Research Projects

Is Poverty Destiny? Exploring Long Term Changes in African Living Standards in Global Perspective

Africa has recently become a new frontier area in research on the historical roots of global inequality. This NWO VIDI project seeks to broaden the empirical basis for long term African welfare analysis using previously unexplored colonial archives and focusing on understudied areas and time periods.

While there is consensus that African economies, to various degrees, expanded in response to international market integration during the colonial era, there is widespread disagreement on the question to which degree ordinary Africans actually benefitted as well as to which extent the colonial era represented a break with pre-colonial economic and political developments, particularly during the 19th century. Exploring historical archives with data on African trade, rural production systems, commodity prices, missionary activities and colonial government accounts, this research project seeks to develop a long-term comparative perspective on the development of African living standards in British West Africa, British Southern Africa and Portuguese Africa.

The research team led by Professor Ewout Frankema consists of two PhD students, Angus Dalrymple-Smith and Kleoniki Alexopoulou, one Post-graduate researcher, dr. Dacil Juif, and a number of rotating research assistants. The project contains a strategy to disseminate its results to non-academic audiences and seeks to support the development of African research capacity in collaboration with international partners united in the African Economic History Network. The project is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and is scheduled for 2013-2018.

Is Poverty Destiny? A New Empirical Foundation for Long-Term African Welfare Analysis

This ERC Starting Grant project aims to create a new empirical foundation for the study of long-term African welfare development, in order to provide new impetus to the debate on the root causes of African poverty.

What is missing is a systematic account of long-term welfare development that connects the colonial era to the post-colonial era on the basis of temporally consistent and internationally comparable living standard indicators. The lack of such an empirical foundation has left important research questions unresolved. Firstly, did African income levels fall behind those of the rest of the world during the deep economic and political crises of the late 20th century or long before that? Secondly, to what extent did ordinary Africans benefit from the expansion of colonial trade and foreign investment between 1880 and 1960? Thirdly, to what extent has African welfare growth been constrained by structural development impediments, such as adverse geographical conditions?

The project make use of the largely unexploited wage and price statistics from colonial archival sources and connects these to existing post-colonial wage and price series, in order to compare long-term trajectories of African welfare development to those of other world regions, using the available datasets on historical living standards for Europe, Asia and Latin America. The observed intra-African variation in these trajectories will be explored by integrating the key sources of long-term economic growth (geography, institutions, trade) into a single analytical framework.

The research team led by Professor Ewout Frankema consists of two PhD students, Michiel de Haas and Kostadis Papaioannou, one Post-graduate researcher, dr. Pieter Woltjer, and a number of rotating research assistants.

This project is part of the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme, ERC Grant Agreement nยบ 313114 and is scheduled for 2012-2017.