State Disengagement: Evidence from Former French West Africa
International Studies Quarterly
53 Pages Posted: 4 May 2020 Last revised: 7 May 2021
Date Written: November 4, 2020
How do states respond to political resistance? The standard repression or concession logic presumes that the state is strong enough to punish or co-opt dissent effectively. Instead, we argue that the state may disengage when it is weak. We show that colonial governments in French West Africa reduced public investments in districts where chiefs engaged in largely non-violent disobedience. However, we also show that chieftain disobedience reduced government taxes and fees on Africans, rather than increased them as punishment. Because the state was too weak to punish with higher taxation or to concede by increasing investments, the state disengaged in hard-to-rule districts. Our findings show that chieftain resistance helps explain why subnational development was so unequal during colonialism. Low-level and non-violent resistance, often overlooked in the conflict literature, also affect state-society relations and state formation.
Keywords: colonial state, conflict, public investments, taxation, West Africa, chiefs
JEL Classification: D74, F54, N47, H50, H70
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation