Sub-Saharan Africa sick of colonization?

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Black pre-colonial Africa in unison with the world?[edit | edit source]

Is there a gap with other major regions, if so is it significant, are there authors who think there is a gap?

Why is it difficult to assess the level of pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa? There are two reasons:

  • there is a lack of a sufficiently rich and varied literature: there are unknowns and uncertainties from sources that are scarce and fragmented.
  • today Africa south of the Sahara has been experiencing difficulties since the end of colonization: the question of the historical origins of current difficulties is a very delicate issue.

Sources are rare and this rarity is relative to other regions of the world, this relative scarcity of sources and especially written sources will feed a whole series of myths that degrade Africa. Those who have shaped these myths have fallen into the trap of prejudice.

One myth is that of immobility which is the most tenacious of all flourishing during the second half of the 19th century, including Adam Smith who places most of Africa in the historical movement: « all the internal regions of Africa seem to have always been in the same barbaric and unpoliced state where we find them today ».

For Smith, there are vast regions of the world, of which the black continent is the best example, unable to escape from a situation of centuries-old stagnation.

Hegel argues that Africa is not a part of the historical world that shows neither movement nor motion, what we understand of Africa is what has no history and has not blossomed, to be presented on the threshold of universal history.

Colonial literature will present Africa before the whites as a continent shirking from history and its inhabitants plunged into immoral times of stagnation.

From a certain point on, we are going to contrast this racist, Eurocentric vision with another, which is the mechanism of pendulum movements from one extreme to the other. The vision of an immobile and barbaric Africa will be combated from the 1950s and 1960s onwards with an unqualified glorification of the African past. African chauvinism will be opposed to the scornful racism of the Europeans.

At the time of decolonization, there would be a desire to decolonize the history of the black continent, and in their legitimate concern to do so, some authors would sink not into the pitfall of prejudice, but into the whirlwind of remorse. These authors will inscribe high civilizations in the African past where the evidence is lacking.

Against this history, there is a counter-history written for the needs of populations submitted by the colonizer, written in search of a rest of self, for some time these distorting effects have been diminishing. Everyone tries to go beyond certain evidences.

  • What are the evidences of a late historiography?

The first evidence is that the African peoples have a long and rich history like the others, the second is that the black continent has been home to original civilizations as valuable as the others. What the past of the African continent reveals beyond gaps and uncertainties is nothing inferior and mysterious, but it is a story of successes and failures, disasters, rebirth and achievement that is not necessarily different from any of the major human families.

Some authors speak of backwardness, marginalization, mismatch, others believe that in the modern era the gaps between sub-Saharan Africa and other entities are being narrowed. This is still the case today.

For those authors who believe that the gaps are being reduced, in the first phase of discovery in the second half of the 16th century, Europeans believed that in Africa they found powerful states and merchants of trading partners that should be treated as equals.

Map of the main trans-Saharan trade routes between the years 1000 and 1500. The main gold-bearing regions are indicated in brown.

Venice is urging Italian merchants to go and do business with the King of Timbuktu and Mali, there is no doubt that they will be well received there with their ships and goods, well treated and given the favours they ask for. These businessmen of the second half of the sixteenth century, who were encouraged to trade with distant partners, can say to themselves that in Europe and Africa there is hardly any distortion. In other words, sub-Saharan Africa would stand comparison with other major regions, it would be able to serve as a valid interlocutor for any partner in the international framework.

When these Italian traders talk about sub-Saharan Africa, they do so with the support of a region that is West Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa cannot be considered in a general way. It will be necessary to go down to the level of regions where differences appear; Western Africa bears comparison much better than Central or Southern Africa.

Today, there are differences in level over sub-Saharan Africa due to the state of the sources.

We should not generalize for such a large and varied continent, we will see regions appearing in different categories when we make a typology later.

It should be noted that in Africa there have been remarkable entities emerging in various places and which have reached a high degree of civilization, which is attested by a cluster of sources, because probably these entities do not manage to go beyond certain limits, they decline and disappear.

  • Limits appear rather quickly, the question is why?

Before the 16th and 17th centuries, there were political entities in Africa south of the Sahara that federated several territories: they are fairly extensive state constructions that do not have the size of Asian empires, nor do they have a demographic size such as those known in Eurasia, but they are entities that above all reach a level. At one time they were poles of civilizational excellence.

  • Why do these entities, in some remarkable respects, fail to surpass certain limits that are at a rather low threshold?

The Sudanese empires are located in West Africa, it is not the present Sudan, but the Sudanese empires developed in an area called the savannah. You have to go from the Atlantic west coast of what is now Senegal to the Red Sea in the east below the Saharan strip.

The savannah is between the desert and the forest, with the forest zone starting at the level of Benin: on this long strip, several large political formations are being set up. This Sudan is called medieval Sudan, for the Arabs it is the country of the blacks.

We are going to see the empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. The empires of ancient Sudan often don't say much.

These three empires were chosen because they amazed the Arab travellers. The only documentary traces we have written are the testimonies of travellers' visions that they put into translated accounts.

These empires amazed the Arab travellers by the richness of their cities, by the reputation of their scholars, there are pockets of highly literate populations, the quality of their architecture.

Map of the empire of Ghana at its peak.

The first of the Sudanese empires is Ghana, these empires are made up of small entities united and organized around a central power. The capital of the empire is Koumbi which is located in the south-east of present-day Mauritania, it is a city built largely of stone. Ghana reached its apogee probably in the 9th and 10th century, due in part to its fame and fortune in gold.

Before precious metals were sourced in America, they were sourced in medieval Sudan.

Ghana owes its prosperity in large part to gold and more specifically to the control of gold deposits, but it also owes its loss to it. In 1055, Berbers from the north came to plunder and convert, succeeding so well that Ghana collapsed in 1076.

Map of the empire of Mali at its apogee.

Ghana was absorbed by the empire of Mali founded around the beginning of the 13th century, which brought together different peoples under the same authority in the Niger Valley over an area probably stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to Gao.

Mali is an agropastoral empire known for its large supplies of gold around the Mediterranean. The empire of Mali benefits from revenues that are not derived from agricultural surpluses.

The Aztec and Inca empires in the same way as the Mughal Empire were characterized by the fact that they had an agriculture capable of generating large surpluses, being the main source of income and allowing the elites to stay in place.

For Mali, the socio-economic structures are a great difficulty for agriculture in order to generate large surpluses, the elites have to go elsewhere to obtain resources that will remain in place.

Mali's revenues are derived from the monopoly, like Ghana's, of gold sources in the south, but also from the control of salt deposits in the north. Mali also controls the caravan trails, basically, the empire of Mali controls the transport and evacuation network of its products which are export products.

Thanks to these revenues, the monarchs of Mali, some of whom are very famous, finance a policy of major works and patronage. In Timbuktu, Djénné and Gao, they have built mosques and palaces and opened schools and libraries. According to one author, these cities were the Milan and Nuremberg of medieval Sudan, much less magnificent but rich, powerful and imposing for their time and their country.

From the 1360s Mali began to fragment by centrifugal forces, in 1453 the Tuaregs took Timbuktu.

Map of the Songhaï empire in the 16th century.

The Songhai Empire made Gao its capital and for about a century from the end of the 15th century to the end of the 16th century collapsed in 1581 under the blows of invaders from Morocco. It is considered that by the end of the 16th century, the time of great empires was over in West Africa. It is Arab expansionism that will have broken the vitality of Sudanese civilizations.

From the end of the 16th century, this region entered a long phase of particularly acute political and social crises. Later in the nineteenth century, attempts were made to recreate large inter-African groups, but they were thwarted at that time, especially in the second half of the nineteenth century by European expansionism.

  • Why did these entities fail to overcome certain limits?

It is difficult to find criteria to illustrate limits. A first possibility would be to evaluate the lifespan and size of these empires. This first measurement would reveal their relatively ephemeral nature and their rather mediocre size.

We have some indications on the number of inhabitants of the cities. The size of cities in West Africa and the Sudanese empires appear to be relatively small, Gao, Djenne, Timbuktu with a population probably below 50,000.

At the same time, Cortes, when it arrives in present-day Mexico City, the capital of the Aztecs is 300,000. At the beginning of the 16th century the largest cities in the world are in Asia such as Istanbul which during part of the 16th and 17th century is the largest city in the world with 700,000 inhabitants.

The cities are relatively small in size, and the life span of these entities is relatively short.

  • What are the factors that can be retained to explain these relatively low thresholds, given that there are several and that they combine?

These factors are semi-isolation, the hostility of the environment and finally the settlement densities which are low compared to Eurasia.

Relative isolation is the barrier of the Sahara, which for a long time will not isolate sub-Saharan Africa, but set it apart from something that animates the north of the desert. Because of the Sahara, sub-Saharan Africa remains isolated from the movements that animate those high civilisations of the Mediterranean basin, such as Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, which are free to react to each other. Because of its relative isolation, sub-Saharan Africa will remain apart from the invention of writing and the first wave of scientific knowledge and technical progress.

It is not that the barrier of the Sahara is impassable, but it is very difficult, basically, relative isolation refers to the idea of a filter rather than an obstacle, the circulation is difficult of men, goods, ideas, techniques.

Sub-Saharan Africa is far removed from this movement which arose in classical antiquity, of which it has only a blurred knowledge. This does not mean that sub-Saharan Africa cannot engage in development, but it does mean that this development is separate because of this filter and different: beyond the seas of sand and salt water of the oceans, continental Africa is left to forge its own destiny, separate and different.

After the factor of relative isolation often appears that of low population density, in Table 3 are the estimates of the population of the major regions of the world and their surface area.

If we consider the total population of sub-Saharan Africa, we find a range between 40 and 90 million inhabitants, the lower end of this range is 50 million. Around 1500, the population density in sub-Saharan Africa is 3 to 4 times lower than in Eurasia.

Something is preventing, these are all obstacles to a regular and sustained increase in African populations.

In other words, there are conditions that constitute obstacles to such a regular and sustained increase which is the hostility of the environment is the low standard of living, the poverty of the soil in organic elements, the frequency of diseases such as malaria, sleeping sickness, and famines due as much to drought as to political instability.

There is a form of geographical determinism, of course human activity blurs the map of geographical determinism, human groups are capable of blurring these maps. Men are capable of going beyond the limits imposed by the environment.

From the 16th century onwards, food crops from America were adopted, and not only people, goods and diseases crossed the Atlantic, plants travelled in the other direction. These food crops are maize, cassava improving the diet, reducing the risk of famine and allowing an increase in population.

Such developments encourage the formation of states that maintain these developments in order to make them an instrument of their power, but without managing to push this development beyond certain limits, since various factors combine to prevent African agriculture from generating large surpluses. African agriculture is generating surpluses, but not a large one.

  • Which factors combine to produce large surpluses that can be compared with Amerindian or Asian agriculture?

Three factors can be retained: cultivation methods, land tenure, techniques and work tools.

These factors are adapted to the environment, basically, behind this presentation, there is the idea and the conviction that the African farmer is rational. That is to say, given the environment, he makes choices that are rational, opting for certain farming methods, wondering about a certain land tenure, and this farmer uses certain working tools that are adapted to the environment and are part of a rational choice, but these farming methods, these land tenure systems and these farming methods hardly generate the surplus needed to maintain the ruling classes.

The ratio between the extent of land and the number of men to cultivate it in sub-Saharan Africa is that land is abundant but not very fertile and then men are scarce. In such a situation, shifting cultivation, which is an extreme form of extensive agriculture, is the cheapest method in terms of labour costs.

It should also be remembered that in the situation of sub-Saharan Africa, there is a lack of animal or human fertilizer, the range of crops is reduced. In such a situation, long fallow periods are opted for, allowing the land to rest so that it can regenerate. If the land is abundant in relation to the people it bears, if the land is not very fertile then the fallow period will be long; this is called extensive agriculture.

The plots are cultivated and then quickly abandoned to cultivate new land. This type of agriculture was considered by early European observers to be primitive and retarded, considering the prolonged use of land to be absurd.

This method is adapted to ecological conditions, and where these conditions change, farming methods evolve towards more intensive forms of agriculture.

The second factor is land tenure. The lack of private appropriation of land that characterizes this land tenure system reflects the abundance of land, which therefore does not acquire market value. In a system where the land is owned by the group, where the balanced distribution of land is imposed by community institutions, there are few incentives for the intensification of food production and thus the emergence of large agricultural surpluses, so we will speak of subsistence farming.

With regard to the choice of tools and techniques, the plough technique will not be used. Ethiopia is familiar with the plough, its existence is not unknown in West Africa, the non-use of the plough south of the Sahara is explained by its unsuitability.

Rationality reappears, the use of the plough accelerates soil erosion, the soils are fragile. In forest areas, the tsetse fly decimates draught animals. The cost of acquiring the plough is often higher than the expected gains, which makes its use often inappropriate. The instrument used by the African farmer is the hoe, which is a kind of pickaxe with a wide blade.

These cultivation methods, land tenure, tooling and techniques do not produce a significant surplus.

The other factor is the mobility of the populations, who have all the necessary space to escape from political authority. As long as settlement densities remained low, as long as the land carried few men, there was a way to oppose the colonizer's power, which was the fact of moving and leaving, which explained population migrations. Africans of all ages for centuries have crossed the continent in all directions.

The practice of slavery spread mainly within West African States. Slaves were captured during military expeditions in populations bordering ancient Sudan. Slaves are preferred to free labourers since they are rare and difficult to exploit because of their mobility.

Slaves are preferred to free labourers because they are cheaper to acquire and maintain. It should be noted that more and more captives are being assigned to agricultural activities.

From a strictly economic point of view, the disadvantage of slavery lies in the fact that it limits the expansion of the market by concentrating income in the hands of a minority.

The dominant classes find it difficult to derive sufficient resources from the development of land estates to maintain and sustain their hegemony. Since they cannot get their hands on and tax grain surpluses, they will put tariffs on long-distance trade such as gold, salt, ivory, textiles, they will also take spoils from war expeditions. There is revenue mainly from long-distance trade.

These revenues are the basis of the prosperity of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. From this point of view, the slave trade counted as much as gold. Before 1500, that is before the Atlantic trade, the slave trade provided the Mediterranean rim, the Muslim world, the Arabian Peninsula, and sometimes further afield.

During the reign of the emperors of Ghana, Mali and Songhai, men and women deported beyond the Sahara and the Indian Ocean numbered in the millions.

The history of Africa is a history that appears to be that of a continent very early isolated from the Eurasian heartland, a continent with sparse populations ready to move over vast expanses poorly endowed by nature.

But it is also the story of human groups who, as they adapt to their natural environment, transforming it within the limits imposed by geography and climate, there is room for experimentation and change. However, the limits imposed by isolation, hostile environments and low population density will rarely be exceeded.

These limits cannot be crossed easily, since the means to do so will reduce low settlement densities by encouraging extensive agriculture that promotes dispersed land use, maintaining high transport costs and accentuating self-subsistence tendencies.

All this restricts the direct intervention of ruling minorities in agricultural production, hence the importance of levies obtained through war, the slave trade and long-distance trade. The scale of the slave trade before the 16th century reveals that the dominant classes exploited the peasant populations under their authority less than the neighbouring populations. Consequently, the survival of these large entities depends on the uncertain fate of arms, the precarious control of the trading networks, and the fluctuating demand of external markets.

We are therefore dealing with African systems which show great potential, which manage at a certain point to rise to a remarkable level, but whose balance is fragile.

From the 16th century onwards, this balance will be upset under the pressure of external forces. Activities concentrated on the slave trade would multiply the effects of the long-lasting internal factors at the origin of the difficult development of sub-Saharan Africa. Something from the outside will accentuate and multiply, and that is the Atlantic trade organised by Europeans.

On the impact of the slave trade[edit | edit source]

In the African history before the 16th century, given the importance of low population density, the slave trade will accentuate the internal brakes on the economic development of the black continent, but this will vary according to time and region.

It is something that comes from outside and aggravates an internal limiting factor: the slave trade imports millions of young people who are active and weakens Africa from its driving forces.

  • The question we can ask ourselves is an open one: did not the millions of captives on board not remove from certain regions of Africa producers and consumers who, if they had stayed behind, would have contributed more to the establishment of structures conducive to sustainable economic growth?

Socio-political factors have to be considered: the slave trade lasted in several regions for several centuries. This trade gives rise to very serious historical disputes between different human groups. There are the raiders and the raided.

There are the raiders and the raids. There are very serious disputes between different groups, but during decolonization that was put on the back burner, it was necessary to bring together the master and the slave, the seller and the sold, in a perfectly indiscriminate way.

From a certain moment when these countries became independent, the national cement began to crumble in the 1980s. It shatters this facade of unanimity and old wounds are going to be awakened and encourage African descendants of masters and slaves to identify themselves as such and to erode social antagonisms.

Walls of incomprehension are being erected between the peoples who were victims of trafficking and those who practised it. In many African States, the development of a strong national sentiment is hampering democracy and development efforts.

A typology of African colonial economies[edit | edit source]

To see how we got to this point, why the need was felt to categorize African colonial economies and societies into different categories, when one looks at the assessment of the legacy of Western domination, there is a poor performance of African economies after independence.

Many researchers and academics have tried to understand why it is in this region of the world that the worst economic performance has been recorded since the 1960s. The question that has been asked is how much of the poor economic performance can be traced back to the colonial past.

Since the end of the Second World War, three main interpretations can be identified. It is by considering the first two that we will see how the last of these interpretations has been adopted by authors who felt the need to make a classification. The first two interpretations are fairly well known.

1) Liberal/classical argument Emphasizing the contributions of colonization, the argument is based in part on what we saw last time. Proponents of this line of argument point to reduced opportunities for rapid economic growth in pre-colonial tropical Africa.

In other words, they consider the structures that were in place, even if these structures are more complex or sophisticated than old stereotypes that equate these structures with backward ensembles suggest, to be limiting. The limitations are internal, imposed by a hostile environment, a technological gap and the small size of local markets. They are limits that hinder a process of rapid growth.

  • Under such conditions, the initial situation being so characterized, what is needed for African economies to free themselves from such constraints?

They need to be connected to larger markets and also connected to sources of advanced technology. European colonisation did this, it helped to integrate these economies into a dynamic international market.

The idea is that, if, after independence, economic growth is sluggish and slow, it is due to internal brakes and the negligence of national elites.

2) Radical argument From the moment African territories are colonized, they cease to be autonomous entities, they are transformed into satellites of the metropolitan economies according to the needs and interests of the metropolises. This is a form of integration, but it leads to an excessive specialisation in the export of raw, agricultural or mining products, which reduces or even annihilates all possibilities of development for the colonised societies insofar as expatriate firms organise, with the support of the colonial administrations, the transfer abroad of surpluses generated locally by Africans.

At the time of independence, Africans no longer had the capacity to undertake harmonious and autonomous development.

Behind the liberal argument is the idea that colonization prevents forces that are just waiting to be liberated. Once liberated, they will enter a phase of rapid economic growth.

These two arguments have something in common, they give the colonial impact a decisive character:

  • liberal argument: colonization gives an impetus.
  • radical argumentation: colonization causes a blockage.

3) Argumentation of differences Some authors will propose a third way which does not consist in not emphasizing the similarities, the advocates of a third way propose to look for differences.

  • Why, at a certain point in time, is the emphasis placed on differences rather than similarities?

As early as the 1960s, what used to be called the Third World lost its unity, its homogeneity. From that point on, we will be less inclined, like the Liberals, to believe that all it takes is for the colonies to be integrated into the international market for growth with modernizing virtues to be transmitted. In the same way, under the colonial yoke, not all indigenous players lose their autonomy, not everywhere and not entirely. Indigenous actors manage to maintain control over the means of production and capital accumulation.

The differences stem from the fact that the European colonizer will not opt for the same type of settlement in every territory.

The legacy of colonization does not produce the same effects everywhere. This can be seen because ex-colonial Asia does not behave economically from the point of view of growth in the same way as Africa south of the Sahara and Latin America.

While this bloc was supposed to be homogeneous, from the 1960s to the 1970s, entities were distinguished by disparities and gaps. So the colonial episode was not the same everywhere.

Not only was what was put in place by the colonizer not uniform, but also the pre-colonial structures were different.

As regards the economic performance of sub-Saharan Africa, it is still below that of ex-colonial Asia, which has the best performance, and in between is Latin America.

As the Third World can no longer be represented as a monolith, it is necessary to question the possible role of the colonial past in regional economic divergences. Attention will be given to the dissimilarities and less to the similarities of colonial situations.

This interest is shown in particular by historians specialising in sub-Saharan Africa, leading to differences in the presence of Europeans on the black continent.

This marks a distance from liberals and radicals. In contrast to those who see colonisation as either a decisive impetus or a blockade, this group of historians does not see European colonisation as a break with the past. They will nuance the impact of colonisation.

This nuance appears above all in their way of categorizing.

The typology will divide Africa south of the colonial Sahara into different territories gathered in groups compared to each other. All these territories are formally dominated and subject to the colonial yoke, but the degree of domination varies from place to place.

  • Why should the impact of colonial domination not be exaggerated?

It should not be exaggerated as long as in certain regions the subjugated Africans still manage to keep the initiative and retain a certain power of control over their destiny.

The Europeans have therefore not been able to give Africa's history an entirely new direction. Colonial domination would not have the economic, dramatic and penetrating impact that was assumed everywhere. Such a point of view strips the European of his clothes of modernisers supposed to uproot Africa from its backwardness through the disruption of supposedly archaic traditional structures.

For this group of historians, emerging from underdevelopment can no longer be reduced to the total reconversion of socio-economic systems considered uniformly backward. What question should be asked then?

  • Why are the forces of transformation and innovation unable to spread from certain regions, to reach the whole of society, to exceed a certain threshold?
Repartition politique afrique coloniale.png

In some territories of ex-colonial Africa, there are territories where forces of transformation are manifesting themselves, but they do not win over all the other territories, they do not win over the whole society, they do not exceed a certain threshold: why?

Answering such a question requires going through a typology of colonial economies. In the 1970s and 1980s, historians used this approach in order to highlight something that seemed obvious to them as part of their approach as historians and which seemed very far removed from what the "liberals" and "radicals" were proposing.

If we consider entities of a dissimilar nature, if these entities are engaged in different dynamics and policies, at the moment the colonizer arrives, he does not find entities engaged in the same dynamics, then these entities cannot react in a uniform way to the forms of European penetrations. If they do not react uniformly, then they do not share the same colonial heritage today.

In each of these groups, we will find groups that have been colonized and that have certain characteristics. It is in these groups or particular types of settlements that emerge that we can affirm that colonisation was more or less constraining, leaving a margin of labour more or less large depending on the case.

Looking at this typology from above, the main factor that emerges and differentiates the different categories of settlements is intervention at the production level. Basically, some economies immediately appear to be highly typified, keeping their initial characteristics unchanged until the end of colonisation: the type of settlements hardly changes over time.

In others, there is a transformation, something that is there at the beginning and that we can characterize, but that changes and evolves. Looking at this typology from a distance, we come up with two main categories that are basically opposed because in the first one the European colonizer does not intervene at the level of production, whereas in the second one he does. Thus we have a type of western settlement and a type of southern settlement.

West Africa[edit | edit source]

ECOWAS zone (+ Mauritania) in dark green and other countries sometimes included in the definition in light green.

It is the first region to come under the European yoke, the characteristic is that Europeans are absent from production activities, they are expatriates, there are no colonists.

  • Why don't Europeans intervene in this type of colony at the production level?

This can be explained by environmental factors. West Africa exports agricultural products, it is not an area of Africa well endowed with mineral resources. Among the environmental factors, there is the epidemiological factor, it is the white man's graveyard, Europeans will be in minute numbers in this type of settlement.

Not only is there the small number of Europeans, but also their special status, there is no colonization. Around 1938, Europeans made up 0.01% of the total population of West Africa.

The historical factor will reveal something that is different from the other territories. West Africa has a long history of trade relations with the outside world and especially with Europeans. We are in the presence of entities that already before colonisation have experience of integration into the world market.

Trade between West Africa and Europe dates back to the end of the 15th century, but there is something special about it. Prior to colonisation, the ability of West African populations to reconvert themselves, from the abolition of the slave trade, West African economies and societies were challenged to reconvert themselves.

We are going to see something that reveals the ability of these entities to rebound with the establishment of legitimate trade dating from the 1840s - 1860s, i.e. before the colonization that took place in 1880 - 1890, with the conquests being completed before the First World War.

Before the establishment of the colonizer, there is the episode of the legitimate trade in order to distinguish from the illegitimate trade, the trade continues in a clandestine manner. At some point, side by side, two types of economies coexist:

  • one based on the legitimate export trade of agricultural commodities.
  • one based on the illegitimate trade in smuggled goods.

Starting in the mid-19th century, something is put in place by the natives which is the legitimate trade behind the establishment of European firms on the African coasts. European firms compete to market the products of local assets processed in companies in England, France or Germany.

There is an element of continuity, the indigenous producers will be under European domination to develop and extend the range of agricultural products. They are integrated into the circuit, there are local merchant classes.

The local producers extend and develop the range of agricultural products and the export of these products now on a large scale. Of course, colonization has the effect of intensifying and developing this export culture, but it already existed before. The range of products was smaller, production was lower, the degree of extroversion was less, but it was something that was already there.

At the time of colonization, when all of this basically crossed the threshold to large-scale marketing, agricultural exports were going to feed the profits of expatriate commercial firms. The export of products will also feed the budget revenues of the colonial administrations.

Neither the private firms nor the colonial administrations, the former receiving substantial profits and the latter budget revenues, will want to modify the production structures in place.

In these peasant economies, export agriculture dominates. In this type of economy, there is an expansion of foreign trade during colonisation which is due to the combination of three elements:

  • entrepreneurial indigenous peasantry.
  • expatriate European firms specializing in the sale of tropical products on the international market.
  • Colonial administrations.

The gains from increased international trade would be fairly evenly distributed among the three members of this association. In other words, the system in place even during the colonial phase allows the peasant class to gain something from their integration into the international market.

The boom in agricultural exports is not the result of a specialization of peasants abandoning traditional crops in favor of new ones, there is a cohabitation between export crops and food crops or production. It is a combination of existing activities with the production of new export crops.

  • How is this combination possible, probably because of the existence in pre-colonial economies of reserves of land and under-utilized labour that can be fully mobilized through external opportunities and monetary incentives?

The fact that the expansion of export crops takes place without changes in agriculture or without changes in techniques, in the long run more by extension of the cultivated areas than by a pause in yield or productivity, is a limitation for these so-called peasant activities.

The typical case is that of Côte d'Ivoire, which specializes in coffee and cocoa, but is characterized by relatively low productivity in the export agriculture sectors, which means that there is no more land. As growth is extensive, at some point the limits are reached.

The best way to see these limits is when there are tensions with a labour force from outside.

It is necessary to recognise the room for manoeuvre and the taking of initiative, which basically gives advantages to those who take it, because in this type of economy, initiative, qualifications, investment in new forms of production are the work of local economic actors. These local economic actors do not benefit from the technical and financial support of either the colonial administration or of expatriate European firms, these local economic actors will be quick to respond to market incentives.

In a colonial situation, the metropolis wants its overseas possessions to be at least integrated into the international market. The natives are integrated into the exporting branches, but in ways that do not entirely cut them off from their surrounding socio-economic environment, giving the West African colonial system a relative openness and providing local assets with a greater margin of labour than in other types of African colonial economies.

In parts of Ghana and Nigeria, farmers in some parts of Ghana and Nigeria are turning away from crops favoured by the colonial authorities who advocate, intervene, encourage and lobby for the cultivation of, for example, coffee and especially cotton.

The colonial authorities favour colonial crops that do not have the consent of local farmers. Instead of the coffee and cotton that farmers in parts of Ghana and Nigeria were advocating, they chose cocoa and groundnuts because they are export crops that are cheaper to grow and more suited to ecological conditions, farmers know this.

Here there is a characteristic mismatch between administrative incentives and indigenous initiative. It is particularly marked in Ghana, which became the world's leading cocoa producer on the eve of the First World War. This accession owes nothing to the actions of the Europeans who, for example, would have set up an infrastructure, the European coloniser agrees to capital expenditure by setting up a rail network, opening roads, investing in port facilities. As a rule, infrastructure expenditure is made in order to facilitate the export and disposal of raw materials.

However, the regions of Ghana that will specialize or develop cocoa cultivation are not at an advantage from the colonizer who would set up facilitating infrastructures. On the other hand, the groundnut boom in Nigeria is closely linked to the construction of a railway network by the colonial power, but Ghana's performance is to rise to the rank of the world's leading exporter of cocoa without technical and infrastructural support either from the public administration or from the large European commercial firms.

Central West Africa: Congolese basin between 1885 and 1910, French Equatorial Africa, Gabon, Chad, Oubangui Chari, Congo-Brazzaville, parts of Cameroon and Angola[edit | edit source]

Map of Africa with Central African countries
  •      Countries classified in this zone
  •      Countries sometimes classified in this zone
    • How can we characterize these areas using the factors we used for the first one?

    The international trade of this second geographical area is, at the time of its annexation, at a much lower level than that of West Africa. Its degree of openness is very low. There is international trade, but at the time when colonization began, the level of international trade is much lower than that of West Africa.

    These territories are exploited by expatriate companies entrusted by the metropolises with local exploitation within the framework of the system of concessions which reserves vast tracts of land for these private firms.

    In this second geographical area, Central West Africa, there are, in the first instance, what are known as concessionary companies, which are neither companies creating plantations of tropical crops nor firms subject to competition in the marketing of commodities produced by the colonial peasantry. These concessionary companies receive the monopoly of trade, they also receive from the colonial administration the rights to manage the colony, to maintain order, and this monopoly gives them the attitude to make the maximum profit from the exploitation of the resources and the African populations as quickly as possible with a minimum initial outlay.

    It is a dirigiste and predatory regime set up with extreme brutality in the territories mentioned.

    • What are the Europeans looking for?

    Timber, ivory and rubber, especially wild rubber. Once the resources of wood, ivory and rubber are taken and not replaced, the predatory economy has a very short lifespan causing a lot of damage.

    There is intervention at the level of production, there is control over large areas of land, but the distinguishing feature of this type of settlement is that the land is not distributed to a white colonist, but to mining companies in a hurry to get rich.

    It is therefore a system that makes it possible to quickly generate the income needed to finance management costs, equipment and territories that can be said to be sparsely populated by indigenous peoples.

    We are dealing with a type of settlement that changes over time. It is changing for the essential reason that we are dealing with predator type removal savings.

    Southern Africa: Mozambique, Namibia, Rhodesia, Katanga[edit | edit source]

    Map of Africa with the countries of Southern Africa (in green)
  •      Southern Africa (division UN))
  •      geographical Southern Africa
  •      Southern African Development Community
  • It's a series of territories in the vicinity of South Africa. These economies are referred to as the South African type. We have colonial economies at the other end of the spectrum that can be most strongly contrasted with the West African-type economies.

    There are concessionary companies, but unlike the previous areas, these companies are active in mining and obtaining land for the settlement of a white colonist.

    We could call these white settlement colonies, it's a type of colony leaving a complicated legacy.

    The economies of this part of colonial Africa all share a series of common characteristics that are already present in South Africa as a reference model, marked by the presence of large capitalist firms because it takes a lot of investment to exploit the mines.

    These are well-capitalized and large companies. The mining activities in which they are engaged induce others in the industrial and service sectors. In this type of colonial economy, a proportion of the working population is not attached to agriculture above the European average, there is a higher level of industrialisation than the European average and an urbanisation rate above the European average. This situation increases the opportunities for commercial production in food agriculture.

    If there are assets outside the agricultural sector, if there is the development of industry, if there is an above-average rate of urbanisation, all these people have to be fed, so that commercial food crop farming will develop, making white people the official suppliers of cereals and livestock to the local markets of southern Africa.

    We have to look at agriculture in order to work with the element of differentiation, which is that in southern Africa there is European intervention in agricultural production, so there is the constitution of a colony with the desire to get their hands on a fraction of the land, which is obviously the best, and the more land the better.

    A minority of the population that is of European origin is going to take a large part of the wealth.

    The European settlers owe their success in commercial agriculture not because they are better than African peasants, but because they are given preferential treatment, and the colonial administrations give them all a series of advantages.

    Without the intervention of the colonial administration, colonial farmers could not survive. African farmers are able to produce the same goods as European farmers, but at lower costs.

    The colonist will receive the best land. The Europeans are a minority fraction of the total population, but manage to get their hands on a large fraction of the cultivated area.

    For the late 1930s, concerning Zimbabwe, Europeans around 1938 made up about 4% of the population, but by that time Europeans had appropriated half of the land. 4% of the population had 86% of the best land in their hands. At the same date in present-day Namibia, 10% of the population is of European origin, and this minority has taken over 60% of the cultivated land.

    Cocoa producers in Ghana had not enjoyed such an advantage, yet in this type of economy the infrastructures are put in place to facilitate the economic activities in which Europeans are engaged, there are credit facilities. Another element is the possibility for Europeans to be represented in the decision-making process, Europeans are present in the local legislative bodies.

    There is a whole series of restrictive measures such as discriminatory taxation, restrictive land tenure, movement is controlled by creating reserves, the natives will carry out poorly paid work for the colonists. The barriers thus erected lead to a polarization of society, preventing Africans from taking advantage of their integration into the market. This is the opposite situation in West Africa.

    In the end, the characteristic that should be added is that while there is growth, its fruits are very unevenly distributed.

    Afrique orientale : Kenya, Tanzanie, Ouganda, Tanganyika[edit | edit source]

    Map of Africa with East African countries
  •      Countries classified in this zone
  •      Countries sometimes classified in this zone
  • East Africa looks towards Asia. If we look at the composition of the population of these East African territories and compare a European numerical presence on one side and an Asian numerical presence on the other, the latter are in relative terms three times more numerous, they are there before and for the most part they are there after.

    A part of Africa which, during the first phase of European domination, lacks homogeneity. There are economies here where several types of settlements exist: peasant farmers, a plantation system and European farmers.

    In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Europeans produce coffee and rubber, and on the Kenyan highlands, Europeans engage in temperate-type agriculture. In Kenya, as in southern Africa, the success of Europeans depends on the support of the colonial administration, which facilitates access to land, provides a transport network and uses compulsion to supply them with cheap indigenous labour.

    The lack of homogeneity in the first phase of the colonial period is a bit of a hindrance, as Europeans are in relative terms fewer in number. In 1938, Europeans accounted for 1% of the population. They are too few in number compared to southern Africa to dominate the situation, food-producing, commercial or export agriculture.

    The productive activities of the Europeans are too limited to allow the colonial budget to reap sufficient revenues.

    In West Africa there is an organized agriculture that generates profits for the firms that produce and generate budget revenues for the colonial administration because the colonial budget is largely based on exploration taxes.

    The colonial administration in East Africa will encourage, from a certain point on, as soon as the administration realizes that the only economic activities in which Europeans are engaged are unable to generate sufficient budget revenues, Europeans to develop cash crops. In East Africa, there is the difference with what is happening in West Africa, farmers grow cotton in Uganda and coffee in Tanganyika, these first initiatives go back to the colonial administration which takes the initiative to develop such crops which remain at the level of production in African hands. Armed local chiefs on the ground relay the action and initiative of the colonial administration.

    The role of Indian traders in the development of export crops, in 1938 there were three times as many Indians as Europeans in Kenya.

    It is necessary to introduce a chronological dimension to know which types of economies are transforming and which are not changing much: the economies that are transforming after the First World War, where transformation is in the second phase of European colonisation, changes are taking place in Central West Africa and East Africa.

    In Central West Africa and especially in the Belgian Congo, the predatory concession system gives way, once the natural resources have been plundered, to a more sustainable regime characterized by increased foreign investment in mines and plantations.

    In East Africa, there was a fragile balance between European capitalist agriculture and African peasant agriculture. Depending on the case, this will turn to the advantage of one or the other production model.

    The Europeans will prevail in Kenya, on the other hand, the Africans will dominate the situation in Uganda. Uganda will become a West African type of peasant economy while Kenya will resemble the South African type.

    For Kenya, the evolution is towards a white settlement leaving a difficult legacy. After the First World War, Kenya joined the category of South African economies, with a minority of Europeans taking over the best land. This European minority managed to gain representation in the legislature after the First World War, enabling it to promote its agricultural activities while limiting those of Africans.

    What makes Kenya not only relevant but also classifiable as a South African-type economy is that coercive measures are taken against the indigenous people.

    Uganda will join the other category, namely the West African type economies, as the so-called peasant production clearly outweighs the activities of a white colonist who is struggling to impose himself.

    Tanganyika is halfway there. The European colonist does not manage to influence economic policy; Tanganyika is administered by a tutelary power.

    In Kenya, the Europeans succeed in convincing the European administration to ban Africans from this lucrative branch, but in Tanganyika, on the other hand, the Europeans do not succeed in keeping this export crop for themselves.

    During the second half of the colonial period, African economies can be divided into two main types:

    • peasant economy which dominated in West Africa and a large part of East Africa with Uganda for example.
    • South African type economy which dominates in Southern and Central Africa with an extension into East Africa and this is the case of Kenya.

    If one erases, or leaves aside these flaws, one can keep what is its main advantage, which is that two main types of economies emerged at the time of colonization.

    Types of colonial settlement and development capacities[edit | edit source]

    This typology was devised with the specific aim of trying to understand why the legacy of colonization is not the same everywhere. We are aware of the fact that it is not the same everywhere because after independence, we record divergent performances, performances of territories that shared the same past, that also experienced colonization.

    It is the impact of colonisation that is evaluated. It would be much more limited in peasant economies of the West African type than in those of the South African model. The colonial system set up in the first type of economy is less coercive, the influence of Europeans is weaker, and its relative openness allows the emergence, at least in the most fertile territories of a class, of an embryonic African middle class.

    In West African-type economies and societies, decolonisation is earlier and takes place more by negotiation, whereas in South African-type economies and societies, emancipation comes later, most often as a result of armed confrontation, and independence is achieved through violence.

    This typology allows us to make a cost-benefit assessment of the mined terrain in advance, so what can we say? The first type of economy, i.e. West African type peasant economies, the benefits for Africans could exceed the costs incurred. On the other hand, it is very unlikely that the same could be said for the South African type economies.

    This typology has both pre-colonial and post-colonial value. For the pre-colonial period the differences in structure cannot be understood in the context of a more or less strong integration into the world market of a large part of pre-colonial Africa, and then for the post-colonial period reveals that diversity and unequal success after independence are hardly surprising for those who take this typology into account.

    One study reveals that the ability of these countries to combat poverty varies according to the type of colonial settlement they have experienced. The countries studied are classified in two groups: the first group is made up of former white-based colonies in South Africa, Zimbabwe Kenya, and peasant-type colonies in Kenya and Uganda.

    The first type leaves a legacy that is problematic to say the least, low investment in human capital, weak bargaining power in the labour market, real wage lock-in for subsistence levels, and for all of these, Ghana and Uganda fare better.

    The colonial policy of investing in basic infrastructure plays a key role in the distribution of wealth. While this policy is more unequal in South Africa, in Zimbabwe basic infrastructure is there to serve the activities of the white minority, while in Kenya and Uganda it supports the production of the indigenous peasantry.

    The authors of this study choose the mortality rate as an indicator of poverty. It appears that mortality decreases earlier in Uganda and Kenya than in Zimbabwe and South Africa; mortality occurs relatively early in the colonies where the African peasant owns his land. In West Africa, there is no European colony, but it is present in East and Central Africa. In West Africa, there is a capacity to rebound, this interlude of legitimate trade strengthens West Africa's link with Europe through the export of tropical commodities in the trading cities, open to the open sea.

    The picture is not the same elsewhere in East, Central and Southern Africa, moreover in these parts of Africa there is the presence of an exclusive white colonist who strips the population of its political and economic power, so the tools for education and the circulation of information appear much later than in West Africa and India.

    What is interesting to note is that these differences resurface after independence. East, Central and Southern Africans have more difficulty than West Africans in taking over the workings of the post-colonial state and in mastering economic institutions. In other words, white settlements are a type of settlement that ultimately hinders rather than promotes development.

    Annexes[edit | edit source]

    References[edit | edit source]