Chapter 2What is Development?

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Ewout Frankema


This chapter discusses various definitions of the term ‘development’. It explains how ‘human development’ is conceptualized in the development literature and how it differs from economic, political or cultural developments. The chapter pays particular attention to Sen’s view of development as freedom. The chapter then proceeds to discusses the role of institutions in development and explores the link between human development and the so-called ‘poverty trap’. The second part of the chapter focuses on the relationship between economic growth and economic development and situates long-term economic development of Africa in a global comparative perspective. The ultimate goal is to introduce students into the various meanings given to the term ‘development’, in order to establish some common conceptual ground for later chapters in the textbook.


Frankema, Ewout (2022). “What is Development?”, In Ewout Frankema, Ellen Hillbom, Ushehwedu Kufakurinani and Felix Meier zu Selhausen (eds.), The History of African Development: An Online Textbook for a New Generation of African Students and Teachers. African Economic History Network E-Book.


  1. Thank you for this chapter. I’d like to point out some typos:
    – The phrase “Nobel-price” is used in two places where “Nobel-prize” is meant.
    – the word “peopling” should probable be replaced with “people”.

  2. The comparison to Asia and Latin America growth is clear. Cash crops and natural resources production and export have not competed with manufacturing production and exports of those other continents. The graphs show the differences well.

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