The Role of Informal Institutions in Building the Institutional Framework of an African State: the Case of the Kanuri in Nigeria.

Valentin Seidler (Vienna University of Economics and Business)

Abstract: Most institutional economists agree that Africa’s overall poor economic performance is connected with its weak institutions. Among others, institutional research has highlighted the importance of cultural norms and the colonial past. In this context, colonialism presents a “natural experiment” – a phase in which European institutions were imposed on local and predominantly informal institutions. While the persistence of informal institutions have been highlighted among others by Douglass North and Oliver Williamson, case studies investigating their influence on institutional development are rare. This article aims to contribute to filling this gap. It explores the institutional development of the Kanuri, a larger ethnic group in north-eastern Nigeria. The article uses a theoretical framework of institutional hierarchy to examine the development of key institutions throughout the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial period of the Kanuri. The article argues that informal Kanuri institutions have prevailed throughout colonial times and still present powerful norms today. Wherever Kanuri pre-colonial institutions conflict with modern, formal institutions of the Nigerian federal state, they set adverse incentives for economic behavior. Furthermore, the article’s findings shed light on the hitherto neglected role of informal institutions in the institutional development of former African colonies.

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