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The Mechanisms of Direct and Indirect Rule: Colonialism and Economic Development in Africa

Lecture: CAS event | February 20 | 12:30-2 p.m. | 223 Moses Hall


Natalie Letsa, University of Oklahoma

Center for African Studies


A number of studies have found that British colonialism—specifically its policy of indirect rule—improved economic development relative to the French policy of direct rule. There is less consensus, however, as to why indirect rule would produce better economic outcomes. We argue that indirect rule produced better economic outcomes because it was more likely to decentralize decision-making, which empowered citizens to think and act locally, which in turn imbued local governing institutions with more legitimacy. Preliminary data from Cameroon finds that citizens on the anglophone side of the border are more likely to act locally and, indeed, see their local government as more legitimate. We also present a research design to be implemented this summer across the Ghana-Togo border.

Natalie Letsa is a political scientist and the Wick Cary Assistant Professor of Political Economy in the Department of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. Her work focuses on public opinion and political behavior in sub-Saharan Africa. She is also interested in macro-issues of regime stability and legitimization in non-democratic and transitioning regimes. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming at Perspectives on Politics, Comparative Politics, The Journal of Modern African Studies, and Democratization. Her current book project, The Autocratic Voter: Understanding Partisanship and Political Behavior under Authoritarianism, investigates why people choose to participate in non-competitive elections.


asc@berkeley.edu, 510-642-8338