Why Nations Fail in Kananga
Friday, July 12, 2013
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

One of the key pillars of inclusive institutions is centralized state. In Why Nations Fail we illustrated the political drivers behind state formation and how this can lead to improved economic performance, at least what we called ‘extractive growth’ via the history of the Kuba Kingdom, in what is now Kasai Occidental Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The documentation and interpretation of the history of the Kuba state was one of the achievements of the great historian Jan Vansina who synthesized 50 years of research — his first work on the Kuba was published in 1954 — together in his two seminal books The Children of Woot and Being Colonized. 

Vansina didn’t just put together the definitive account of the emergence and consolidation of the Kuba state by weaving together the oral history of the Kingdom with travellers accounts, archaeology, linguistics and anything else he could find, he also provided a theoretical interpretation of what happened.

As we discussed in Why Nations Fail both he and Mary Douglas, who worked in Kasai in the 1950s and 1960s, pointed out how the process of political centralization had created a large increase in public good provision in the Kuba area and a doubling of agricultural output. 

A natural question, which we did not comment on the book, is whether or not the type of political and economic distinctions that existed between the Kuba and Lele in 1960 still persists today. More generally, what is the legacy of the Kuba state?

Much evidence suggests that particular historical institutions, such as the mita, the system of colonial forced labor in Spanish Peru and Bolivia, do leave long shadows on economic and political developments. Melissa Dell, for example, showed in her research that almost 200 years after the mita was abolished households in the former catchment area have consumption levels that are one third lower than households outside the former catchment area.

Could a similar legacy have been generated by the Kuba state? 

This summer Jim, in collaboration with Sara Lowes, Nathan Nunn and Jon Weigel, moved to Kananga, the capital of Kasai Occidental, to start collecting data to find out.

We will report on their findings in the next few posts.

Article originally appeared on Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (http://whynationsfail.com/).
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