Traditional Authority in the State: Chiefs, Elections and Taxation in Ghana

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Date and Time: 
Monday, January 30, 2017
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Nicole Bonoff
University of Wisconsin, Madison

This paper addresses the role that tribal chiefs play in electoral politics in sub-Saharan Africa, primarily local politics in Ghana. The argument put forth is that strong chiefs serve as vote mobilizers for local candidates in exchange for being allowed to extract informal taxation. This collusion leads to increased individual turnout in elections, decreased electoral competitiveness, and decreased quality of public service delivery. Methodologically, the paper estimates a measure of chiefly power using households' contributions of informal taxation, typically in the form of in-kind communal labor. In order to address the causal inference problem of studying informal political institutions, the paper uses a natural experiment of early 20th century railroads that treated communities to have weaker and less culturally relevant chiefs. This natural experiment is then used to generate the sampling frame for an original survey of approximately 3000 households in southern Ghana.