By Lisa Day

A week ahead from an African leaders summit in 2014, Barak Obama stated: “Africa should stop blaming history for its economic problems”.  He continued on by dismissing the idea that slavery and colonialism, imposed by the west, were the root cause for poverty and under-development in Africa. Is this statement fair? Can colonialism truly be blamed for Africa’s economic misfortune?

In “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation”, Acemoglu and Robinson argue that the main causes for the inequality of wealth across countries are differences among institutions and property rights. They then propose that differences in GDP per capita across colonized countries are caused by differences in the mortality rates of the settlers. The theory states that settler mortality rates affected the feasibility of creating settlements; settlements then affected the early institutions that were imposed and the early institutions affected the current institutions. The graph shown below plots GDP per capita against settler mortality rates:

Source: Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, "The  colonial origins  of  comparative development : An empirical investigation"

Source: Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, "The colonial origins of comparative development: An empirical investigation"

The relationship between the two variables suggests that as settler mortality rate increases; GDP per capita decreases. They argue that lower settler mortality rates allowed a large amount of settlers to create good institutions that persist today.

There is one country however that doesn’t appear to follow the trend as strongly as the others, Ethiopia. Ethiopia along with Liberia were the only two African countries that were not colonized. You could therefore assume that Ethiopia has a lower GDP per capita today than expected because it was not imposed with good institutions from colonization. In addition, if colonization were the main cause of modern poverty you would expect Ethiopia and Liberia to be the wealthiest of the African nations. However this is not the case as Liberia and Ethiopia are the 4th and 7th poorest countries in the world respectively.

It is undeniable that the scars of colonialism persist today. However we cannot truly blame colonialism for the current poverty in Africa alone.