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


This dissertation addresses the role that tribal chiefs play in electoral politics in sub-Saharan Africa, primarily local politics in Ghana. To examine these issues, the dissertation uses a combination of cross-national public opinion survey data along with original survey data from approximately 3000 households in southern Ghana. The argument put forth in the dissertation is that strong chiefs serve as vote mobilizers for local candidates in exchange for being allowed to extract informal taxation. This collusion is hypothesized to lead to increased individual turnout in elections, decreased electoral competitiveness, and decreased quality of public service delivery. Methodologically, the dissertation estimates a measure of chiefly power using households' contributions of informal taxation, typically in the form on in-kind communal labor. In order to address the causal inference problem of studying informal political institutions, the dissertation uses a natural experiment of early 20th century railroads that are argued to have weakened the cultural power of chiefs. The findings support the idea that strong chiefs drive voter turnout in local elections, leading to less competition. However, the public service delivery and welfare consequences of strong traditional authority institutions are more muted.

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