We use the colonial organization of chieftaincy in Sierra Leone to study the effect of constraints on chiefs' power on economic outcomes, citizens' attitudes and social capital. A paramount chief must come from one of the ruling families originally recognized by British colonial authorities. Chiefs face fewer constraints and less political competition in chiefdoms with fewer ruling families. We show that places with fewer ruling families have significantly worse development outcomes today - in particular, lower rates of educational attainment, child health, non-agricultural employment and asset ownership. We present evidence that variation in the security of property rights in land is a potential mechanism. Paradoxically we also show that in chiefdoms with fewer ruling families the institutions of chiefs' authority are more highly respected among villagers, and measured social capital is higher. We argue that these results reflect the capture of civil society organizations by chiefs.
Acemoglu, D.; Reed, T.; Robinson, J.A. Chiefs: Economic Development and Elite Control of Civil Society in Sierra Leone. (2013) 55 pp. [NBER Working Paper No. 18691]