From coast to hinterland. Fiscal state formation in British and French West Africa, c. 1880-1960

E.H.P. Frankema, M. van Waijenburg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter contrasts and compares the ways different colonial states in West Africa developed local fiscal capacity. We show that per capita revenues were higher in the more commercialised coastal export economies than in remote parts of the interior. We argue that British and French approaches to fiscal expansion differed partly because opportunities to tax trade were lower in French West Africa, where a larger share of the revenues were drawn from direct taxes, usually in combination with mandatory labour services or forced cultivation programmes. The imposition of a federal system in the French-ruled territories created tighter financial ties between the AOF and France than were seen in the British colonies, who enjoyed larger scale advantages in revenue collection based on higher population densities and lower barriers to transport and communication. Despite these differences, all fiscal regimes remained too weak to function as a solid basis for sovereign debt creation by the time of independence. This put the post-colonial states of West Africa in a precarious situation, especially when world market prices for their export commodities dropped in the 1970s, while interest rates on public debt shot up in the 1980s.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFiscal Capacity and the Colonial State in Asia and Africa, 1850-1960
Subtitle of host publicationStudies in economic history
EditorsE. Frankema, A. Booth
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9781108665001
ISBN (Print)9781108494267
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • British West Africa
  • Fiscal Capacity
  • French West Africa
  • Geography
  • Public Debt


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