Traditional institutions in Africa: Past and present

Clara Neupert-Wentz*, Carl Müller-Crepon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


To what degree and why are traditional institutions persistent? Following up the literature on the long-Term effects of precolonial institutions in Africa, we investigate whether and where today's traditional institutions mirror their precolonial predecessors. We do so by linking data on contemporary traditional institutions of African ethnic groups with Murdock's historical Ethnographic Atlas. We find a robust association between past and present levels of institutional complexity, differentiating between institutions' political centralization and functional differentiation. However, this persistence originates almost exclusively from former British colonies governed with more reliance on precolonial institutions than other colonies, in particular French ones. These findings contribute to research on the development and effects of traditional institutions, highlighting the need to account for varying persistence of traditional institutions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Science Research and Methods
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023


  • colonial legacies
  • Ethnographic Atlas
  • institutional development
  • institutional persistence
  • long-Term effects
  • precolonial institutions
  • traditional institutions


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