In this paper we take for granted that the poverty of Sub-Saharan Africa is to a large part explained by its political and economic institutions. As citizens Africans do not have the incentives to save and invest, as politicians they do not have the incentive to provide public goods. We focus on the issue of how Africa developed such institutions. Historically, no society had the types of institutions required for modern economic growth, though a few had elements of them for quite long periods. Growth arose when institutional transitions took place. We argue that the historical dynamics of institutions in Africa have been different. Processes of state formation seem to have been delayed relative to Eurasia, and state institutions appear to have been intensely absolutist and patrimonial. These initial institutions interacted in a perverse way with a series of shocks that hit Africa, in particular the slave trade in the early modern period, and colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Africa countries emerged at independence with a complex path dependent set of institutions that were probably even worse than those which they had at the time of colonization. It was these that precipitated authoritarianism, sustained economic decline and reinforced the poverty we see in Africa today.