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Bringing Trade Back In: Three Essays on African State Formation Open Access

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This dissertation addresses a gap in our understanding of African state formation by exploring its causal relationship to trade. This represents a departure from the political science literature that illustrates that wars for territory explain the rise of European state power (Tilly, 1990) and, consequently, that African states may just limp along, hampered by their less hospitable geography (Thies 2009). These three papers take on the premise that African states face structural constraints to their power, and thus that their geographical endowment is destiny. Instead, I argue that African states have demonstrated their capacity to bring about institutional reform, motivated in no small part by a recent rise in trade flows across much of the continent. The second chapter finds that geography, as a constraint to war, only partially explains the relative divergence of African political power from that of the rest of the world. It also presents evidence that changes in international trade, and the commensurate levels of commercialism, are potential explanations for a portion of this reversal. The third chapter finds that the counterfactual level of political capacity would have remained mostly below actual levels if the government had not implemented deep trade reforms in 1992. This supports the commercialist hypothesis that trade growth has had a measurable impact on Ghana’s state. The fourth and final chapter holds that Ghana’s bureaucracies coordinate their collection rates of informal tolls in a more consistent manner, across their national network, in response to even slight upward fluctuations in trade flows. The weakness of African states has received a great deal of attention and the causal avenue in these chapters hold promise to address such outcomes by showing there are things a state can do to promote its inter-temporal reach, despite its geographic endowment.

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