 That is Uganda, Kenya, and Nyasaland. In the fiscal year 1909–10, c. 26 per cent of the total fiscal budget of the Kenyan government was supplied by a metropolitan grant. The British East Africa Protectorate, Blue Book (Nairobi, 1909–10). For a broader discussion of British efforts to build self-sufficient states in Africa, see Gardner, Taxing Colonial Africa, 17–30.
51 Coquery-Vidrovitch, C., ‘Economic development in French West Africa,’ in Konczacki, J. and Konczacki, Z. A. (eds.), An Economic History of Tropical Africa, Volume Two: The Colonial Period (London, 1977), 190Google Scholar.
52 It should be noted that the temporal trend we observe of a decreasing reliance on direct taxes should not be extrapolated to the post-Second World War period, as the colonial tax systems underwent a series of reforms during the early postwar and postcolonial eras, and income taxes and graduated poll taxes started to play a greater role in this period. We have not included the post-Second World War era into our analysis, as space constraints do not allow for an encompassing discussion of these reforms. Additionally, there is an analytical reason for this exclusion, as the widespread and systematic existence of colonial development subsidies structurally changed the conditions of fiscal capacity building.
53 Quote taken from Conklin, A Mission, 144.
54 Despite there maybe being something counterintuitive about our argument of identifying local agency from such a general level, our framework highlights a trend that can only be distilled at the macrolevel.
55 Note that some tax rates were applied multiple times, so that this captures only the total number of different tax rates in circulation rather than the number of districts or subgroups that had their own tax rates. The former offers a better reflection of the ‘fine-grained’ nature of the direct tax system.
56 Such rapid tax increases occasionally met great resistance. In Dahomey in 1923, for example, a tax revolt broke out in the city of Porto Novo, after the French had raised the going tax rates by more than 500 per cent for men, 300 per cent for women, and 100 per cent for children to adjust for the postwar inflation. Conklin, A Mission, 161.
57 This underlines again that, where possible, colonial governments were happy to shape their fiscal institutions on the basis of existing tax structure, and both the British and the French did so in North Africa. Young, The African Colonial State, 124–5.
58 To transform the French tax rates from an individual to a household base, we have made the assumption that an average household existed of a father, a mother, and three to four children – of which one would have been older than ten years and not yet started a family of his or her own. Although there was obviously greater variation in terms of family composition, these assumptions correspond well with demographic survey reports and should thus, on an aggregate level, be a fairly good approximation. Considering tax rates were slightly lower for women and children in the French African colonies, we multiply or divide not by a factor of four (a father, mother, and two children), but by three.
59 It is highly likely that in areas that relied more on the implied revenue from forced labor, the colonial perception of Africans needing to be ‘disciplined’ into becoming productive workers was more strongly articulated. This implies that, ultimately, local material conditions also co-shaped philosophies of colonial state building. We believe this would be an important avenue for further research. For important studies on philosophies of state building, see Young, The African Colonial State; and Conklin, A Mission.
60 Fall, B., Le travail forcé en Afrique-Occidentale française, 1900–1946 (Paris, 1993)Google Scholar; Fall, B., Social History in French West Africa: Forced Labor, Labor Market, Women and Politics (Calcutta, 2002)Google Scholar; Ash, C. B., ‘Forced labor in colonial West Africa’, History Compass, 4:3 (2006), 402–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Okia, O., Communal Labor in Colonial Kenya: The Legitimization of Coercion, 1912–1930 (New York, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
61 The option to buy-out one's labor obligations was expanded to larger groups in the course of the colonial period, and especially in the 1920s. Yet, the additional state income generated from these ‘buy-outs’ (rachat des prestations), suggests that the number of people doing so was negligible. The buy-out rate was in most places roughly the equivalent of the going unskilled native wage rate.
64 Wolmar, C., Blood, Iron, and Gold: How the Railroads Transformed the World (New York, 2010)Google Scholar.
67 Gardner, L., ‘Fiscal policy in the Belgian Congo in comparative perspective’, in Frankema, E. and Buelens, F. (eds.), Colonial Exploitation and Economic Development: The Belgian Congo and the Netherlands Indies Compared (London, 2013), 130–52Google Scholar; Clement, P., ‘The land tenure system in the Congo, 1885–1960: actors, motivations, and consequences’, in Frankema, and Buelens, (eds.) Colonial Exploitation, 88–108Google Scholar.
68 Important exceptions to this rule were the British campaign against Sokoto in northern Nigeria between 1900 and 1903 and the Niger delta, which was still being subdued in the early 1900s when most of Uganda and Kenya were already under British control.
69 For Côte d'Ivoire, however, the net drain increasingly became a serious source of discontent. In the late 1950s, the Ivorian government broke with the federal rules of collecting and transferring customs duties and became the first country to introduce VAT to raise the local state budget.