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Constitutional bargaining and the quality of contemporary African institutions: a test of the incremental reform hypothesis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 June 2017

Department of Economics, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA
Department of Economics, University of Ulsan, Ulsan, South Korea


The incremental reform hypothesis implies that constitutions are rarely adopted whole cloth but instead emerge gradually from a series of reforms. The starting point, scope for bargaining, and number of reforms thus jointly determine the trajectory of constitutional history. We test the relevance of this theory for Africa by analysing the formation and reform of the independence constitutions negotiated and adopted during the 1950s and early 1960s. We provide historical evidence that independence occurred in a manner consistent with the incremental reform hypothesis. After independence, constitutional bargaining continued, although the alignment of interests inside and outside government initially favoured illiberal reforms. Liberal trends re-emerged a few decades later. We provide statistical evidence of incremental reform during both post-independence sub-periods. In general, the African countries that experienced the fewest constitutional moments and the narrowest domain of bargaining in the first decades of independence tend to have better contemporary institutions than states that began with less restrictive constitutional rules and experienced more constitutional moments.

Research Article
Copyright © Millennium Economics Ltd 2017 

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