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Slavery, Institutional Development, and Long-Run Growth in Africa, 1400-2000

by Nathan Nunn. Reading for week of November 7, 2006

Can Africa's current state of under-development be partially attributed to the large trade in slaves that occurred during the Atlantic, Saharan, Red Sea and Indian Ocean slave trades? To answer this question, I combine shipping data with historical records that report slave ethnicities and construct measures of the number of slaves exported from each country in Africa between 1400 and 1913. I find the number of slaves exported from a country to be an important determinant of economic performance in the second half of the 20th century. To correct for potential biases arising from measurement error and unobservable country characteristics, I instrument slave exports using measures of the distance from each country to the major slave markets around the world. I also find that the importance of the slave trade for contemporary development is a result of its detrimental impact on the formation of domestic institutions, such as the security of private property, the quality of the judicial system, and the overall rule of law. This is the channel through which the slave trade continues to matter today.


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Center for Comparative and Global Research