The Fiscal State in Africa: Evidence from a Century of Growth

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What is the level of state capacity in developing countries today, and what have been its drivers over the past century? We construct a comprehensive new data set of tax and revenue collection for forty-six African polities from 1900 to 2015. Our data show that polities in Africa have been characterized by strong growth in fiscal capacity on average, but that substantial heterogeneity exists. The empirical analysis reveals that canonical state-building factors such as democratic institutions and interstate warfare have limited power to explain these divergent growth paths. On the other hand, accounting for the relationship between African polities and the international environment - through the availability of external finance and the legacy of colonialism - is key to understanding their differing investments in fiscal capacity. These insights add important nuances to established theories of state building. Not only can the availability of external finance deter investment in fiscal capacity, but it also moderates the efficacy of canonical state-building factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-101
Number of pages37
JournalInternational Organization
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Dec 3

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Economic History

Free keywords

  • Africa
  • external finance
  • Fiscal capacity
  • resources
  • statehood
  • taxes


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