Mission or Empire, Word or Sword? The Human Capital Legacy in Postcolonial Democratic Development


  • Tomila Lankina, D.Phil., is a Reader in Politics, Department of Politics and Public Policy, Leicester Business School, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom (tlankina@dmu.ac.uk). Lullit Getachew, Ph.D., is a Senior Economist with Power System Engineering, Inc., 1532 West Broadway, Madison, WI 53713 (getachewl@powersystem.org).

  • The authors are grateful to the British Academy and De Montfort University for providing funding for this research and to the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University for providing access to superb research resources as part of its Visiting Research Fellow Programme. We are particularly grateful to the staff of the Indian Institute of the Bodleian Library for support in conducting research for this project. We are also grateful for advice on data and comments on earlier versions of the article, to Ed Morgan-Jones, Henry Hale, Dinshaw Mistry, Michael Phillips, Latika Chaudhary, Julia Chernova, and participants of the 2009 Second International Symposium of Comparative Research on Major Regional Powers in Eurasia, “Comparing the Politics of the Eurasian Regional Powers: China, Russia, India, and Turkey,” Hosei University, Tokyo, Japan. Jing Pan, Inga Saikkonen, and Alisa Voznaya provided excellent research assistance. All errors are solely our own. An electronic copy of the replication data will be posted on http://www.dmu.ac.uk/faculties/business_and_law/business/research/lgru/.


Why are some former colonies more democratic than others? The British Empire has been singled out in the debates on colonialism for its benign influence on democracy. Much of this scholarship has focused on colonialism's institutional legacies; has neglected to distinguish among the actors associated with colonialism; and has been nation-state focused. Our subnational approach allows us to isolate the democracy effects of key actors operating in colonial domains—Christian missionaries—from those of colonial powers. Missionaries influenced democracy by promoting education; education promoted social inclusivity and spurred social reform movements. To make our case, we constructed colonial and postcolonial period district datasets of India and conducted panel analysis of literacy and democracy variations backed by case studies. The findings challenge the conventional wisdom of the centrality of the effects of British institutions on democracy, instead also highlighting the missionaries’ human capital legacies.