WP100: The trans-Atlantic slave trade and the evolution of mistrust in Africa: An empirical investigation


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Working papers
Nunn, Nathan and Leonard Wantchekon

Trust is increasingly perceived as having significant effect on trade, public goods provision, conflict resolution and even democratic consolidation. In this paper we investigate the historical determinants of trust within Africa, by testing for a long-term impact of the intensity of the slave trades on the level of interpersonal trust and trust in local institutions. We find that the number of slaves taken from an ethnic group between 1400 and 1900 is negatively correlated with how much individuals from that group trust others, especially those closest to the respondent, such as co-ethnics, relatives, and neighbours. A history of slaving is negatively correlated with trust of governments, and this effect is stronger for local governments than for national governments. This is true even controlling for individual’s perception of government's performance. We confirm that the effect of slave exports on trust is casual by using the historic distance between the geographic location of ethnic groups and the coast as an instrument for the number of slaves taken from that group.