African Successes, Volume II: Human Capital

African Successes, Volume II: Human Capital


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Studies of African economic development frequently focus on the daunting challenges the continent faces. From recurrent crises to ethnic conflicts and long-standing corruption, a raft of deep-rooted problems has led many to regard the continent as facing many hurdles to raise living standards. Yet Africa has made considerable progress in the past decade, with a GDP growth rate exceeding five percent in some regions. The African Successes series looks at recent improvements in living standards and other measures of development in many African countries with an eye toward identifying what shaped them and the extent to which lessons learned are transferable and can guide policy in other nations and at the international level.
The second volume in the series, African Successes: Human Capital turns the focus toward Africa’s human capital deficit, measured in terms of health and schooling. It offers a close look at the continent’s biggest challenges, including tropical disease and the spread of HIV.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226316055
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 09/23/2016
Series: National Bureau of Economic Research Conference Report Series , #2
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Sebastian Edwards is the Henry Ford II Professor of International Economics in the Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. Simon Johnson is the Ronald A. Kurtz (1954) Professor of Entrepreneurship and professor of global economics and management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. David N. Weil is the James and Merryl Tisch Professor of Economics at Brown University. All three editors are research associates of the NBER.

Read an Excerpt

African Successes

Government and Institutions

By Sebastian Edwards, Simon Johnson, David N. Weil

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2016 National Bureau of Economic Research
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-31605-5


Healing the Wounds

Learning from Sierra Leone's Postwar Institutional Reforms

Katherine Casey, Rachel Glennerster, and Edward Miguel

1.1 Introduction

Academics and development practitioners agree that strengthening the transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness of institutions could be important determinants of economic performance (Engerman and Sokoloff 1997; Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson 2001; Banerjee and Iyer 2005). Yet they also acknowledge that it remains unclear what types of interventions could successfully make progress toward these objectives. Such concerns take on heightened urgency in a country like Sierra Leone, which has suffered decades of extreme poverty and recently emerged from a devastating civil war. In this context, the objectives of inclusive and participatory governance are twofold. First, enhancing accountability aims to provide a more effective vehicle to channel government and donor resources toward the reconstruction of public infrastructure and restoration of basic services. Second, creating avenues for public participation allows citizens to voice and seek redress for grievances regarding government incompetence and corruption, as well as confront and amend long-standing social tensions and inequities that many believed helped fuel the recent violence.

This chapter examines how different factors — including the legacy of war, ethnic diversity, decentralization, and community-driven development (CDD) — affect local institutions and collective action, as well as national political culture and outcomes in Sierra Leone. The story that emerges is nuanced and does not confirm reflexive biases: war does not necessarily destroy the capacity for local collective action; ethnicity affects residential choice, but does not impede local public goods provision; while politics remain heavily ethnic, voters are more willing to cross ethnic boundaries in local elections where they have better information about candidates; decentralization can work even where local capacity is highly constrained, although the results are mixed; and for all of its promise and some positive impacts on local public goods provision, CDD does not transform local institutions nor social norms of behavior. All of these results are somewhat "unexpected," but they are quite positive in signaling that even one of the world's poorest, most violent and ethnically diverse societies can overcome major challenges and progress towards meaningful economic and political development.

The rest of the chapter is structured as follows: section 1.2 provides back ground on Sierra Leone's protracted decline into poverty and unrest, exploring prominent social divisions that may have encouraged young men to take up arms; section 1.3 discusses the historical evolution of ethnic diversity and the complex role it plays in contemporary public life; section 1.4 details key postwar institutional reforms including the restoration of multiparty democracy, decentralization, and CDD; section 1.5 assesses the progress these reforms have made toward encouraging economic development, democratizing institutions, and changing social norms; and section 1.6 concludes.

1.2 Legacies of Poverty, Corruption, and Conflict

After achieving independence from Britain in 1961, Sierra Leone enjoyed only a brief period of free and competitive democracy. Increasing political instability, worsening governance, and deepening poverty marred the subsequent few decades, which terminated in institutional collapse and civil war. In the 1970s and 1980s the country was ruled by authoritarian leaders who enriched themselves through illicit deals involving diamonds, while doing little to provide needed services such as health care and education (Reno 1995). Eliminating threats to its absolute control, the government of President Siaka Stevens dismantled competitive democracy by abolishing district-level local government in 1972 and declaring the country a one-party state in 1978. By the early 1990s, Sierra Leone had the second lowest living standards of any country in the world (United Nations 1993).

Figure 1.1 situates the economic experience of Sierra Leone in relation to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. The comparative poverty of Sierra Leone is evidenced by real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita that falls significantly below the regional average for the entire period (1960–2010). Note further the economy's stagnant performance from 1970–1990, followed by precipitous decline during the war. This chapter focuses on the institutional factors surrounding the positive postwar recovery apparent in the upward trend of the last decade. While the particular confluence of events and reforms is unique to Sierra Leone, note that its strong performance in the last several years mimics broader trends of growth for the region as a whole (Miguel 2009).

The weak economic performance and poor governance of the 1970s and 1980s steered the country toward civil unrest. Partially as a result of the widespread discontent toward the corruption and ineffectiveness of the government, a small group of rebels, who had entered the country from Liberia in 1991, were successful in recruiting disenfranchised youth to rise up violently against the status quo. As their numbers swelled by early 1992, these rebels, known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), spread the armed conflict to all parts of the country. The brutal civil war that ensued saw an estimated 50,000 Sierra Leoneans killed, over half of the population displaced from their homes, and thousands of civilians victimized by amputation, rape, and assault (Human Rights Watch 1999). A small cadre of British troops, along with a large international peacekeeping mission, brought the war to a decisive end with peace officially declared in January 2002.

Scholars point to a number of long-standing social divisions that created frustration and may have helped incite violence. First, some have claimed that the initial motivations of the RUF were idealistic and that the early rebels were guided by a strong sense of political grievances related to the failings of the corrupt regime (Richards 1996). Such frustrations were particularly acute for young men, who were largely excluded from decision making and at times subject to coerced labor and capricious fines by traditional authorities. Second, colonial rule enhanced the historical legacy of inequality between local chiefs and their subjects. During the colonial period, the British implemented direct rule over residents of the Western peninsula (the Colony), yet exerted indirect rule over residents of the interior (the Protectorate). This latter system promoted chiefs loyal to the British, and institutionalized — and in many cases augmented — their autocratic power over their subjects, thereby exacerbating inequality and reinforcing social divisions. Third, although not likely a direct cause of violence, women have historically held less power in local governance and possessed weaker socioeconomic status as compared to men. After the war ended, major institutional reforms aimed to address these root causes of dissension, to both promote greater equity and preclude a return to violence.

Although devastating, the war did not leave the country so weakened as to be incapable of recovery. While violence inflicted during the war created incalculable human suffering and destroyed much of the physical infrastructure of the country, the impact on institutions is more nuanced. Bellows and Miguel (2009) unexpectedly uncover a positive association between exposure to violence and subsequent increases in political and social activism. Their research suggests that individuals whose households directly experienced war violence are more active political and civic participants than nonvictims: they are more likely to vote (by 2.6 percentage points), attend community meetings (by 6.5), belong to a social (by 6.6) or political (by 5.7) group, and serve on school management committees (by 3.8). In addition, these victims were no worse off in terms of standard consumption measures a few years after the war ended. While these findings underscore the extraordinary resilience of Sierra Leoneans, it is important to note that they are based on variation across individuals within the same village, and thereby do not estimate the net effect of civil war on the country as a whole. The authors conclude that while the "humanitarian costs of civil wars are horrific ... it appears their legacies need not be catastrophic."

1.3 Ethnic Diversity

Ethnicity plays a nuanced role in the social and political life of Sierra Leone, defying commonly held conceptions about the adverse effects of diversity. Many scholars have argued that ethnic diversity is an important impediment to economic and political development. Economic growth rates are slower in ethnically diverse societies, and local public goods provision often suffers (Easterly and Levine 1997; Alesina, Baqir, and Easterly 1999; Alesina et al. 2003; Fearon 2003). The inability to overcome the public good free-rider problem in diverse communities, due to monitoring and enforcement limitations, is the leading explanation proposed for less developed countries (Miguel and Gugerty 2005; Habyarimana et al. 2007, 2009). These issues are particularly salient in sub-Saharan Africa, the world's most ethno-linguistically diverse region. Yet our research shows that while ethnicity is important for residential choice and political allegiances in Sierra Leone, it does not appear to hamper local collective action and was not an organizing factor in the civil war.

1.3.1 Historical View of Ethnicity

As background, Sierra Leone is very diverse, ranking fifteenth on the Taylor and Hudson (1972) list of countries with the highest levels of ethno linguistic fractionalization. Specifically, of eighteen major ethnic groups, the Mende and Temne are numerically dominant, occupying shares of 32.2 percent and 31.8 percent, respectively, while the Limba, Kono, and Kuranko are the next largest groups at 8.3 percent, 4.4 percent, and 4.1 percent, respectively (National Population and Housing Census 2004). Other groups occupy a substantially smaller share, including the Krio (Creoles) — former slaves who returned to Africa to settle Freetown — whose population share fell to only 1.4 percent by 2004. These groups are characterized by distinct customs, rituals, and history, and, most importantly, language. With the exception of Krio, an English dialect, the other languages are members of the Niger-Congo language family. Within this family, the most salient distinction is between the Mande languages — including Mende, Kono, Kuranko, Susu, Loko, Madingo, Yalunka, and Vai — and the Atlantic-Congo languages, including Temne, Limba, Sherbro, Fullah, Kissi, and Krim. These groups are mutually unintelligible to each other, and much further apart linguistically, for example, than English and German.

Over the past two centuries national politics have been heavily influenced by two distinct divisions along ethnic lines, where the early Colony versus Protectorate tension under the British was later surpassed by regional allegiances after independence. At the time of the founding of the Sierra Leone colony in the late eighteenth century and through much of the nineteenth century, the Krio enjoyed a relatively privileged political and economic position due to their facility with English and special links with the British even though they were numerically small. Before independence, the key political division in Sierra Leone was Krio versus non-Krio, but because of growing tensions between the Krio and "up country" ethnic groups, the British progressively limited their political power. Thus as Sierra Leone made its transition to independence, the primary source of political conflict shifted. As stated by Kandeh (1992, 90), "the salience of the Creole [Krio]-protectorate cleavage was eclipsed after independence by the rivalry between the Mendes of the south and Temnes of the north." It is this largely regional divide that continues to galvanize national politics today.

Two facts about the Krio may have prevented ethnic political divisions from escalating into violent conflict. One key difference between Sierra Leone and many other African countries is that the "favored" ethnic group during early colonialism was not truly indigenous and no longer holds a position of power. They historically served as a common antagonist for the Mendes and Temnes together, and have since lost their political influence. Second, the Krio people gave Sierra Leone their language, also called Krio, which is a dialect of English that has been influenced by Portuguese, Arabic, Yoruba, and many African languages as a legacy of the slave trade. Serving as a national lingua franca for decades, Krio is currently spoken (usually as a second language) by most Sierra Leoneans, and is increasingly taught in schools. In many other African countries the lingua franca is the former colonial language, usually English or French. While Krio has a base in English, it is unique to Sierra Leone and widely spoken even by those with no schooling. While the existence of a common national language is clearly insufficient to guarantee social stability — as the African cases of Rwanda and Somalia poignantly illustrate — Krio's ubiquity in Sierra Leone may (through historical accident) help promote the consolidation of a common national identity that transcends tribe (Ngugi 2009), as with Swahili in postindependence Tanzania (Miguel 2004).

Perhaps due to these unifying forces and in contrast to most popular media coverage on African civil wars, neither ethnic nor religious divisions played a central role in the Sierra Leone conflict. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels targeted people from all ethnic groups, and statistical analysis of documented human rights violations shows that no ethnic group was disproportionately victimized. There is also no evidence that civilian abuse was worse when armed factions and communities belonged to different ethnic groups (Humphries and Weinstein 2006). Ethnic grievances were not rallying cries during the war and all major fighting sides were explicitly multiethnic (Keen 2005). The fact that the war was not fought along ethnic lines, and the central role that external actors played in bringing it to a conclusive end, may partially explain why there has not been a resurgence of violence.

1.3.2 How Ethnicity Matters Today

The fact that ethnic identity was not an organizing factor in the conflict does not, however, mean that it is unimportant. Glennerster, Miguel, and Rothenberg (2013) show that a preference for one's own ethnic group is a key determinant of residential choice for rural Sierra Leoneans. Using nationally representative household data that collected respondents' chiefdom of residence in 1990 and 2007, they estimate a discrete choice model to understand why different individuals moved across chiefdoms after the war. Since contemporary ethnic composition is in part endogenously determined by postwar migration choices, their empirical specifications use historical 1963 ethnic shares. They find that individuals are on average willing to travel an additional 10.1 kilometers to live in a chiefdom with a 10 percentage point greater share of her/his own ethnic group. While still strong, the coethnic preference is attenuated for people with some education (note that adult literacy is just 34.8 percent). In particular, educated individuals are only willing to travel an additional 8.6 kilometers to live in a chiefdom with a 10 percentage point greater share of her/his own ethnic group, which suggests that education dampens coethnic residential preferences.

Yet the preference for living with one's own ethnic group does not translate into a weaker ability to work together with those from other groups. In fact, conditional on other factors (including remoteness from cities as well as population size and density), individuals exhibit a positive preference for diversity, though this is smaller than the preference for a higher coethnic share. Standing in sharp contrast to the bulk of the ethnic diversity literature, Glennerster, Miguel, and Rothenberg extend their analysis and find no negative effects of ethnic diversity on the provision of local public goods. The authors use a mean effects approach to summarize the average impacts of the project across a family of related indicators (following Kling, Liebman, and Katz 2007). Specifically, they find no effect of ethnic — or religious — diversity on local collective action (as measured by road maintenance, group membership, self-expressed trust or disputes); no effect of ethnic diversity on the quality of primary schools (as measured by instructional supplies, facilities, or teaching); and if anything, positive impacts of ethnic diversity on health clinic quality, supplies, and staff presence and quality.


Excerpted from African Successes by Sebastian Edwards, Simon Johnson, David N. Weil. Copyright © 2016 National Bureau of Economic Research. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

Series Introduction
Sebastian Edwards, Simon Johnson, and David N. Weil
Volume Introduction
Sebastian Edwards, Simon Johnson, and David N. Weil

  1. Health
1. Evaluating the Effects of Large-Scale Health Interventions in Developing Countries:
The Zambian Malaria Initiative
Nava Ashraf, Günther Fink, and David N. Weil
2. Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Reproductive Behavior in Zambia
Nicholas Wilson
3. Stimulating Demand for AIDS Prevention: Lessons from the RESPECT Trial
Damien de Walque, William H. Dow, Carol Medlin, and Rose Nathan
4. Alternative Cash Transfer Delivery Mechanisms: Impacts on Routine Preventative Health Clinic Visits in Burkina Faso
Richard Akresh, Damien de Walque, and Harounan Kazianga
  1. Gender Issues
5. Girl Power: Cash Transfers and Adolescent Welfare: Evidence from a Cluster-Randomized Experiment in Malawi
Sarah Baird, Ephraim Chirwa, Jacobus de Hoop, and Berk Özler
6. Comparing Economic and Social Interventions to Reduce Intimate Partner Violence: Evidence from Central and Southern Africa
Radha Iyengar and Giulia Ferrari
7. Family Ties, Inheritance Rights, and Successful Poverty Alleviation: Evidence from Ghana
Edward Kutsoati and Randall Morck
  1. Education
8. The Surprisingly Dire Situation of Children’s Education in Rural West Africa: Results from the CREO Study in Guinea-Bissau (Comprehensive Review of Education Outcomes)
Peter Boone, Ila Fazzio, Kameshwari Jandhyala, Chitra Jayanty, Gangadhar Jayanty, Simon Johnson, Vimala Ramachandran, Filipa Silva, and Zhaoguo Zhan
9. Success in Entrepreneurship: Doing the Math
Michael Kremer, Jonathan Robinson, and Olga Rostapshova

10. The Returns to the Brain Drain and Brain Circulation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Some Computations Using Data from Ghana
Yaw Nyarko
Author Index
Subject Index

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