Comparing British and French Colonial Legacies: a Discontinuity Analysis of Cameroon

Comparing British and French Colonial Legacies: A Discontinuity Analysis of Cameroon

ABSTRACT Colonial institutions are thought to be an important determinate of post-independence levels of political stability, economic growth, and public goods provision. In particular, many scholars have suggested that British institutions and culture are more conducive to growth and poverty alleviation than those of France or other colonizers. Systematic tests of this hypothesis have plagued by unobserved heterogeneity among nations due to variable pre- and post-colonial histories. To deal with this problem, we focus on the West African nation of Cameroon, which includes regions colonized by both Britain and France. Taking advantage of the artificial nature of the former colonial boundary, we use it as a discontinuity within a national demographic survey. We show that rural areas on the British side of discontinuity have higher levels of wealth and local public provision of improved water sources. Results for urban areas and centrally-provided public goods show no such effect, suggesting that post-independence policies also play a role in shaping outcomes.

We are grateful to Rachel Stein and Luke Condra for assistance with ArcGIS and to Claire Adida for assistance in translating the survey instrument.


Introduction The men who built the British Empire did so with the conviction that they were doing those they conquered a favor. They argued that the institutional package that they brought to the colonies—David Livingston’s “Commerce, Christianity and Civilization” —would ultimately lead to a higher standard of living and quality of government than that provided by the institutions they destroyed (Livingston 1868). While contemporary scholars no longer see colonialism as unambiguously positive, they do agree on its importance. A series of quantitative studies, both within and across nations, have linked colonial-era policies and institutions to postindependence...