How to Copy Informal Institutions: the Role of British Colonial Officers During the Decolonization of British Africa.

Valentin Seidler (University of Warwick)

Abstract: Institutional reform in developing countries often involves an element of copying institutions from developed countries. However, 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. How can informal norms successfully be copied from one country to another? This paper investigates how informal traditions of the British civil service were copied into British Africa after independence. I argue that this was achieved by the physical presence of former British colonial officers who remained in the services of the newly independent states. During the period of decolonization in Africa 1957-1968, British African territories imported the same British institution safeguarding the political impartiality and the integrity of civil servants. While the necessary formal rules and legal entities were integrated into the legal bodies of all former colonies, they are practiced only in those colonies where British officers maintained a substantial share in the civil services for an extended period of time. I use a series of qualitative interviews with retired officers to explore the mechanisms behind this effect. A natural experiment around compensation payments for the loss of career at independence serves to explain the variation in British officers remaining in service after independence. The findings contribute to a deeper understanding of institutional copying, in particular the transfer of informal institutions.