Guido Alfani and Federico Tadei
Today, income inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa is exceptionally high. In this paper, we study whether present-day inequality can be traced back to the colonial period by reconstructing income distributions in a sample of representative colonies. To do so, we use data from colonial records to build new social tables for French colonies in West and Central Africa and we combine them with available information on British colonies in East and Southern Africa. We find that inequality in Africa is not a recent phenomenon. Income inequality was extremely high during the colonial period, in particular because of the huge income differential between Africans and European settlers. Nevertheless, it tended to reduce over time and the post-colonial period is characterized by much lower inequality. Interestingly, the decline of inequality is not necessarily a consequence of independence: the trends toward reduction started under colonial rule.