Public services are a crucial prerequisite for social and economic development, but the provision of such services differs greatly across communities within countries. The literature has provided an array of theories and evidence attempting to explain these variations. Differences in the quality of local institutions and community norms and culture are generally identified as important factors. However, the literature does not provide adequate answers to the root causes of the differences in the quality of local institutions and community norms that lead to various public service outcomes. If divergence in outcomes rests on differences in institutions and norms, an important research question is why these institutions and norms differ between communities. This research project addresses these gaps in the literature by examining the legacy of pre-colonial institutions in shaping peoples’ willingness to contribute to public services in Uganda, with a focus on services related to crime prevention and security. It also examines the underlying mechanisms by focusing on persistence in culture and persistence in institutions. Before colonization, states in Africa were generally classified into stateless societies and centralized polities, which had an organized force to uphold authority and could uniformly apply policies. The large variation in pre-colonial states across Uganda provides a unique opportunity to study these mechanisms. By combining geo-referenced anthropological data on pre-colonial ethnic homelands with survey data from several rounds of the Afrobarometer Survey, we find that respondents from the historically centralized homelands exhibit a higher willingness to pay tax compared to respondents from the non-centralized areas. The stronger norm for tax compliance in pre-colonial centralized homelands is explained by the legacy of location-specific factors related to the level of capacity that historically centralized states had in upholding authority and not necessarily through the legacy of better-quality local institutions. These results suggest that even though people in historically centralized parts of Uganda have mistrust towards the central government and public institutions, they may be willing to follow rules and pay taxes when they live in a setting with higher interpersonal trust. Social and economic policies to increase trust in public institutions can therefore help further increase tax compliance in Uganda. Though Uganda offers unique experiences, the empirical patterns we document may have broader empirical traction for other countries in Africa with centralized pre-colonial systems.
Public services are essential for development. However, their provision varies greatly across communities. Although local institutions and community norms are identified as important determinants in the provision of public services, the root causes of the quality of local institutions and norms are poorly understood. The objective of the proposed research project is to 1) examine how the legacy of pre-colonial states shapes citizens’ willingness to contribute to public services in Uganda today, focusing on crime prevention and security services, and 2) examine the underlying mechanisms, focusing on persistence in culture and institutions. Before colonization, states in Africa were generally classified into centralized polities, which had an organized force to uphold authority and could uniformly apply policies, and stateless societies. The large variation in pre-colonial states across Uganda provides a unique opportunity to study their effects. In the project, we will combine geo-referenced anthropological data on pre-colonial states with survey data from the Afrobarometer Survey, and use a regression discontinuity design to compare individuals’ willingness to contribute to public services in nearby villages that belonged to different historical states. To study the mechanisms, we will implement a lab-in-the-field experiment with individuals in neighboring districts with different pre-colonial states. No previous study has looked at the causal link between pre-colonial centralization and citizens’ willingness to contribute to public services, and the underlying mechanisms, in Africa. The project will provide policymakers with knowledge of if - and how - traditional institutions can be leveraged to mobilize revenues for provision of public services in local communities. It will also provide an understanding of the role of traditional institutions in peace, security and conflict resolution, which is of interest both to the policy and academic literature.