Jack Paine 
Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Rochester

Political Legacies of European Colonialism:

Democracy and Civil War

My second main project examines political legacies of European colonial rule. It focuses on three explanatory factors: European settlers, British colonial rule, and pre-colonial kingdoms. These papers focus either on Africa or on a broad non-European sample. The main findings are:

  • African countries with ethnic groups organized as pre-colonial states faced higher prospects for ethnic civil war and coups after independence. 
  • Highly unequal landholding patterns in colonies with European settler minorities created incentives to prevent franchise expansion. This contributed to anti-colonial wars and externalized civil wars.
  • Disaggregating democracy into contestation and participation components, (a) a potentially beneficial democratic legacy of European settlers—transplanting representative political institutions—is confined to British colonies, and (b) sizable European settler minorities almost always resisted enfranchising the majority.
  • On average, British colonies—both settler and non-settler regimes—were more likely to experience democracy at independence, but this effect faded over time because the British temporary advantage derived largely from better-managed decolonization rather than from deep cultural differences.

Redistributive Political Transitions:

Minority Rule and Liberation Wars in Colonial Africa

Conditionally accepted, Journal of Politics


Abstract: Does economic inequality and fear of redistribution affect prospects for political transitions? This article argues that tensions over economic redistribution in European settler colonies was an important contributor to resisted enfranchisement and liberation wars in colonial Africa. In settler colonies, Europeans monopolized the best agricultural land and secured their economic advantages by blocking franchise extensions—also creating conditions for liberation wars. Statistical evidence from Africa during the decolonization era demonstrates that larger European settler population shares covary with smaller franchises and with more frequent colonial liberation wars. To account for the endogeneity of European settlement, the article introduces a novel instrument that measures climatic and other land suitability factors that affected where Europeans could settle. The instrumental variable estimates more directly support the causal implications of European settlers.

Ethnic Violence in Africa:

Destructive Legacies of Pre-Colonial States


Abstract: Despite endemic ethnic violence in post-colonial Africa, minimal research has analyzed historical causes of regional variance in civil wars and military coups. This paper argues that ethnic differences gained heightened political salience in countries with an ethnic group organized as a pre-colonial state (PCS). Combining this insight with a model on post-colonial rulers’ tradeoff between coups and civil wars implies PCS groups and other groups in their country should more frequently participate in ethnic violence. Regression evidence using original data on pre-colonial African states demonstrates that ethnic groups in countries with at least one PCS group have participated in either ethnic civil wars or coups more frequently than ethnic groups in other countries, with the modal type of violence for different groups mediated by how pre-colonial statehood affected ethnopolitical inclusion. Before 1989, 34 of 35 ethnic groups that participated in major civil wars belonged to countries with a PCS group.  

​Did British Colonialism Promote Democracy?

Divergent Inheritances and Diminishing Legacies 

with Alexander Lee

Under review


Abstract: Although many scholars have argued that British colonial rule promoted post-independence democracy, there has been considerable debate over the robustness of this result and its causes. We provide novel evidence that the relationship follows a strong temporal pattern. Former British colonies were considerably more democratic than other countries immediately following independence, but subsequent convergence in democracy levels has largely eliminated these differences in the post-Cold War period. Pre-colonial traits, other colonial influences, and post-colonial factors cannot account for this pattern. Departing from conventional political science theories, we argue for the importance of divergent policy approaches to decolonization by European powers. Britain more consistently treated democratic elections as a prerequisite for gaining independence, leading to higher initial levels of democracy. However, in many British colonies these policies did not reflect differences in social or institutional support for democracy, leading to mean reversion and convergence over time. 

What Were the Political Effects of Decolonization? 

with Alexander Lee

Under review

Abstract: Considerable scholarship has argued that most varieties of European colonial rule negatively affected many social and political outcomes. Did these outcomes improve after colonial rule ended? We examine the effects of internal autonomy and of gaining independence on democracy, internal conflict, government revenues, and economic development using a fixed effects panel design. Democracy levels increased sharply during the internal autonomy period immediately before independence. However, conflict, state revenue, and income levels exhibit no systematic differences before or after independence. The results are similar when taking into account varieties of colonial institutions and the endogenous timing of independence. Except for democratic gains, the overall findings—juxtaposed with existing research—suggest that decolonization was less politically consequential than the heterogeneous long-term effects of colonial rule on institutions and social patterns. 

A Class Act: Colonial European Settlers and Democratic Resistance


Abstract: Whereas recent political economy research shows evidence that colonial European settlers promoted post-colonial democracy, class-based theories of democracy expect sizable overseas European settlements to undermine democracy prospects by creating a landed class. This paper presents a unified theoretical framework for studying democratic contestation and participation, yielding three hypotheses: Only British settler colonies should tend to exhibit beneficial contestation effects (H1), and sizable European minorities should strategically disfranchise non-Europeans (H2)—which could also undermine contestation (H3). Statistical analysis of data on elected  legislatures and franchise size during colonial rule support these hypotheses, in addition to qualitative evidence from Africa, the British Caribbean, and Iberian America. By contrast, a broad post-independence sample exhibits a null correlation between colonial European population share and aggregate democracy scores in theoretically relevant specifications.

Systemic Polarization and Externalized Civil War:

Evidence from Post-World War II Africa 

with Philip Roessler

Abstract: Do international factors such as rivalries cause externalized civil wars—those involving external intervention—or do domestic civil war spillovers cause these rivalries? This paper addresses this fundamental endogeneity problem. The theory highlights domestic origins of rivalries and of international systemic polarization: divergent ideological preferences reinforced by strategic considerations create incentives to support allies in other countries. We test the theoretical implications in post-World War II Africa. European settler regimes polarized the regional system by opposing African liberation movements. Furthermore, climatic and other geographic conditions greatly influenced Europeans’ settlement areas, creating a plausible instrument for estimating the effect of systemic polarization. In instrumented and non-instrumented regressions, European settler regimes correlate strongly and positively with externalized civil war onset and explain which rebel groups receive external support. Case evidence demonstrates that patterns of support for liberation and anti-liberation forces are consistent with theoretical predictions.