Copying informal institutions: the role of British colonial officers during the decolonization of British Africa

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


Institutional reforms in developing countries often involve copying institutions from developed countries. Such institutional copying is likely to fail, if formal institutions alone are copied without the informal institutions on which they rest in the originating country. This paper investigates the role of human actors in copying informal institutions. At independence, all British African colonies imported the same institution intended to safeguard the political neutrality of their civil services. While the necessary formal provisions were copied into the constitutions of all African colonies, the extent to which they were put into practice varies. The paper investigates the connection between the variation in the legal practice and the presence of British colonial officers after independence. A natural experiment around compensation payments to British officers explains the variation in the number of officers who remained in service after independence. Interviews with retired officers suggest that the extended presence of British personnel promoted the acceptance of imported British institutions among local colleagues.
This publication has been financed by Austrian Science Fund (FWF J3848-G28).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289 - 312
JournalJournal of Institutional Economics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 502049 Economic history
  • 502018 Macroeconomics
  • 509003 Development cooperation

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