Is Africa too late for ‘late development’? Gerschenkron south of the Sahara

No. 23/2015

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Gareth Austin


This essay presents an economic history perspective on prospects for industrialization in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Gerschenkron-Amsden ‘late development’/‘late industrialization’ approach has valuable insights for Africa, but is best set within Sugihara’s longer-term, non-Eurocentric framework of very long-term ‘paths’ of development, which respond to particular factor endowments with characteristic choices of technique and institution. Most of Africa has been labour-scarce until relatively recently, and accordingly showed a preference for land-extensive development, seeking to maximize returns to labour rather than land. The same resource conditions suggest that Africa was never likely to have moved directly from handicrafts to modern manufacturing without an intervening phase of specialization in primary products. But Africa’s resource ratios have changed radically in recent decades, towards labour abundance plus much greater human capital formation. This greatly increases the chance that industrialization, initially labour-intensive, can take off in at least some African economies, with state support.

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