Public services are essential for development. However, their provision varies greatly across communities within developing countries. 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 underlying mechanisms, we will additionally 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 the academic literature.

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