Does Land Abundance Explain African Institutions?


  • I thank my advisors Timothy Guinnane, Benjamin Polak and Christopher Udry for their guidance. I also thank Tayo Adesina, Achyuta Adhvaryu, Gareth Austin, Reena Badiani, Benjamin Chabot, Adrian de la Garza, Rahul Deb, Shatakshee Dhongde, Oded Galor, Nils-Petter Lagerlöf, Naomi Lamoreaux, Giuseppe Moscarini, Nathan Nunn, Sheilagh Ogilvie, Jörn-Steffen Pischke, Florian Ploeckl, Mark Rosenzweig, Mir Salim, Veronica Santarosa, Ed Vytlacil, Warren Whatley, Ademola Yakubu and the participants of the Economic History Association Annual Meeting, the Canadian Network for Economic History, the NEUDC, the LSE African Economic History Seminar and seminars at the University of Warwick, Princeton University, Washington University in St Louis, Northwestern University, the University of Rochester, the University of Toronto, Boston University and the University of Oxford for their comments and advice. Extra thanks are due to Christian Dippel and Nathan Nunn for their generous sharing of maps.


The land abundance view of African history uses sparse population to explain pre-colonial land tenure and slavery. I document the geographical forcing variables that predict land rights, slavery and population density in a cross section of global societies. I discuss whether these correlations support theories of land rights and slavery, including the land abundance view. I show that pre-colonial institutions predict institutional outcomes in Africa in the present, including land transactions, polygamy and public goods. Pre-colonial institutions have effects above those of geography. The colonial reversal of fortune did not erase their influence.