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December 23, 2009

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Andrew Lambdin-Abraham

I find it interesting.

Black Mage

I find it absolutely fascinating...

...especially insofar as exceptions, here, seem to prove the rule. Botswana, which is generally agreed to be the most successful country in Africa by most measures (except HIV-AIDS prevention), was one of the regions most untouched by colonialism -- it certainly didn't have a legacy of strong British institutions, of the sort you suggest might have been a healthy legacy. On the other hand, though, it had a strong tradition of consultative democracy (the kgotla system) which, unlike elsewhere in Africa, continued more or less uninterrupted from before to after British rule. British rule in Botswana was useful, it seems, only insofar as it prevented Boer rule, which would have been far worse.

So: one can have too little colonialism (leaving a nation with none of the institutional legacy needed for a functioning nationstate, which requires decades of patient investment and construction of legitimacy and, to a certain extent, settlers) but one can also have too much (destroying the underlying institutions). Certainly, one can't generalise Botswana, where there was no real pre-colonial tradition of 'strong' monarchy or despotic rule, as an example for what all of Africa might have been like under more benign colonial overlords. But even so: most African colonisation seems to have hit the peculiar 'sour spot' whereby pre-colonial institutions were totally destroyed, yet nothing except arbitrary despotism (the de jure model for the Portuguese and Belgians, and frequently the de facto model for the French and British) was left in its place.

Doug M.

Black Mage, I was thinking about Botswana. I'm not sure it fits my model. On the other hand, I don't think it fits your "most untouched" either.

Botswana actually had more white settlers than Congo -- about 2%-3% of the population, as opposed to 0.5% - 1%. The Bechuanaland Protectorate was under a British Resident Commissioner with roughly the power of a governor; his rule was enforced by district commissioners and a rudimentary civil service. So, while it wasn't heavily colonized, it was far from pristine. There were other colonies -- Chad, Niger and Mali come to mind -- that had about as litle government and no white settlers at all.

Also, I'd say Botswana /did/ have some of the things mentioned. There were representative advisory committees for blacks and settlers as far back as the 1920s. The first political parties took form in the 1950s, and the first elections were held a decade before independence. And at independence Botswana had around a thousand university graduates out of a population of half a million.

So, while there wasn't much by way of institutions, they were noticeably better off than Congo.


Doug M.

Dtrenque

And for France Senghor (Ivory Coast) and Houphou√ęt-Boigny (Senegal) and Mage (Benin) ; Modibo Keita and Hammaddoun Dicko (Mali) were ministers at the end of the IV Republique.

Black Mage

You're right -- I may have overstated the case, but even so I do think that some of my points apply.

The Bechuanaland Protectorate was under a British Resident Commissioner with roughly the power of a governor; his rule was enforced by district commissioners and a rudimentary civil service.

'Rudimentary' being key, I think -- Bechuanaland didn't even have a capital, being governed from South Africa. Certainly, what few whites there were (and 2%-3% of the population is a very small number of actual people, in the context of what is, mostly, a desert wasteland) were subject to some regulation, but it's my understanding that traditional chieftains, such as Khama's dynasty, retained authority -- genuine authority, not merely authority as agents of British rule -- without much equivalence elsewhere in Africa.

There were other colonies -- Chad, Niger and Mali come to mind -- that had about as little government and no white settlers at all.

I concede this point. Perhaps a better conclusion than mine, although less relevant to the point at hand, is that 'being left alone only helps if the underlying institutions are helpful in the first place', like Botswana's kglota system -- while consultative village 'democracy' wasn't rare in Africa, it's certainly more beneficial for later democracy than a tradition of 'strong' tribal leadership.

And Mali, incidentally, is an interesting case. Certainly for 32 years after independence it shuddered under the fist of French-backed military rulers. But the democracy that exists there now -- perhaps sometimes overstated but still quite remarkable -- reflects, I would argue, certainly French traditions to a great extent (such as the laicite they have had, to some degree, and the tradition of a secular state) but seems also to work reasonably well in terms of underlying Malian culture -- to the extent that such exists. But I'm leaning way out over this precarious branch, and I'm not sure the conclusion I'm grasping at -- that Mali's isolation served it reasonably well in preserving underlying traditions that, well, didn't have much effect for 32 years after independence -- is sound.

Also, I'd say Botswana /did/ have some of the things mentioned. There were representative advisory committees for blacks and settlers as far back as the 1920s. The first political parties took form in the 1950s, and the first elections were held a decade before independence. And at independence Botswana had around a thousand university graduates out of a population of half a million.

The political parties that took form in the 1950s did so largely in preparation for independence, and even after independence the BDP have been largely the only show in town. And the BDP was formed in 1962 largely as an instrument for traditional landowners and cattle-owners, who held such power because, I would argue, their traditional privileges had been left ignored by the British, or at least tolerated. I would argue party-formation in Botswana was less a healthy sign of a British legacy so much as the creation of institutions which mirrored underlying social currents that were already there, especially as, as mentioned, Botswana has a one-party-dominant system that is closely tied to the chiefs.

And I'm not sure where you're getting your 'thousand university graduates' figure -- I've heard the figure of 22 university graduates cited, and up to 40. Certainly counting the white population changes things but even considering that white-black relations in Botswana have been healthier than pretty much anywhere else in Africa, I would argue that any real demonstration of the effects of British rule would have to focus on black university graduates, who were, as I say, only in the double-digits.

I guess what I'm saying is: my view is basically that of Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson, at http://econ-www.mit.edu/files/284, who argue that basically pre-existing colonial elites created a structure that suited their interests, which just happens to look a lot like a multi-party democracy (and which, if the BDP ever gets unpopular, might actually prove pretty healthy when put to the strain). But you raise very good points, and I won't really dispute your premise that 'while there wasn't much by way of institutions, they were noticeably better off than Congo.' If only because that sets the bar so low.

Black Mage

Uh, sorry that the HTML tags in the above didn't work -- but you can work out which bits I wrote and where I'm quoting you, right?

Tzintzuntzan

I think Black Mage is on to something about there being too many institutions or two few. Because...compare Congo, with its awful lack of institutions, with Rwanda and Burundi, which artificially froze their pre-colonial regimes into a nightmare state.

But for Mobutu, I think he's even worse than he's made out to be. The "thirty years of peace" were barely peace at all, given things like the Shaba Wars or the army nearly destroying the capital in a mutiny twice. He only looks good compared to what came before and after, and he really was worse than most African dictators.

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