Frontiers in African Economic History

Frontiers in African Economic History – AEHN’s blog – diffuses research-based content and promotes discussion concerning the study of long-term African development. The blog provides authors a platform to disseminate easily accessible summaries (700 words) of their recently published research (articles, book chapters, book reviews, theses), publishes interviews with key scholars in the field, and discusses relevant developments. We welcome blog contributions and suggestions. Please contact the editors (Felix Meier zu SelhausenMichiel de Haas and Kate Frederick) to discuss possible posts at: [email protected].

Labour Control and the Establishment of Profitable Settler Agriculture in Colonial Kenya, c. 1920-45

This study links the expansion of settler agriculture with the introduction of policies that repressed African agricultural earnings. We do not find support for the ‘classical’ theory that declines in African agriculture combined with taxation can explain the observed rise in settler agriculture in colonial Kenya. Instead, we argue that an emerging labor control regime enabled settlers to raise their profit share.
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The Land–Labour Hypothesis in a Settler Economy: Wealth, Labour and Household Composition on the South African Frontier

It has been argued that reduced land sizes in pre-industrial rural societies caused a decline in fertility through lower demand for family labour. This paper uses newly transcribed data to investigate this relationship in a closing land frontier context: the Graaff-Reinet district in the eastern Cape Colony, 1800-28. In contrast to previous research, we find that the number of children present in the farming households increases as land availability shrinks.
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Africa’s Clientelist Budget Policies Revisited: Public Expenditure and Employment in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, 1960–2010

Did independent African governments prioritize job creation in the public sector to the detriment of economic growth? Newly assembled data on public expenditure and employment in three East African countries since 1960 sheds light on external constraints to fiscal space, and suggests that employment growth was short-lived and to a large extent ‘financed’ through a reduction in real wages.
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The Long-Term Effects of Extractive Institutions: Evidence from Trade Policies in Colonial French Africa

This article investigates the long-term effects of colonial trade monopsonies on the subsequent economic development of French Africa. Using the gap between prices paid to African producers and competitive prices as a measure of rent extraction via monopsonistic policies, I show that the areas of French Africa that suffered larger reductions in producer prices during the colonial period are now relatively poorer.
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Africa Rising in Economic History

Africa is rising in Economic History. The discipline has seen impressive growth over the past decade. Africa has emerged to become a new frontier in research on the historical roots of global inequality. This growing wave seeks to reconstruct various dimensions of long-term development...
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Financing the African Colonial State: Fiscal Capacity Building and Forced Labor

The rapidly expanding literature on historical tax systems has largely overlooked the “invisible” revenue from forced labor practices. Based on a unique dataset for the French African corvée system, I show that the labor tax component of African colonial budgets was often as large as the total cash contributions during the early stages of colonial rule. These pioneering findings underline the central place of forced labor in the fiscal development of colonial Africa.
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African Agricultural Productivity and the Transatlantic Slave Trade: Evidence from Senegambia in the Nineteenth Century

This study constitutes a first attempt to compare agricultural productivity on the two sides of the Atlantic during the early modern period, based on a case study from Senegambia. We find agricultural productivity of five studied key commodities to have been significantly lower in this region than in the Americas and elsewhere in the world.
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‘Hail the Census Night’: Trust and Political Imagination in the 1960 Population Census of Ghana

Using the first population census of independent Ghana, this article interrogates the role of statistics in the process of imagining the postcolonial nation-state. It argues that the 1960 population census ‘re-made’ the nation-state by acting as a catalyst of collective practices, visual images and textual representations that reconfigured the relationship between United Nations statistical standards, political iconographies and authoritarian rule.
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An Economic Rationale for the West African Scramble? The Commercial Transition and the Commodity Price Boom of 1835–1885

This paper uses a new trade dataset showing that sub-Saharan Africa experienced a terms of trade boom in the five decades (1835–1885) preceding the European “scramble for Africa” which was comparable to similar export booms in other parts of the “global periphery”. This study revises the view that the scramble for West Africa occurred when its major export markets were in decline and argues that the comparatively larger weight of West Africa in French imperial trade strengthened the rationale for French instead of British initiative in the conquest of the interior.
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Disease and Gender Gaps in Human Capital Investment: Evidence from Niger’s 1986 Meningitis Epidemic

This research studies the impacts of sudden exposure to climate induced disease on gender gaps in human capital investment, by examining the effects of a 1986 meningitis epidemic in Niger. The epidemic reduced years of education for girls relative to boys. A primary mechanism explaining the results is early marriage of girls in exchange for a bride price to manage increased household costs from the epidemic.
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The Territorial Expansion of the Colonial State: Evidence from German East Africa 1890–1909

This article investigates the processes of state penetration in the former colony of German East Africa (1890-1909). Contrary to previous studies – which largely emphasize factors like disease environments, extractive potential or pre-colonial political centralization – we find that geographical patterns of state penetration have been driven by the state’s strategic imperative to solidify control over territory and establish political stability.
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Interview: Emmanuel Akyeampong

Professor Akyeampong, first of all, thank you for delivering a rich and thought-provoking keynote lecture on ‘African Socialism’ at the Annual Meeting 2017 of the AEHN last October in Stellenbosch. You mentioned that this lecture relates to a research project that will culminate in...
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Indian Textiles and Gum Arabic in the Lower Senegal River: Global Significance of Local Trade and Consumers in the Early Nineteenth Century

This paper uses a new set of data to address one of the central questions in African and global economic histories: how West Africa contributed to economies outside the region. From a consumer-led perspective, it argues that, in the first half of the 19th century, consumer behavior in Senegal not only determined a part of the global trade networks that extended from South Asia through Western Europe and reached Africa, but it also influenced textile production in Pondicherry and Western Europe.
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Social Mobility among Christian Africans: Evidence from Anglican Marriage Registers in Uganda, 1895-2011

This paper uses new evidence from Anglican marriage registers to explore Christian African male intergenerational social mobility and elite formation in Uganda. It shows that the colonial era opened new labor opportunities for African converts, enabling them to take large steps up the social ladder regardless of their social origin. A surprisingly fluid labor market, based on meritocratic criteria, gradually undermined traditional chiefs’ social advantages.
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Colonialism or Supersanctions: Sovereignty and Debt in West Africa, 1871-1914

This paper uses new evidence from West Africa to re-examine the ‘empire effect’ in sovereign borrowing before 1914. It finds that British colonies in Africa could indeed borrow at lower cost than independent Liberia. This was not because investors treated all colonies equally, but rather because of a range of imperial interventions which independent countries could not access.
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Colonial State Formation Without Integration: Tax Capacity and Labour Regimes in Portuguese Mozambique (1890s–1970s)

Portuguese Mozambique consisted of three distinct zones, which fit Samir Amin’s (1972) categorization into 'regions of colonial influence'. Different labour systems operated in the three geographic zones since early colonization, and these differences were maintained and exploited under colonial rule, also for the purpose of tax collection.
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European Trade, Colonialism, and Human Capital Accumulation in Senegal, Gambia and Western Mali, 1770-1900

This paper shows that the development of human capital in today’s Senegal, Gambia, and Western Mali between 1770 and 1900 was linked to European trade, slavery, and early colonialism. The Atlantic slave trade increased regional divergence, but this pattern was reinforced by the response of West Africans to the economic incentives provided by peanut trading since the mid-19th century.
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Slave ship provisioning in the long 18th century. A boost to West African commercial agriculture?

This paper investigates whether the provisioning of slave ships provided a boost to West African commercial agriculture. It finds that European ships took on board far more foodstuffs from their home ports than has previously been suspected, meaning that with one possible exception, the slave trade did not stimulate the development of export agriculture in the region.
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Interview: Patrick Manning

Patrick, you began your illustrious career in African economic history in the late 1960s. How has the field evolved over time? I completed my PhD in 1969 and published my first book, on Dahomey 1640-1960, in 1982. The field was then small, interdisciplinary, and...
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Witchcraft Beliefs and the Erosion of Social Capital

Belief in witchcraft, broadly defined as the ability to use supernatural techniques to harm others or acquire wealth, is a deep-rooted cultural phenomenon which still represents a salient feature of daily life in many parts of the African continent and beyond. While witchcraft beliefs...
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Interview: Ewout Frankema

Ewout, you were trained as a historian and economist and wrote your PhD thesis on inequality in Latin America. What made you invest so much of your professional energy in African economic history? A better understanding of the nature and historical origins of global...
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