Did British colonial rule in Africa foster a legacy of corruption among local elites?

Published: 30 Oct 2020

The empowerment of chiefs during colonial rule fostered a legacy of corruption more potent than the formal legal system left behind by the colonisers.

Merima Ali and Odd-Helge Fjeldstad from the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), a partner in the NUPI-led TaxCapDev network, and Abdulaziz B. Shifa from Syracuse University, have published an article studying corruption among chiefs in Africa and the role of British colonial rule in fostering it.

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They argue that chiefs under British colonial rule were significantly empowered compared to pre-colonial times and thus became less accountable to local populations and exerted more influence over the central state. A result of this is that chiefs in former British colonies (anglophone countries) are perceived as more corrupt than their counterparts in former French colonies (francophone countries).

British colonial rule is usually characterised as a form of ‘indirect rule’ in which the colonisers controlled the economic centres while they left the governance of the majority of the population to the chiefs. In contemporary Africa, chiefs remain influential on a wide range of governance issues and engage in a number of governance roles such as the administration of justice, collection of taxes, provision of public goods and the implementation of aid projects. And therefore, the chief's role in local governance is likely to have implications for the quality of governance and economic development in many African communities. 

Also read: Corruption in customs: Time for a new approach

By using data-material from the Afro barometer surveying the perceived corruption of chiefs in 21 countries (12 anglophone and 9 francophone), the study finds that corruption is perceived to be significantly higher among chiefs in anglophone countries compared to francophone countries. This finding also holds in border areas were ethnic homelands were split between anglophone and francophone countries. The findings suggest that the empowerment of chiefs may be more significant than the formal legal systems left behind by the colonisers. 

Read the full article HERE,

or read a summary of the article in this blogpost published by the London School of Economics.

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