African Growth Recurring: An Economic History Perspective on African Growth Episodes, 1690-2010

Morten Jerven

Economic History of Developing Regions 25 (2), 127-154, 2010

Africa has not suffered a chronic failure of growth. In fact, Africa has experienced recurring periods of growth, and this paper reviews some of these growth “spurts” to substantiate that claim. The immediate cause of low income in Africa is that these “spurts” have always been followed by a “bust”. This is a significant reorientation of the central research question – away from a search for the root causes of Africa’s underdevelopment and towards explaining the causes and effects of growth and decline. The growth spurts are approached as local responses to the global demand for African produced commodities. In this paper, I shall argue that these supply responses involved more than a reallocation of land and labour; they entailed investment and required institutional change. It is precisely because these periods of rapid economic change and accumulation caused significant qualitative changes in how society and the economy were organized that they cannot be ignored – as they have tended to be in the search for a root cause of Africa’s chronic failure to achieve growth.

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