On the long run effects of colonialism and slavery in Africa

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A 16th century depiction of the capital of the kingdom of Loango, in what is today’s Congo-Brazzaville (via African Agenda)

Stelios Michalopoulous and Elias Papaioannou have a new working paper out reviewing the literature on the long-run effects of colonization and the international slave trade on African state capacity.  They’ve summarized their findings in a piece at VoxDev.

Most of their discussion of colonial infrastructure investments and the slave trade was familiar to me, but I hadn’t previously seen much work on the role of African states’ arbitrarily-drawn borders in provoking conflict.  They make a compelling case that borders which divided ethnic groups tend to increase local conflict.

Homelands of partitioned ethnicities are disproportionately affected by conflict between state forces and rebels that have an explicit agenda to overthrow the government.  …  Partitioned ethnicities are more likely to engage in civil wars that have an explicit ethnic dimension. Since the early 1960s, roughly a third of split groups have participated in an ethnic-based civil war, while the share of non-split groups that have engaged in an ethnic war is around a fifth.  …  Survey data show that education and public goods provision is significantly lower for individuals of split ethnicities, even when compared to Africans from non-split groups in the same town/village.

Definitely worth a read.  I’ve previously discussed some of their earlier work on the long-run effects of precolonial political centralization in Africa.

Scholarship updates for African students and researchers

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I’ve just updated my lists of scholarships for African students, and research funding for African academics.  The master list can be found here.  Check out some of the newly added opportunities below.

Path dependency in Africa’s wealthy cities

Marcello Schermer recently shared this map of Africa’s wealthiest cities on Twitter.  There are notable clusters along the Mediterranean and west African coasts, in the Rift Valley, and in South Africa.

Map of Africa showing the continent's wealthiest cities. The leaders are Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Lagos.

Source: The Visual Capitalist

With the exception of South Africa, this looks quite similar to the extent of precolonial empires across the continent.

Map showing groupings of precolonial African empires, including a very large cluster in west Africa, a smaller cluster in Ethiopia, and some scattered states around central Africa

Map via Wikipedia.  Note that not all of these empires existed at the same time.

There are points of divergence, of course.  The South African cities and Nairobi didn’t exist before the colonial era, and it’s arguably just a coincidence that Luanda shows up on both maps, since its contemporary wealth is an accident of proximity to oil fields.  But overall it’s a neat visual summary of the literature suggesting that precolonial political centralization in Africa still matters for economic growth today.

African fertility isn’t as high as you think

Dropping by to flag this fascinating article from Lyman Stone which puts African fertility rates in perspective.  The major takeaways were that fertility is high in Africa compared to global averages, but fertility rates are steadily declining, and are actually lower than one might expect given how poor many countries in the region still are.  As the graph below shows, average fertility in African countries tends to drop rapidly as countries get richer, and this occurs at lower income levels than is the case for most other regions.

Graph comparing fertility rates and income levels for various regions around the world

Moreover, fertility isn’t a cause of poverty, but rather a consequence of it.  In places where poor healthcare means that child mortality is high, it’s reasonable to have more children to increase the likelihood that some of them will survive to adulthood.  African countries appear to have pretty standard fertility responses to child mortality, again suggesting that African fertility rates aren’t unusually high in comparative perspective

child mortality

 

Scholarship updates

I recently updated my lists of grants for African students doing MAs or PhDs, and for postdoctoral, research, and travel funding for African scholars.   Please circulate widely!

Some of the new additions:

Putting the “African” back into African Studies

Exterior shot of the modern, glass-walled library at United States International University in NairobiThe main library at United States International University in Nairobi

Robtel Neajai Pailey is a must-read thinker on issues of decolonization in academia.  She has an excellent recent piece on this topic at African Arguments.  Some of her key recommendations for putting the “African” back in African studies:

This can be achieved when:

  • A [canon] of scholarly literature produced by Africans is established, which would be mandatory reading for all African studies courses across the globe. This canon must include male and female scholars writing in multiple languages across the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities;
  • Non-African scholars defer to authoritative voices and scholars on the continent, by citing them regularly and actively acknowledging their contributions to the field;
  • Open-access publishing on Africa is the norm rather than the exception, so that Africa-based scholars can access, engage with and critique knowledge produced about the continent;
  • More African scholars (based in Africa and elsewhere) serve on editorial boards of top-rated African Studies journals, as both editors and reviewers, in order to influence the research agendas of these publications;
  • African universities value, support, and validate good quality scholarship about Africa, through the provision of research funding for staff, living wages, sabbatical time to write and publish, and paid subscriptions to relevant journals.

These measures and more will compel us to effectively re-insert the ‘African’ in African Studies, not as a token gesture, but as an affirmation that Africans have always produced knowledge about their continent.