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Convict Labor and the Costs of Colonial Infrastructure: Evidence from Prisons in British Nigeria, 1920-1938

Archibong, Belinda; Obikili, Nonso

There is a small, but growing literature on the role of domestic labor coercion in colonial revenue raising activities in Africa. This paper seeks to understand the role of labor coercion in fiscal capacity building in Europe's African colonies. We estimate the value gained by authorities from labor coercion and compare this to other colonial expenditure. We estimate this using evidence from British colonial Nigeria. We use historical datasets on wages, prisoners, and convict labor from 1920 through 1938 to examine the evolution of value gained from labor coercion during the period. Our results show that coerced convict labor made up a significant part of colonial revenues and expenditures. The results provide insight on the costs of colonial infrastructure and the effects of the colonial revenue imperative on African populations.

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