Skip to content

Income Inequality in French West Africa: Building Social Tables for Pre-Independence Senegal and Ivory Coast

Guido Alfani
Federico Tadei University of Barcelona


Sub-Saharan Africa is home today to some of the most unequal countries in the world, in Southern and Central Africa, as well as others that are close to the world average, in Western Africa. Yet, there is no consensus regarding the historical factors that led to such a situation. Given limited data on income distribution during colonial times, we do not know whether present-day inequality patterns can be traced back to the colonial period and which role was played by colonial institutions. Most of our knowledge comes from information on British colonies, while territories subjected to other colonial powers are much less well known. To address this gap, we analyze trends in income inequality for colonies in French West Africa, building social tables for Senegal and Ivory Coast during the last decades of colonial rule. We find that income inequality was high during the colonial period, because of the huge income differential between Africans and European settlers (especially in Senegal) and of high inequality within the African population (especially in the Ivory Coast). Nevertheless, it tended to reduce during colonial rule – but the trend inverted after independence. Our findings cast in a new light the connection between colonialism, extractive institutions, high inequality and inequality extraction ratios.