Abstract

The African Commodity Trade Database (ACTD) aims to stimulate and deepen research on African and global economic history. The database provides export and import series at product level for more than two and a half centuries of African trade (1730-2010). This article in-troduces potential users to some of the major questions that can be explored with African commodity trade data, as well as the sources, structure and limitations of the dataset. The current version of the ACTD is downloadable from the data repository of the African Economic History Network (www.aehnetwork.org/data-research) and will be regularly updated with new data.

Abstract

Sub-Saharan Africa’s recent economic boom has raised hopes and expectations to lift the regions’ ‘bottom millions’ out of poverty by 2030. How realistic is that goal? We approach this question by comparing the experiences of three front-runners of region-specific development trajectories – Britain’s capital-intensive, Japan’s labour-intensive, and Ghana’s land-extensive growth path –, highlighting some historical analogies that are relevant for, but often overlooked in the current ‘Africa rising’ debate. We draw particular attention to Africa’s demographic boom and the possibilities of a transition to labour-intensive export-led industrialization. Although our exercise in diachronic comparative history offers little hope for poverty eradication by 2030, we do see broadened opportunities for sustained African economic growth in the longer-term.

Abstract

This study presents a new dataset of African trade over the long nineteenth century (1808-1939) We show that sub-Saharan Africa experienced a terms of trade boom comparable to other parts of the ‘global periphery’ up to the mid-1880s; with an exceptionally sharp rise in the five decades before the Berlin conference (1835-1885) followed by a prolonged decline. Using disaggregated trade and price data, we show that West Africa was far more important for French imperial trade than for British imperial trade, and that the terms of trade for West African commodities exported to France peaked in the 1880s. This revises the view that the West African scramble occurred when its main export markets were in decline, and is consistent with French initiative in the scramble for West Africa.

Abstract

This paper reviews the available evidence on post-war trends in Dutch private wealth inequality using a range of scattered sources. Wealth tax records suggest a substantial decline in inequality to the 1970s and, more tentatively, a gradual rise thereafter. In the post-1990 years, Gini-coefficients of private wealth inequality range from 0.8 to 0.9, which is at the high end of the international comparison. Such high levels of private wealth inequality contrast with relatively low levels of net income inequality; a paradox that the Netherlands share with other Northern European welfare states. We hypothesise that publicly funded life-time income security limits the wealth-formation by ordinary Dutch households, while the redistributive taxes required to finance this system are targeting income rather than wealth.

Abstract

The renaissance of African economic history in the past decade has produced a range of new data and approaches that stimulate deeper insights into the long-term social and economic development of Africa. Some of these data and approaches are not just promising, but also problematic. We engage with a recent article by Meier zu Selhausen and Weisdorf (2016) to show how selection biases in the use of Anglican parish registers may provoke overly optimistic accounts of European influences on Africa’s schooling revolution and associated opportunities of gender emancipation. Confronting their dataset – drawn from the marriage registers of the Anglican ‘Namirembe Cathedral’ in Kampala – with Uganda’s 1991 census, we show that trends in literacy and numeracy of people born in Kampala lagged half a century behind those who wedded in Namirembe Cathedral, and that the gender gap widened for a much longer period. We run a regression analysis showing that unequal access to schooling along lines of gender and ethnicity was pervasive throughout the colonial era and argue that European colonial influences did not much to alleviate gender inequality, but instead reconfigured its nature. We also argue that unequal opportunities were sustained through a political coalition of the British colonial administration with the Buganda Kingdom. This paper thus calls for a more sensitive treatment of African realities in the evaluation of European colonial legacies and a critical approach towards the use of new sources and approaches.

Abstract

To what extent did the 18th century intensification of the trans-Atlantic slave trade boost commercial agriculture in the coastal areas of West Africa? Exploring the provisioning strategies of 187 British, French, Dutch and Danish slave voyages conducted between 1681 and 1807, we call for a major downward adjustment of available estimates of the slave trade induced demand impulse. We show that during the 18th century, an increasing share of the foodstuffs required to feed African slaves were taken on board in Europe instead of West Africa. We also document considerable variation in provisioning strategies among slave trading nations and across main regions of slave embarkation. We explain these trends and variation in terms of the relative (seasonal) security of European versus African food supplies, the falling relative costs of European provisions and the increasing risks in the late 18th century trade, putting a premium on faster embarkation times.

Abstract

This paper comments on studies that aim to quantify the long-term economic effects of historical European settlement across the globe. We argue for the need to properly conceptualize ‘colonial settlement’ as an endogenous development process shaped by the interaction between prospective settlers and indigenous peoples. We conduct three comparative case studies in West, East and Southern Africa, showing that the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of colonial settlement critically depended on colonial government policies arranging European farmer’s access to local land, but above all, local labour resources. These policies were shaped by the clashing interests of African farmers and European planters, in which colonial governments did not necessarily, and certainly not consistently, abide to settler demands, as is often assumed.

Abstract

There is a tight historical connection between endemic labour scarcity and the rise of coercive labour market institutions in former African colonies. This paper explores how European mining companies in the Belgian Congo and Northern Rhodesia secured scarce supplies of African labour, by combining coercive labour recruitment practices with considerable investments in living standards. By reconstructing internationally comparable real wages we show that copper mine workers lived at barebones subsistence in the 1910s-1920s, but experienced rapid welfare gains from the mid-1920s onwards, to become among the best paid manual labourers in Sub-Saharan Africa from the 1940s onwards. We investigate how labour stabilization programs raised welfare conditions of mining worker families (e.g. medical care, education, housing quality) in the Congo, and why these welfare programs were more hesitantly adopted in Northern Rhodesia. By showing how solutions to labour scarcity varied across space and time we stress the need for dynamic conceptualizations of colonial institutions, as a counterweight to their oft supposed persistence in the historical economics literature.

Abstract

How profitable were foreign investments in plantation agriculture in the Netherlands Indies during the late colonial era? We use a new dataset of monthly quoted stock prices and dividends of international companies at the Brussels stock exchange to estimate the returns to investment in tropical agriculture (1919–1938). We adopt the Dimson–March–Staunton method to compute real geometric annual average rates of return and assess our estimates in an international comparative perspective. We find that returns to colonial FDI in the Netherlands Indies during 1919–1928 were impressive (14.3 %), being almost 3 percentage points higher than the world average. In the following decade 1929–1938 fortunes reversed, with a rate of return of -2.8 % compared to a world average of 2.2 %. Over the entire period the returns to colonial FDI (5.4 % in 1919–1938) were about a factor 2.5 higher than returns to investment in the Dutch domestic economy (2.1 % in 1920–1939). We argue that these returns should be interpreted in a colonial context of systematic labour repression, but that they may also partly reflect a higher risk-premium of investments in colonial commodities.

Abstract

This chapter reviews the ‘long twentieth-century’ development of ‘modern’ manufacturing in Sub-Saharan Africa from colonization to the present. We argue that classifying Africa generically as a ‘late industrializer’ is inaccurate. To understand the distinctively African pattern of manufacturing growth, we focus our discussion on the dynamic interplay between the region’s specific endowment structures, global economic relationships and government policies. We conclude that the case of Sub-Saharan Africa is best characterized as interrupted industrial growth instead of sustained convergence on world industrial leaders. This is partly because, until very recently, the factor endowments made it very costly for states to pursue industrialization; and partly because successive rulers, colonial and post-colonial, have rarely had both the capacity to adopt and the dedication to sustain policies that modified the region’s existing comparative advantage in primary production, by using their fiscal and regulatory powers effectively to promote industrialization.