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date: 19 April 2019

Tropical Africa in the Global Economy

Summary and Keywords

Tropical Africa has been in communication with the global economy since at least the last centuries bce through either land travel across the Sahara to the Mediterranean or navigation along the Indian Ocean coast. Despite recent archaeological research, not too much is known about this earliest trade. Only after Islam was firmly established in North Africa and the Indian Ocean do we have evidence of significant trade (slaves, gold, and ivory) and cultural exchange across these frontiers. Entrepôt cities now flourished in both the West and Central Sudan and the Swahili coast, where either camel caravans or large dhow vessels received export goods from indigenous Muslim merchants. During the 15th century European navigators opened up the Atlantic coast of Africa as well as a direct water route to the Indian Ocean. For the next 500 years Europeans dominated Africa’s global connections, initially seeking gold, then slaves for New World plantations, and later large quantities of less costly commodities such as vegetable oils, cocoa, coffee, and cotton. Initially Africa’s trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean commerce continued to operate under the control of Muslim rulers and merchants and even grew in volume, although declining in global significance. By the early 20th century European powers had established colonial regimes in almost all of tropical Africa, providing new infrastructures of political administration and mechanized transport (mainly railroads) that overcame the geographical barriers impeding commerce between the coasts and the continent’s interiors. However, limited capital and the spatial orientation of colonial transport undermined the dynamism of such advances. In the last stages of colonialism (c. 1945–1960) and the first decades of political independence, greater investments were made in both infrastructure and industrialization but with poor results leading, from the 1980s, to the global imposition of “structural adjustment” policies upon African states. During the early 21st century African economies experienced “miraculous” growth linked to a major new relationship with China.

Keywords: global, Indian Ocean, Sahara, Atlantic, gold, slaves, Swahili, Sudan, textiles, merchants, Islam

The tropical portion of the African continent has historically suffered from major geographic impediments to internal as well as global economic integration:1 the large desert barrier of the Sahara to its north, coastlines lacking indentations, rivers made unnavigable by rapids and cataracts, and disease parasites that hampered animal transport. Africans have thus never played a dominant role in the world economy. It is not they who go out of their home areas to forge inter-regional ties but rather entrepreneurs from more developed societies, using the most advanced available transport (camel caravans, sailing ships, railroads), who arrive in Africa and exchange their own manufactured goods for both local raw materials and large numbers of enslaved African people. At times, however, African commodities have been of great global significance. In the medieval era, its gold supported the currencies of Europe and the Middle East as well as balancing trade with South and East Asian producers who had little interest in “Western” manufactured goods. The massive Atlantic slave trade made possible a New World plantation system that became one of the most dynamic centers of preindustrial global capitalism. One of the great ironies in this entire history is that when, through both colonialism and its aftermath, modern infrastructure overcame Africa’s transport barriers, the significance of the continent within the global economy diminished, while dependency upon external markets and investments increased. The story of Africa in the global economy is thus far from a triumphal narrative yet one whose shifting trajectory needs to be confronted in contemplating a highly enigmatic present.

At the Edges of the Ancient World Economy

Although the idea of a fully global economy is usually associated with the rise of European capitalism at some point after the 16th century, very distant places in Asia and Europe were exchanging goods via maritime and caravan routes from at least 1000 bce. Transport over such distances was costly and dangerous so most exchanges were limited to goods of high value and low bulk. Whether or when such transactions developed into a truly integrated and socially transformative “system” has been a matter of much dispute but they at least constituted a world economy that eventually extended from its core Eurasian zones to tropical Africa.2

The two entry points of this commerce were North Africa and the Indian Ocean. In each of these areas a primary cultivation of relations with other continents eventually drew in partners from more southern regions of Africa, although the degree of such contacts remains poorly documented and thus controversial. What is particularly in dispute for both regions is whether the clearly limited exports of this era included the commodities that would later constitute the major African contribution to global trade—gold and slaves.

North Africa lies on the much-traveled Mediterranean Sea but does not seem to have been entered fully into the orbit of international commerce until the 9th century bce, when the Phoenicians established an emporium at Carthage (near contemporary Tunis).3 This colony was followed by Greek trading settlements in Libya to the east and finally, after extensive pan-Mediterranean warfare, Roman control over the entire coast from Egypt to Morocco between the 2nd and 1st century bce.

Roman rulers—who remained in power here until the Vandal invasions of 429 ce—exploited the Mediterranean climate and soil of North Africa to replicate their own agricultural system and produce large quantities of wheat, wine, and olive oil for export to Europe. These efforts required the cooperation—and sometimes conquest—of the Berber-speaking populations of the coastal region, but limes (boundary markers) were placed along the edge of the Sahara desert to mark the limits of Roman control. Nonetheless, during this time communities both within the desert and in the Sudanic lands to its south developed their own urban centers and became directly or indirectly involved in Mediterranean commerce.

The most dramatic of these new formations was the Garamantes state (c. 1000 bce–700 ce) in the Fezzan region of present-day Libya.4 During a period shortly before the Sahara reached its current level of aridity, the Garamantes established a remarkable system of irrigated agriculture that, at its high point between the 1st and 3rd centuries ce, supported a population of between 50,000 and 100,000 in an area covering some 250,000 square kilometers. We have very limited written documentation on the Garamantes, but archaeological evidence on urban sites indicates that they imported considerable quantities of goods from the Mediterranean. What they exported in return is unclear, but most likely it included a considerable number (perhaps as many as 1,000 per annum) of enslaved “Ethiopians,” that is, dark-skinned people from further south.

The other urban concentrations that arose during the Roman occupation of North Africa, Jenne, Gao, and Dar Titchett, lay to the west and south of the Fezzan on or near the middle Niger river basin in contemporary Mali and Mauretania.5 During the medieval era this region exported large quantities of gold across the Sahara, and there has been considerable debate about when such traffic began. In contrast to the Garamantes, archaeological excavations reveal no significant Mediterranean goods in the major cities of the Western Sudan before the Islamic era, although more numerous items of this kind have been located at intermediate points in the desert and savannah, especially the burial sites of Kissi in northeast Burkina Faso.6 Gold was minted in North Africa during the late Roman period and the Byzantine era (533–698 ce) that followed it. However, examination of Byzantine gold sources, the weights and measures used in later Islamic gold trade, and, especially, analyses of trace elements in Byzantine and early Islamic North African coinage do not provide any evidence of a trans-Saharan gold trade prior to the mid-8th century ce.7

Thus, instead of exporting gold to the Mediterranean, it is most likely that the cities of the middle Niger exchanged agricultural goods and dried freshwater fish with desert communities in return mainly for salt. Whether or not, as Andrew Wilson argues, such shorter-range commercial networks indirectly connected the Sudan to the Mediterranean in ancient times, they did lay the groundwork for subsequent trans-Saharan trade and would also continue into the Islamic era, “providing the infrastructure for much trans-regional commerce.”8

Along the northeastern side of the Africa continent, through the Nile valley, Red Sea, and the “Horn” of present day Ethiopia and Somalia, commercial and other relations with the adjacent regions of West Asia have a history going back to the earliest Egyptian dynasties (c. 3000 bce). Caravan traffic with the “Libyans” to the west of this region always remained limited,9 but the development of maritime commerce in the Red Sea (especially as expanded during the Roman occupation of Egypt around the 1st century ce) opened up the possibility of contact with “Azania,” the region farther south later identified as the Swahili coast.

As with Niger basin trans-Saharan trade, the (proto-) Swahili engagement with the global economy seems initially to have been limited, although more direct. The major Roman commercial goal in developing the Red Sea port of Berenike was India.10 Thus the sparse information available on the Africa beyond the Horn, mainly from the c. 30–40 ce Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, describes trade there as carried on regularly by Arabians from Muza (Mocha in Yemen) rather than the merchants speaking the Greek of the text itself.11 The one port discussed at length, Rhapta, produced exports of some value, “ivory in great quantity, and tortoise-shell” but not the gold, slaves, and coastal goods that would play such a great role in subsequent Indian Ocean trade.

The documentation, including archaeological evidence, for this early period is so thin that we do not even know for sure where Rhapta was located.12 The African people on the coast were most likely iron-age Bantu-speakers but not yet linked to one another by the common language of Swahili and apparently living in villages combining fishing and farming with occasional trade rather than the commercial towns that began to develop halfway through the 1st millennium ce.13 The movement toward a fuller integration into the global economy here thus appears less abrupt than in the regions south of the Sahara, although both changes are linked to the rise of Islam.

Participation in a Medieval Islamic Ecumene: Trans-Saharan Caravans

It is no coincidence that the terms used for the major global contact zones of tropical Africa (“sahel” and its derivative, “Swahili” meaning “shore”; “Sudan” and “Zenj/Azania,” meaning “black”) come from Arabic and Persian. From roughly 800 to 1500 ce the West and Central African savannah as well as the East African coast become fully involved in international commerce with partners who were largely Muslim. The cities that acted as entrepôts for this trade as well as the African merchants who connected them to the often distant sources of exports also took on Muslim identities. The parallels between these developments in two entirely separate regions of Africa are striking, although the distinction between desert and oceanic contacts as well as internal dynamics continued to produce important differences.

In the trans-Saharan connections, the key innovation was the institution of regular camel caravans between Mediterranean and Sudanic lands. The camel itself was introduced into this region around 100 bce/ce, but conditions in North Africa during the following centuries—the deterioration of the Garamantes ecology and social order, the weakening of Roman control and its replacement by ineffectual Vandal and then Byzantine regimes as well as political violence among competing early Christian sects—were not conducive to new commercial development.14 The conquest of North Africa by Arab-Muslim armies from 642 ce did not initially improve matters, because local Berber communities (the objects of extensive enslavement) fought the invaders throughout much of the 7th and 8th centuries.

One form taken by Berber resistance was adherence to Kharajism, a form of Islam that did not recognize the political or religious legitimacy of the Caliphs in distant Damascus and, from 750, Baghdad. However, in contrast to earlier Christian sectarianism, this development played a very positive role in developing trans-Saharan trade. After being driven out of the Mediterranean coastal areas by Caliphal forces, the Kharajites—most notably their more moderate Ibadi branch—settled on the northern desert edge and based their economies on trade with the south in alliances with Berber camel-herders.15

The first of these cross-desert routes to become visible, as in Roman times, was the slave trade through the now much-diminished Garamantes settlements in Fezzan to the Central Sudan. Initially somewhat obscure (because the Sufri Kharajites who then managed them left few records), gold exports from the Western Sudan through western Algeria and Morocco became the most celebrated of the commodities brought north and the one that made the greatest impact on the sub-Saharan economy.

Cities such as Jenne and Gao had already emerged in the middle Niger region before cross-desert trade began to flourish, apparently built upon commerce within the savannah and desert. However, with the new links to the global economy old centers grew and new ones (like Timbuktu) emerged. As described by the 11th-century Arab geographer al-Bakri, such cities were divided between a Muslim quarter, containing mosques and inhabited mainly by North African merchants, and a “pagan” one, where local people and their ruler lived.16 One reason these outsiders were initially Kharajites is that Sunni (orthodox) Muslims were warned by clerical decree against “trading to the territory of the enemy and to the land of the Sud­an [Blacks].”17 Toward the end of this period, however, Islam began to penetrate Sudani spiritual life and social identity.

The conversions best recorded in prominent written records are those of local rulers. The medieval era was the time of the great Sudanic empires: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay in the West and Kanem-Borno in the Central Sudan.18 With the exception of Ghana (about which little is known) the rulers of all these states not only became orthodox Sunni Muslims but some also made pilgrimages to Mecca. However much they all may have continued to participate in rituals and subscribe to beliefs more in tune with the traditional religion of the vast majority of their subjects, they now became legitimate trading partners for the rest of the Islamic world.

Among the commoners of the Western Sudan, the largest group of medieval converts to Islam were the merchants groups known as Juula or Wangara. These indigenous entrepreneurs never sought to enter the Sahara in competition with North African Arabs and Berbers but rather complemented the desert trade by connecting it with sources of gold inaccessible to (and apparently kept secret from) camel caravaneers.19 As the sources of gold and political power shifted eastward from Ghana to Mali and then Songhay, the Juula also moved so that by the 15th century, their major source of gold was the Volta river valley in the forest region of modern Ghana. These export-oriented efforts also stimulated exchanges of internal products (gold seems to have been traded more often for Saharan salt than Mediterranean manufactures). Forest goods (especially kola nuts) helped the Juula to extend their networks into the densely populated Hausa-speaking communities of present day Northern Nigeria, which then also entered into trans-Saharan circuits. We have no documentation of how the Juula first became Muslims, although presumably this conversion grew out of contacts with North African merchants. But as they spread through West Africa, often changing the languages that linked them to local ethnic groups, not only did Islam become a critical element in their identity but the Juula developed their own traditions of religious learning and practice that allowed them to live and trade peacefully among peoples who did not share their faith.

Participation in a Medieval Islamic Ecumene: Indian Ocean Dhow Trade

The acceleration of Swahili coast trade during the Islamic era had little to do with transport innovations such as the camel caravan. As seen in the Periplus, dhow sailing vessels (see Figure 1) and the patterns of monsoon winds by which they navigated were already established by the 1st century ce.20 But again in contrast to the Sahara and its Sudanic shores, ancient “Azania” had no dense urban settlements.

Tropical Africa in the Global EconomyClick to view larger

Figure 1. A large dhow used since very early times to sail across the Indian ocean between East Africa and the Persian Gulf or western India. Smaller vessels, called mtepe and using only one of the lateen sails shown here, carried goods between ports within East Africa. Art and Picture Collection, New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections, 807904.

These first developed from roughly 500 or even 1100 ce as a result of local population growth and migration as well as the stimulus of a dynamic Indian Ocean trading system (now centered more on the Persian Gulf than the Red Sea), which found new reasons to pursue commerce with its hitherto marginal southwestern edge.21 Although the external merchants sailing to the Swahili coast continued to be mainly Arabian, India and (through it) China now became major markets for both the established East African commodity of ivory and the new and more dynamic one of gold.

The source of East African gold in this era was the Zimbabwe plateau in the extreme southeast of the coast. Archaeological evidence indicates that mining production, here involving the importation of global goods such as Chinese porcelains and glass beads, reached its peak in the 12th through 14th centuries.22 The nearest major port of Sofala in present-day Mozambique was, however, too distant for dhows from the Gulf to sail there and return in the same annual monsoon cycle. Thus cities farther to the north acted as entrepôts for this trade: first Kilwa off the southern Tanzania coast, then, from the 15th century, when larger Indian Ocean dhows could not go even that far south, the Kenyan towns of Mombasa and Malindi.23 The northern ports also carried on more direct trade with the Red Sea and Gulf through the export of coastal products such as grain, possibly iron, and especially mangrove poles. There is very little direct evidence of Swahili coast slave trading in this period in Arabic sources. However “Zenj” slaves, some of whom identified as from (or sold through) Zanzibar and Pemba, played a major role during the 9th century in major land reclamation projects and a subsequent revolt around the Iraqi Gulf port of Basra.24 Portuguese documents also indicate a major growth in Swahili slave trading (mainly from Madagascar) in the 16th century that probably extended back in time.25

The Swahili could enter the Indian Ocean on sailing vessels they built themselves, but these mtepe were usually restricted to coastal trade, venturing only as far from home as the Red Sea even after this era.26 Like the West African Juula, Swahili merchants functioned mainly as middlemen for global commerce, not only bringing goods from the (in this case) near interior but also linking the ports most accessible to trans-oceanic dhows with more southern shipping points such as Sofala. Like the Juula these East African merchants became Muslims, also first under Ibadi influence but eventually as orthodox Shafi Sunnis. Here the aim of such an identity was less to accommodate to non-Islamic populations than to distinguish themselves from such shenzi (savages) by an entire urban lifestyle of stone dwellings and mosques and Arab style dress. As self-contained city-states rather than centers of Sudanic territorial empire, the Swahili polities did not need to accommodate themselves to rural African populations. In the Swahili language (clearly identified by scholars as derived from local Bantu tongues) “civilization” is designated by the loan word ustaarabu (being like an Arab) and many local families claimed to be descendants of largely imaginary immigrants from Arabia or Iran.27 However, direct contact with the sea not only allowed the Swahili to develop a cosmopolitan Indian Ocean culture but eventually exposed them to direct confrontation with the European-dominated Atlantic economy.

The Atlantic Portal: West African Innovation

The ancient Carthaginians and Greeks knew in principle, that western Africa could be accessed by sailing around either the southern portion of the Azania coast or the “Gates of Hercules” (Straits of Gibraltar) that separate Morocco from Spain. It is even reported that such voyages, circumnavigating the continent or at least reaching from Gibraltar to Cameroon, were undertaken before the fourth century bce.28 Whatever exploration may actually have occurred, no commercial use was made of the information it produced, and the furthest that any archaeologically attested Mediterranean trading posts extended into the South Atlantic was Mogador (Essaouira), just beyond Marrakesh in Morocco.

Thus when, in the early 15th century, Portuguese mariners began a systematic set of voyages along the West African coast, a new epoch of global economic engagement began. Along with religious and political goals—a continuation of the Reconquista of Iberia from Islamic occupiers—the Portuguese and their Genoan commercial partners sought to alter the structure of the international economy by sailing around Muslim obstacles to its sources of wealth: first, West African gold mines and eventually the “spices and silks” of the Indian Ocean.

Within less than a century, both these objectives were met. In 1482 the Portuguese built a massive fort, appropriately named São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) on the coast of present-day Ghana. By the 16th century about three-quarters of the gold produced in the nearby Volta River basin (the newest and richest regional source of this precious metal) left Africa by the Atlantic route.29

In 1498 Vasco da Gama sailed a squadron of three Portuguese ships around the Cape of Good Hope to the Swahili coast and from there across the Indian Ocean to India. Da Gama’s violent attacks on merchant shipping around Mombasa presaged the eventual Portuguese strategy for the Indian Ocean, which was to establish a series of fortified bases (in East Africa on Mozambique Island, Sofala, and Mombasa), send forces inland from Sofala to control the gold trade, and demand that all cross-oceanic trade be restricted to their own vessels or those of local merchants paying them a licensing fee. This intrusion had a great impact upon Indian Ocean commerce but proved impossible to maintain as planned. By the early 1700s Portuguese power in East Africa was restricted to the Zambezi river basin, resting less on diminishing supplies of gold than on the acquisition of ivory and, especially, slaves.30

This same transformation (with a much smaller role for ivory) occurred in West Africa. Along with their trade the Portuguese had, from the 15th century, experimented with growing sugar on islands off the western African coast, first Madeira and then Sao Thomé. The great success of this latter location depended upon the use of enslaved Africans as a labor force. Previously the Portuguese had purchased (and even sometimes themselves captured) Africans largely for household service in Europe or to trade to indigenous gold miners in the Volta river region.31 Sao Thomé proved to be too small for the fullest development of sugar plantations, but by the late 16th century the Portuguese were in full control of Brazil—on the western side of the Atlantic but relatively close to Africa—and there initiated a sugar cultivation system (complimented by new milling technology) that would revolutionize New World economies, European consumption practices, and African commerce.

The great paradox of this preindustrial phase of the Atlantic economy was that it combined advanced systems of transport, food processing, and finance with a massive acceleration of enslavement, a labor system that appeared to belong to a much earlier stage of political economy.32 Yet we can see the “modernity” of this engagement by the shift of its control and locus from the colonial empire of the relatively weak Portugal to Britain and France, the most advanced sectors of the European economy.33

Another contradictory development of the Atlantic slave economy was the shift, by the early 1700s, in its African operations from control by state-licensed monopoly companies to a “free trade,” that is unrestricted market relations between European buyers and the African sellers of fellow humans who were, themselves, reduced to the status of commodities. Even the Portuguese, with their claims to African territory (and its diminishing or entirely imaginary supplies of bullion) in both Mozambique and Angola, ultimately depended for slave deliveries upon either African states or mixed-race interior agents over whom they wielded little control. The British and French, along with the Dutch, Danes, and other minor European participants, held trading posts (including the former Portuguese “Elmina Castle”) on various portions of the Guinea Coast but these edifices—despite their conspicuous later symbolism—accounted for only a small percent of the total trade even in their own areas.34 Exchanges for slaves in the most important zones—Benin (then Dahomey), the Bight of Biafra, and the Congo and Angolan coast—took place around barely fortified European posts or, very often, directly off the decks of ships.35

As an outcome of the high demand for plantation labor, the competitive buying conditions, and the increasing efficiency of European shipping and procurement of barter goods, African sellers of slaves experienced constantly improving terms of trade up through the end of the 18th century. The long-term economic benefits of such exchanges, however, remain questionable.

Contact with the Americas provided Africa with three major new food sources: maize, manioc, and peanuts. Some of the goods exchanged for African exports were productively integrated into local economies as intermediary goods (bars of pig iron) or currencies to facilitate small-scale transactions (cowrie shells from the Indian Ocean). However, as the slave trade increased in the latter 17th century, a greater proportion of imports shifted to firearms (abetting the violence of enslavement) and, above all, cotton textiles. These Indian “calicos” did stimulate existing African cloth production by demonstrating new patterns and providing yarn in otherwise unavailable colors that was rewoven to local tastes.36 Yet it can also be argued that the imports of cloth on such an enlarged scales undermined the intensification of African cotton weaving, which had shown some potential for competitive entry into global markets.37

During the first three quarters of the 19th century, the Atlantic slave trade gradually came to an end, replaced by what abolitionists optimistically labeled “legitimate” exports, mainly of vegetable oils extracted from either the fruit of oil palm trees or peanuts. This new commerce, stimulated by the vast growth of the European industrial economy, initially offered the same improving terms of trade as the prior sales of slaves and produced even higher revenues while involving more Africans in their production and carriage. However such products, along with more traditional exports like ivory, were far less critical to the global economy than gold and slaves had been and, toward the end of the century, with more efficient transport to sources of competing goods in Asia and the New World, suffered a decline in prices.38

The Atlantic Portal: Saharan and Indian Ocean Adaptations

In both the zones of Africa’s earlier connection to the world economy, the opening of the continent to the Atlantic was signaled by dramatic events. The trans-Saharan equivalent to the arrival of Vasco da Gama in the Indian Ocean was the 1591 invasion of the middle Niger region by a Moroccan military expedition. This venture sought to regain control of the West African gold trade from Europeans but succeeded only in destroying Songhay, the last of the great medieval empires. On closer examination both these trading systems and the economies surrounding them continued to operate more immediately in relationship to their established partners from the neighboring Maghribian–Middle Eastern–South Asian regions than that of the Europeans.

In the case of the Sudan, the major factor limiting the disruption of commercial life via the presence of Europeans on the coast was the transport barrier of the West and Central African forest zones that made any communication with the Atlantic very costly.39 No doubt the large quantity of gold now passing to Portuguese trading posts diminished the flow of this precious metal across the Sahara, but despite the anxieties of Moroccan rulers and merchants, there is evidence of substantial imports still arriving there right through the 18th century.40 From a global perspective, however, it is more significant that the bullion needed to carry on a vastly expanded Dutch, English, and French trade with Asia in this period was now New World silver rather than African gold.41

Despite its relegation to a marginal role in the world economy, the absolute volume of trans-Saharan trade seems to have increased in the period up to (and initially including) the 20th-century building of colonial railroads between the Atlantic and the Sudan. The slave trade grew, because of both increased labor demands in sectors of the Islamic world tied to world trade and the Ottoman loss of access to Caucasian and Central Asian sources of domestic servants and soldiers during this period.42 Also the increasing wealth of Europe and North America accelerated the demand for Sahelian and Saharan goods that had played only a minor role in at least the recorded history of earlier cross-desert trade: ivory, gum arabic, cattle hides, goat skins, and ostrich feathers.43

The ecological barriers protecting the Sudanic economy also encouraged a remarkable growth of the cotton textile industry in the cities of the Hausa region, especially Kano. Such economies had already developed on a regional basis during the medieval era, when local cloth was even used as form of currency. However, in the 19th century some of these goods reached as far as Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast as well as Lagos on the Atlantic and from the latter port even crossed the ocean to Brazil.44

Despite—or perhaps because of—the direct intervention of the Portuguese, the East African coastal economy also experienced important growth from the 16th through the 19th centuries. By attempting to control trade throughout the Indian Ocean the Portuguese gave new energy to an Arabian power, the Persian Gulf Sultanate of Oman, which established its own East African empire based on the island of Zanzibar.

Although independent after 1856 from Arabia and assimilated in many ways to Swahili culture, the Omani regime in Zanzibar did involve the imposition a foreign elite and new forms of political and economic enterprise upon the East Africa coast. The Omanis used military power to expel the Portuguese from the imposing Fort Jesus in Mombasa in 1698 and also, in the 1800s, to establish authority (the collection of customs duties) here as well as at Kilwa and lesser Swahili ports.45 The value of such control derived from major innovations in commercial agriculture and inland trade that not only produced expanded varieties and quantities of goods for global markets but also depended upon external sources for their organization and finance.

The major coastal initiative of this period was the establishment of extensive slave plantations producing export goods, most notably cloves on the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba.46 This practice followed the example and the immediate influence of the French who, during the 19th century, had created Caribbean-style slave plantations on the Mascarene islands (today Mauritius and Réunion) and, along with the more usual sugar and coffee, introduced cloves there around 1800.47 This crop prospered far better in Zanzibar, where it created a boom in plantation development from the 1830s. When, in the 1860s, world clove prices dropped precipitously, plantations continued to expand along the northern mainland coast, providing both Indian Ocean and Atlantic markets with grains, coconuts, and sesame.

The degree to which the interior of East Africa was incorporated into the pre-1800 Indian Ocean economy has long been a matter of controversy. Direct evidence of such contacts, as opposed to isolated finds of imported goods, is limited to the late-15th-century Zambezi Valley–Zimbabwe Plateau gold and ivory trade, where the Portuguese largely displaced the Swahili.48 In the late 18th century inland African merchant groups began carrying ivory to Zanzibar’s coastal domains: the Yao reaching Kilwa just north of Portuguese territory (here also selling slaves) and the Nyamwezi moving from central Tanzania to the Mrima coast opposite Zanzibar.49 Arab-Swahili traders first took over this central route from the 1810s, establishing a base in the Nyamwezi emporium of Tabora from which they moved to Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika and beyond them into the Congo. By mid-century Zanzibar-based merchants had also developed their own trade from Kilwa to Lake Malawi and opened up an unprecedented route through northern Tanzania and Kenya to Lake Victoria and its north.50

The costs of both plantations, with their large investments in slaves and other labor, and the inland caravans, carrying imported trading goods, armed with guns, and using large number of porters, required large initial outlays of capital. The main sources of such funding were communities of Indian merchants and bankers whose presence in Zanzibar expanded from around 200 in 1819 to as many as 6,000 in 1859.51 The Indian presence in East Africa had already been increasing (but much more slowly) since the 15th century but its precipitous growth in the 1800s was due to both the financial needs of the local economy and the support of Britain, which had now become the ruling power throughout the South Asian subcontinent.

During most of the 19th century Zanzibar and its domains can be considered part of a British (and British Indian) “informal empire,” that is, a zone of autonomous polities whose external economic relations were subject to British policing.52 The main goal of such diplomatic and naval efforts was to encourage “globalization,” that is secure and largely free international trade. The British Indian regime thus entered into an early alliance with the Zanzibar rulers through a common interest in fighting “pirates,” that is, a seafaring community at Ras-al-Khayma that threatened both Omani and British interests in the Persian Gulf. Another threat to British interests on both sides of the Indian Ocean (but a potential ally of Zanzibar) was France. However, after the definitive 1815 victory over Napoleon, British policy in East Africa followed classic free-trade lines, allowing the sultan of Zanzibar to sign “most favored nation” treaties with not only themselves and the French but also the United States, who both, along with Germany, carried on significant trade in this region.53

The other great goal of British informal empire, the abolition of the slave trade and eventually slavery, clearly opposed the interests of the Omani regime, which had both a longstanding interest in exporting slaves to its Gulf homelands and a greatly increased need for servile labor in East Africa. In gradually, even hesitantly but sometimes violently repressing the Zanzibar slave trade Britain managed, as in West Africa, to avoid major conflicts with local powers but also laid down the basis for the next, fully colonial, phase of Africa’s relationship to the global economy.54

The Ambiguous Globalism of Colonial Regimes

The abrupt imposition of European colonial rule upon most of tropical Africa in the last decades of the 19th century is generally treated as a (perhaps the) defining break in the continent’s history, especially in relationship to globalization.55 This last conception makes considerable sense from the perspective of many (but not all) portions of the African interior, which, via the infrastructure of colonial regimes, could finally achieve efficient access to the world economy. However, for that economy itself, the Scramble for Africa can be seen as an early stage of an extended “policy backlash” against globalization, or a retreat (even by Britain) from the free trade of the earlier 1800s into a more regulated and autarkic nationalist system.56 Moreover, once having staked their claims against one another within what had now become a marginal area of world trade the European powers practiced “hegemony on a shoestring,” that is, colonialism at the lowest possible political and financial cost.57 The two forms of colonial infrastructure that made greater global integration possible were the state and mechanized transport systems. Both represented significant capacity gains over the indigenous systems that had preceded them, yet, when compared with other societies in their own times or analyzed as the basis for postcolonial African regimes, they also displayed major weaknesses.58

The technological advantages of Europeans over Africans at the outset of the colonial era meant that they could maintain secure military control (the pax coloniala) over much larger territories than had even the most effective indigenous states and also introduce a bureaucratic apparatus for generating the revenue needed to pay for transport construction. The European personnel of these colonial regimes, however, consisted of quite small numbers of men who, whether or not their home governments subscribed to the formal British policy of “indirect rule,” depended heavily upon African collaborators who, in turn, whether school-trained clerks or “traditional” chiefs, remained deeply imbedded within their own societies.59 The ability of these regimes to raise cash revenues was limited and, for the initial task of building railways and roads, they depended heavily upon requisitioned labor paid at sub-market rates.60

Tropical Africa in the Global EconomyClick to view larger

Figure 2. Railway construction in the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) during the early 1900s. Typically, the line was initiated to connect coastal harbors with interior gold mines, but in this case later extensions reached a much larger zone of smallholder cocoa cultivation. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections, 1149574.

These sources of taxation were sufficient to construct railways that provided gains in efficiency of freight carriage more than sufficient to cover their (relatively low) construction costs and thus made possible the export of minerals (especially in Central Africa) and, more broadly, bulk peasant-grown commodities (cocoa, coffee, peanuts, cotton) from what had previously been very remote inland regions.61 Yet in some respects the European nationalist as opposed to global purposes of these railways limited their economic value: some were directed less at markets than at controlling African populations that threatened colonial power; many duplicated the routes of neighboring territories that happened to be under the control of a different European power. The most “global” of these railways were in Central Africa where they sometimes crossed the territories of different European powers, in order to connect a mining center with the outside world. However, these extractive enclaves often had limited linkage with their surrounding African economies.62 At the same time all of them sacrificed African interests for European and global ones through their dendritic spatial patterns, connecting various inland zones to ports rather than to complementary regions within the continent. Exports were, after all, the only basis for earning the currency needed to pay the costs of colonial administrative and its transport investments.

Late Colonial/Postcolonial Developmentalism

A half century of minimalist colonial regimes came to an end shortly after World War II when the European rulers of Africa began to make accelerated investments in their overseas territories. The motives, as in the earlier Scramble, derived more from global issues than African ones. The major European actors, Britain and France, now found themselves eclipsed as world political and economic forces by the United States and Soviet “superpowers.” One solution to this dilemma, eventually chosen but obviously problematic in 1945, was to join Germany in a European Common Market/Union. The other, seemingly more attractive at the time, was to gain some degree of economic autonomy by developing their remaining colonial empires, meaning tropical Africa.

As reflected in the names of the two main investment programs, the British Colonial Development and Welfare Act and the French FIDES (Fonds d’Investissements pour le Développement Économique et Social), both efforts combined economic projects of presumed interest to the metropole with social ones (education, medical care, support of labor unions) that offered immediate benefits to African subjects. This welfare dimension was motivated in large part by criticism of colonialism on the part of both superpowers, of Asian subjects who were already achieving or moving into independence, and even African leaders, although the latter were not expected to exit the European empires soon or, in the French African case, perhaps ever.63

As it turned out, the development aspects of these programs did little for European economies. Indeed, some of the more ambitious schemes such as the British Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania) Groundnut Scheme and the French West African Office du Niger proved to be very expensive failures. However, it proved possible for France to combine a continued influence in Africa with European economic unification by making the association of its overseas territories (and the sharing of their development aid, mainly by West Germany) a condition for signing the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the founding document of the European Economic Community (EEC).64

This agreement did not prevent France’s African colonies from achieving (or partially being pushed into) independence by 1961, but it helps explain the continuity of the same developmentalist and regulated regimes throughout tropical Africa up until the 1980s. The main factors here were the aspirations of most leaders, whether calling themselves socialist or capitalist, to emulate the industrialization of the world’s leading powers. Motivated in part by Cold War competition, aid for such projects was supplied from all quarters of Europe and North America. The EEC, through a series of agreements with virtually all of the newly independent African countries (plus other ex-colonies in the Pacific and Caribbean) guaranteed them aid, and privileged access to European markets at stabilized prices in return for (but, by the 1975 Lomé I Agreement, without) reciprocal rights for European goods entering Africa.

This African acquiescence to what many participants understood as a form of neocolonialism, an asymmetrical “Eurafrica,” occurred simultaneously with the rise of “Third Worldism,” a series of meetings (beginning at Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955) and dialogues among Asian and African states aimed at resistance to both colonialism and neo-colonialism.65 Using the United Nations as a platform, the seventy-seven states (one third from sub-Saharan Africa) constituting this group drew up, in 1974, their own version of a regulated world economy, the NIEO (New International Economic Order).66

Lomé I and the NIEO represent the high point of the developmentalist era in Africa’s relationship to the (actual or putative) global economy. They would soon be followed by a shift into a very different order.

The Downs and Ups of Neo-Liberal Africa

The demise of developmentalism in Africa derived in significant part from the internal failures of local regimes and their external partners to make good on projects of both economic transformation and state-building. Instead they had produced, by the early 1980s, a landscape of corrupt and often unstable authoritarianism and massive international debt.67 Beginning in the mid-1970s the European, American, and emerging Asian centers of the world economy also began, for their own reasons, shifting from a “Fordist” model of centralized mass production and regulated capitalism to the more geographically distributed, organizationally flexible, and deregulated system identified at the time as “globalization” but now more commonly labeled “neo-liberalism.”68 The collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s not only reinforced disillusionment with “centrally-directed economies” but also removed a strategic motivation for Western support of African regimes.69

While the “The Decline of Eurafrica” can be seen as a kind of decolonization, the “conditionalities” now imposed by global lenders upon African debtors have been labeled “a de facto recolonization of the continent.”70 Under the heading of “structural adjustment” these policies involved privatizing most state-owned enterprises, allowing currencies to float, and removing price controls for food and other commodities.

Up through the mid-1990s this new regime did little to revivify the economies of Africa, which came to be seen by students of globalization as a “black hole,” “blank space,” or “the hopeless continent.”71 However, toward the end of the next decade, it became apparent that from at least 2001 the growth of GNP (gross national product) in “sub-Saharan Africa” had averaged over 5 percent and regularly outpaced that of the world economy as a whole, especially during the early years of the 2008-plus “Great Recession.”72

Postscript: The “African Miracle” and China

While it is not possible, as a historian, to deal adequately with very recent events, in a case like that of Africa’s surprising economic performance, it is also impossible to ignore them. The two big questions here are first, whether the recent period of growth represents some systemic change in the continent’s relationship to the global economy, and the second, what does it have to do with increasing the role of a new and very dynamic external partner, the People’s Republic of China?

The growth in African economies has mainly been in primary products (agriculture and minerals) rather than manufactured goods. There are some indications (the data here always remains problematic)73 that living standards have improved and labor has moved out of agriculture (mainly into service occupations) although sub-Saharan Africa still remains the poorest and least-industrialized major region in the world.74 Given the high demand for the continent’s primary products (particularly minerals and petroleum) as well as international critiques of neo-liberal globalization, African governments have been able to negotiate “upward adjustment” agreements with foreign investors allowing greater sharing of revenues and local retention of capital, although it is difficult to measure the effect of such regulatory reforms.75

One possible indicator of a continued dependent African relationship with the global economy is the high rate of migration out of the continent, often involving crossings of the Sahara and then the Mediterranean on illegal, dangerous, and exploitative voyages that recall earlier slave trades.76 The link between such movements and lack of economic development (as opposed to either political unrest or, more in the case of legal migration, early stages of positive development) remains to be worked out.77

A very large part of African growth since 1995 is due to the increasing role of China as both a buyer of exports and investor in the continent’s agriculture, extractive industries, and infrastructure. Many beliefs about Chinese activity in Africa are exaggerated, but reports from a Johns Hopkins University research center dedicated entirely to this issue indicate very impressive increases in both trade and investment since about 2006 to the point where China will soon be, if it is not already, the leading global partner of the continent.78

What the SAIS-CARI reports also indicate, however, is a slight diminution of these activities in 2015, which researchers link to the simultaneous slowing down of China’s own economy. This data can serve as a warning about how much historians can make of even the most responsible accounts of very recent trends. But they also confirm one underlying assumption: that Africa’s economies have, over the last millennium and a half, become increasingly but always asymmetrically, linked to global developments.

Discussion of the Literature

The historiographic issues raised by distinguishing tropical Africa from the northern and southern portions of the continent have been widely debated, often in polemical terms, because both divisions touch on race. The division of North and sub-Saharan is more conventional, but for two well-informed challenges see a recent issue of the Journal of African History.79 On “South African exceptionalism,” especially in a post-apartheid context, much discussion has centered on the writings of Mahmood Mamdani.80

Even within its restricted spatial grounds, the chronological and geographical scope of African economic history is vast, as is the scholarship that informs it (one of the grounds for remaining within tropical Africa). For the ancient and medieval periods, where much of the work centers on using very limited evidence to produce an empirical account of Africa’s integration into world markets, some idea of the research involved and the questions that still remain open has been presented. The focus will thus be on the early modern and later periods, when Africa was drawn more fully into the global economy on what appear to be increasingly disadvantageous terms. The central issue now is the relationship between internal African developments and the external forces which they had to confront.

One very radical solution proposed to this dilemma by Paul Tiyambe Zeleza (also a champion of pan-continental inclusion), is to argue that African economic historiography has been distorted by “undue emphasis on trade and exchange, especially external trade” and instead give attention to “the history of production, which would tell us far more about the dynamics of economic, social and political change.”81 There is some justification for this position in evidence, even from regions most involved in overseas trade, that internally oriented undertakings accounted for the vast majority of local income.82 However, Africa’s position in the global economy still remains of interest both as a possible effect of its internal development and as the driver of significant changes in that development (including the realm of production).

The idea that Africa’s own patterns of development are in some way responsible for its long-term poverty smacks of racism and has been the target for most economic historians of the continent. Yet in both ecological and cultural/institutional forms, it has gained new life in current literature. The ecological version of this approach is the least offensive and characterizes what is probably the most widely respected survey of African history, John Iliffe’s ambiguously titled Africans: The History of a Continent.83 Iliffe mobilizes not only environmental issues but also demography and epidemiology to show how a combination of harsh climate and soil combined with “abundant insects and a unique prevalence of disease” continuously limited the size of the continent’s population. Iliffe and Gareth Austin also employ the “factor endowment” argument (basically land abundance/labor scarcity) to explain the paradox of an underpopulated continent exporting its labor.84

In Iliffe and Austin’s analyses slavery (in either Africa or the New World) is not an archaic institution but rather a rational (if cruel) response to the absence of a free labor market. Other historians, however, especially those of the neo-institutional school, continue to argue that to establish “the institutional prerequisites of an effective market system” Africans have to achieve “emancipation from” inherited structures and ideologies, specified by Jean-Philippe Platteau as “the circle of kinship ties and the associated moral obligations.”85 Platteau here presents a variant on a much older “substantivist” (now perhaps better labeled “paleo-institutional”) school of thought associated especially with Karl Polanyi. Polanyi used data from the African slave trade to argue (from an anti-capitalist perspective) that in most societies other than modern Europe exchange was “imbedded” in a whole range of social institutions rather than operating in a free market.86

Polanyi made a convenient straw man for a whole generation of Africanist economic historians who found evidence that all kinds of African entrepreneurs responded individualistically to market opportunities: not only merchants but also peasant farmers (both before and after the benefits of colonial infrastructure) and artisans.87 As seen by the dates of Hopkins’s and Curtin’s books, this universalistic approach became prominent in the 1970s, just at the time when African economies were experiencing indebtedness that would eventually subjugate them to market-based reforms against their wills.

In response to these adversities and in tune with Third Worldist critiques of global capitalism, a number of economic historians, particularly those focused on East Africa, embraced “dependency theory,” an idea that emerged from Latin America and argued that the dynamics of the global economy are inherently hierarchical, “developing” non-European areas only in forms that locked them into positions of subordination to the industrial powers of the North Atlantic. For historians such as Edward Alpers and Abdul Sheriff, who were beginning to publish in this period, dependency theory served more as an apologetic comment on, rather than an operative inspiration for, their actual work on 19th-century history.88

Dependency as an African condition rather than a dynamic of the global economy remains a reality and has informed historiography more productively in the last decades than in the heyday of its theoretical ascendency. Frederick Cooper, a historian famous for questioning globalization as a useful concept,89 nonetheless centers much of his argument about the problems of postcolonial African development on the concept of the “gatekeeper state,” that is, a regime based on control of access to externally generated resources.90 In the spirit of a new, more rigorous, and quantitatively informed African economic history,91 Joseph Inikori has been examining the relationship between the transition from gold to slave trading in West Africa and the composition of European imports. In his argument for the consequent undermining of a robust internal African economy he is also analyzing “long-run movement of domestic [African] prices,” although these have not yet been published.92 Inikori’s work is truly global in its reach across the Atlantic and into the Asian side of the Indian Ocean. He is able to show how a trade that was damaging to Africa in various ways simultaneously benefited both European sugar planters and (up until the Industrial Revolution) Indian cotton exporters but leaves open the question of whether such “dependency” (like the less economically functional situation of postcolonial Africa) corresponds to the core logic of global capitalism or constitutes one of its unintended side effects.

Primary Sources

Primary sources on Africa’s relations with the global economy present two contradictory problems. First, they are very vast, given the wide range of time and space involved. Secondly, they mainly come from outsiders rather than Africans because it is the former who kept written records of commerce and other transactions and also transcribed oral testimonies of their African partners or (in the case of enslavement) victims.

Printed collections of such material exist mainly for the earliest periods when all documentation is limited. The most valuable of these is Levtzion and Hopkins’s volume of medieval trans-Saharan Arabic texts, which is both comprehensive and excellently edited.93 Freeman-Grenville’s work on the Swahili coast has similar but wider goals (it covers a longer period and includes Arabic, European, and Swahili sources), is less comprehensive and scholarly but nonetheless useful.94 A much wider range of primary texts, either in Arabic or about Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa (but not, for the most part, concerned with economic issues) can be found in the journal Sudanic Africa95 or through a still incomplete six-volume bio-bibliographic project covering manuscript materials from “the Nile valley, East Africa and the Horn of Africa, West Africa and the western Sahara.”96

With the opening of the Atlantic, public and private archives too numerous to cite here begin to accumulate for all of the European nations involved with Africa.97 Data from some of these have been brought together in Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (see “Links to Digital Materials”). The archives of colonial regimes (both in Europe and Africa) and their independent successor states are discussed elsewhere in this volume. Economic historians have recently made extensive (but critical) use of the economic and fiscal statistics published by all such governments.98

African voices are incorporated into many of these Arabic and European sources, but when they take their own written or oral forms they generally do not give much attention to economic issues, see, for example, the chronicles of Sudanic and Swahili states. It is possible to read some discourses of witchcraft that seem to contradict empirical history (e.g., cowry shell currencies produced by immersing slave corpses in the Atlantic Ocean) as metaphorical insights into the moral reality of the slave trade, but these, like much oral tradition, are documents about current or at least recent memory rather than records of distant events.99 The enslaved themselves, as living individuals, are seldom remembered in their African communities of origin or capture, but their testimonies were widely recorded by European abolitionists along the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and Saharan routes.

For African merchants and agricultural entrepreneurs, there are few written records in the precolonial era, even when such groups were literate Muslims or Christians.100 But in later periods, the colonial archives and local newspapers provide both venues for transcribed statements by Africans involved in overseas commerce (especially in court records) as well as depositaries of their private papers.101

African Economic History Network. Information about and access to new work on all aspects of African economic history.

Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. Monumental and continuous project of assembling European records (mainly shipping data) of the entire Africa-to-New World traffic in commoditized Africans, 1500–1867.

Frontex (European Border and Coast Guard Agency). Best source of information (intercept data as well as field work) on illegal emigration from Africa to Europe. Includes FRAN Quarterly.

Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, China Africa Research Initiative. Reports and research papers on this critical and much misunderstood aspect of Africa’s current global ties.

Further Reading

Austen, Ralph A. African Economic History: Internal Development and External Dependency. London: James Currey, 1987.Find this resource:

Austen, Ralph A. Trans-Saharan Africa in World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Austen, Ralph A. “Africa in the Global Decolonization Process: The Road to Postcoloniality.” In “Trustee for the Human Community”: Ralph J. Bunche and the Decolonization of Africa. Edited by Robert Hill and Edmond J. Keller, 230–257. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Austin, Gareth. “Sub-Saharan Africa.” In A History of the Global Economy: From 1500 to the Present. Edited by Joerg Baten, 316–350. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Hopkins, A. G. An Economic History of West Africa. London: Longman, 1973.Find this resource:

Horton, Mark, and John Middleton. The Swahili: The Social Landscape of a Mercantile Society. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.Find this resource:

Iliffe, John. Africans: The History of a Continent (2d ed.). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Inikori, J. I. “Africa and the Globalization Process: Western Africa, 1450–1850,” Journal of Global History 2 (2007): 63–86.Find this resource:

Klein, Herbert S. The Atlantic Slave Trade. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Nugent, Paul. Africa since Independence: A Comparative History. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.Find this resource:

Pearson, Michael N. Port Cities and Intruders: The Swahili Coast, India, and Portugal in the Early Modern Era. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Savage, Elizabeth. A Gateway to Hell, a Gateway to Paradise: The North African Response to the Arab Conquest. Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Sheriff, Abdul. Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar: Integration of an East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy, 1770–1873. London: James Currey, 1987.Find this resource:

See also revised German edition, Die Sahara—Tausend Jahre Austausch von Ideen und Waren. Berlin-Wilmersdorf: Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, 2012.Find this resource:


(1.) Although there are many grounds (and precedents) for addressing all of Africa as a historical unit, the issue of global economic relationships evokes major distinctions between the tropical regions of the continent and both its North (Mediterranean) and South (a white settler and industrial economy) Temperate Zones. Thus these latter two regions have been largely omitted from this article (see also the historiographic section).

(2.) Andre Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills, eds., The World System: Five Hundred Years or Five Thousand? (London: Routledge, 1993); for a recent, more historically informed version, Philippe Beaujard, Les Mondes de L’océan Indien (Paris: Armand Colin, 2012), 13–20.

(3.) The issues in this section are discussed at greater length in Ralph A. Austen, “Trans-Saharan Trade,” in The Cambridge History of the World, Volume 4. A World with States, Empires, and Networks, 1200 BCE–900 CE, ed. Craig Benjamin (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 662–676.

(4.) Andrew Wilson, “Saharan Trade in the Roman Period: Short-, Medium- and Long-Distance Trade Networks,” Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 47.4 (2012): 409–449.

(5.) Roderick J. McIntosh and Susan Keech McIntosh, “The Inland Niger Delta before the Empire of Mali: Evidence from Jenne-jeno,” Journal of African History 22 (1981): 1–22.

(6.) Kissi was not an urban center and lost its sedentary population by c. 1300 but, in contrast to a more enduring city such as Jenne, it seems to have been hierarchically organized with valuable imported objects concentrated in a few, apparently elite, graves; Sonja Magnavita, “Initial Encounters: Seeking Traces of Ancient Trade Connections between West Africa and the Wider World,” Afriques, April 2013.

(7.) Jean Devisse, “Or d’Afrique,” Arabica 43 (1996): 234–243; A. Gondonneau and M. F. Guerra, “The Circulation of Precious Metals in the Arab Empire: The Case of the Near and the Middle East,” Archaeometry 44.4 (2002): 573–599. Magnavita, “Initial Encounters,” suggests that minor gold sources nearer to Kissi (but not yet researched) might have provided pre-Islamic exports across the Sahara.

(8.) Judith Scheele, “Traders, Saints and Irrigation: Reflections on Saharan Connectivity,” Journal of African History 51 (2011): 282–283.

(9.) A. Hamid Zayed (with J. Devisse), “Egypt’s Relations with the Rest of Africa,” in Ancient Civilizations of Africa, ed. G. Mokhtar, vol. 2 of UNESCO, General History of Africa (London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1981), 136–152.

(10.) Steven E. Sidebotham, Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011); Beaujard, Mondes de L’océan Indien, p. 515 defines the process discussed here as “l’intégration de l’Afrique de l’Est comme péripherie du système monde.”

(11.) Lionel Casson, The Periplus Maris Erythraei: Text with Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 60–61; the 2nd century ce geographer Ptolemy cites other Greek sources to confirm (but also contradict in detail) the basic account in the Periplus; Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, trans. and ed. Edward Luther Stevenson (New York: Dover, 1991), 31, 107.

(12.) The Periplus and Ptolemy are read to place the port in either Kenya or Northern Tanzania by Mark Horton and John Middleton, The Swahili: The Social Landscape of a Mercantile Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 32–37 while it is located farther south by Felix Chami, “Roman Beads from the Rufiji Delta, Tanzania: First Incontrovertible Link with the Periplus,” Current Anthropology 40.2 (1999): 237–241.

(13.) Horton and Middleton, The Swahili, 37–42; and Thomas Spear, “Early Swahili History Reconsidered,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 33.2 (2000): 265–271.

(14.) A. H. Merrills, ed., Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New Perspectives on Late Antique North Africa (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2004); and Brent D. Shaw, Sacred Violence: African Christians and Sectarian Hatred in the Age of Augustine (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

(15.) Elizabeth Savage, A Gateway to Hell, a Gateway to Paradise: The North African Response to the Arab Conquest (Princeton, N.J.: Darwin, 1997), 29–87, 113–158.

(16.) N. Levtzion and J. F. P. Hopkins, eds., Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History, trans. J. F. P. Hopkins (Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 2000), 79–80.

(17.) Levtzion and Hopkins, Corpus of Early Arabic Sources, 55.

(18.) J. F. A. Ajayi and Michael Crowder, eds., History of West Africa, 3d ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), 129–371.

(19.) Ivor Wilks, “The Juula and the Expansion of Islam into the Forest” in The History of Islam in Africa, ed. Nehemia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000), 93–115; and P. F. de Moraes Farias, “Silent Trade: Myth and Historical Evidence,” History in Africa 1 (1974): 9–24.

(20.) Abdul Sheriff, Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce and Islam (London: Hurst, 2010), 11, 80–93.

(21.) Horton and Middleton, The Swahili, 42–46; and J. Fleisher, et al., “When Did the Swahili Become Maritime?” American Anthropologist 117 (2015): 100–115.

(22.) Lorraine Swan, “Southeastern African Gold Mining and Trade,” Encyclopedia of Precolonial Africa: Archaeology, History, Languages, Cultures, and Environments, ed. Joseph O. Vogel (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira, 1997), 539–540.

(23.) Bashir Ahmed Datoo, Port Development in East Africa: Spatial Patterns from the Ninth to the Sixteenth Centuries (Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau, 1975).

(24.) Horton and Middleton, The Swahili, 73–75.

(25.) Thomas Vernet, “Slave Trade and Slavery on the Swahili Coast (1500–1750),” in Slavery, Islam and Diaspora, ed. Behnaz A. Mirzai, Ismael Musah Montana, and Paul E. Lovejoy (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2009), 37–76.

(26.) Thomas Vernet, “East African Travelers and Traders in the Indian Ocean: Swahili Ships, Swahili Mobilities ca. 1500–1800,” in Trade, Circulation, and Flow in the Indian Ocean World, ed. Michael Pearson (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 180–181.

(27.) Horton and Middleton, The Swahili, 47–95.

(28.) For information on and controversy around these putative ventures, Duane W. Roller, Through the Pillars of Herakles: Greco-Roman Exploration of the Atlantic (New York: Routledge, 2006), 1–43.

(29.) Philip D. Curtin, “Africa and the Wider Monetary World, 1250–1850,” in Precious Metals in the Later Medieval and Early Modern Worlds, ed. J. F. Richards (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1983), 238–250.

(30.) Michael N. Pearson, Port Cities and Intruders: The Swahili Coast, India, and Portugal in the Early Modern Era (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 129–154.

(31.) U. J. H. Galloway, The Sugar Cane Industry: An Historical Geography from its Origins to 1914 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989); A. C. de C. M. Saunders, A Social History of Black Slaves and Freedmen in Portugal, 1441–1555 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 47–61, 70–71, 176–177; and Ivor Wilks, “Wangara, Akan and Portuguese in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries. II. The Struggle for Trade,” Journal of African History 23.4 (1982): 464–465.

(32.) For a fuller discussion, Ralph A. Austen, “Monsters of Proto-Colonial Economic Enterprise: East India Companies and Slave Plantations,” Critical Historical Studies 4.2 (Fall 2017).

(33.) Portugal and Brazil accounted for 66 percent of the African slave trade up to 1650 and 71 percent between 1807 and 1866, when it had become illegal for British but not yet Brazilian vessels; however, in the heyday of sugar plantations (c. 1650–1807), British and French ships carried 53 percent of the enslaved vs. 36 percent for Portugal/Brazil (Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database).

(34.) Rebecca Shumway, The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2011).

(35.) Herbert S. Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 75–131.

(36.) Colleen E., Kriger, Cloth in West African History (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2006), 36, 143–146.

(37.) Joseph Inikori, “English versus Indian Cotton Textiles: The Impact of Imports on Cotton Textile Production in West Africa” in How India Clothed the World: The World of South Asian Textiles, 1500–1850, eds. Giorgio Riello and Tirthankar Roy (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009), 85–114.

(38.) Martin Lynn, Commerce and Economic Change in West Africa: The Palm Oil Trade in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

(39.) Ralph A. Austen and Dennis D. Cordell, “Trade, Transportation and Expanding Economic Networks: Saharan Caravan Commerce in the Era of European Expansion, 1500–1900,” in Black Business and Economic Power, eds. Alusine Jalloh and Toyin Falola (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2002), 80–113.

(40.) Michel Abitbol, Tombouctou et les Arma: De la Conquête Marocaine du Soudan Nigérien en 1591 á L’hégémonie de L’empire Peulh du Macina en 1833 (Paris: G.-P. Maisonneuve et Larose, 1979), 196–218.

(41.) K. N. Chaudhuri, The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660–1760 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 153–174; and F. S. Gaastra, “The Exports of Precious Metal from Europe to Asia by the Dutch East India Company, 1602–1795,” in Richards, Precious Metals, 447–496.

(42.) Ralph A. Austen, “The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade: A Tentative Census,” in The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, eds. H. Gemery and J. Hogendorn (New York: Academic Press, 1979).

(43.) Austen and Cordell, “Trade, Transportation,” 85–95; and Marion Johnson, “Calico Caravans: The Tripoli‑Kano Trade after 1880,” Journal of African History 17 (1976): 95–117.

(44.) Kriger, Cloth, 78–84; and Marisa Candotti, “The Hausa Textile Industry: Origins and Development in the Precolonial Period,” in Being and Becoming Hausa: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, eds. Anne Haour and Benedetta Rossi (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010), 187–211.

(45.) C. S. Nicholls, The Swahili Coast: Politics, Diplomacy and Trade on the East African Littoral, 1798–1856 (New York: Africana, 1971), 25–68.

(46.) Frederick Cooper, Plantation Slavery on the East Coast of Africa (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977); and Abdul Sheriff, Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar: Integration of an East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy, 1770–1873 (London: James Currey, 1987), 33–75.

(47.) Details of French-Zanzibar ties in Cooper, Plantation Slavery, 48–51 and Sheriff, Slaves, Spices and Ivory, 48–50.

(48.) Pearson, Port Cities, 63–100 (especially 87–92).

(49.) Edward A. Alpers, Ivory and Slaves: Changing Pattern of International Trade in East Central Africa to the Later Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975); and Andrew Roberts, “Nyamwezi Trade,” in Pre-Colonial African Trade: Essays on Trade in Central and Eastern Africa before 1900, ed. Richard Gray and David Birmingham (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 39–74.

(50.) Sheriff, Slaves, Spices and Ivory, pp. 155–200.

(51.) Nicholls, Swahili Coast, 290–293; and Sheriff, Slaves, Spices and Ivory, 82–110.

(52.) John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, “The Imperialism of Free Trade,” Economic History Review 6.1 (August 1953): 1–15.

(53.) Nicholls, Swahili Coast, 134–196.

(54.) Robert W. Harms, et al., eds., Indian Ocean Slavery in the Age of Abolition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013).

(55.) A. G. Hopkins, “The History of Globalization—and the Globalization of History?” in Globalization in World History, ed. A. G. Hopkins (London: Pimlico, 2002), 34.

(56.) Jeffrey G. Williamson, “Globalization, Labor Markets and Policy Backlash in the Past,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 12.4 (Fall 1998): 51–73.

(57.) Sara Berry, “Hegemony on a Shoestring: Indirect Rule and Access to Agricultural Land,” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 62.3 (1992): 327–355.

(58.) Unless otherwise indicated, what follows in this section comes from Ralph A. Austen, “Africa in the Global Decolonization Process: The Road to Postcoloniality,” in “Trustee for the Human Community”: Ralph J. Bunche and the Decolonization of Africa, eds. Robert Hill and Edmond J. Keller (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010), 230–257; and Gareth Austin, “African Economic Development and Colonial Legacies,” International Development Policy 1 (2010): 11–32.

(59.) Ralph A. Austen, “Indigenous Agents of Colonial Rule in Africa and India: Defining the Colonial State through its Secondary Bureaucracy,” in Cooperation and Empire. Local Realities of Global Processes, eds. Tanja Bührer, Flavio Eichmann, and Stig Förster (Oxford: Berghahn, 2017), 325–362.

(60.) Ewout Frankema and Marlous van Waijenburg, “Metropolitan Blueprints of Colonial Taxation? Comparative Fiscal Development in British and French Africa, 1880–1940,” Journal of African History 55.3 (2014): 371–400; and Marlous van Waijenburg, “Financing the African Colonial State: The Revenue Imperative and Forced Labor,” African Economic History Network, Working Paper 20, 2015.

(61.) Ralph A. Austen, African Economic History: Internal Development and External Dependency (London: James Currey, 1987), 126–129; Isaías Chaves, Stanley L. Engerman, and James A. Robinson, “Reinventing the Wheel: The Economic Benefits of Wheeled Transportation in Early Colonial British West Africa,” in Africa’s Development in Historical Perspective, eds. Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong, Robert H. Bates, Nathan Nunn, and James A. Robinson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 321–365.

(62.) Simon E. Katzenellenbogen, “The Miner’s Frontier, Transport and General Economic Development” in Colonialism in Africa, 1870–1960, vol. 4, The Economics of Colonialism, eds. Lewis H. Gann and Peter Duignan (London: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 389–411; for an extreme version of such relations in the postcolonial era see James Ferguson, “Governing Extraction: New Spatializations of Order and Disorder in Neoliberal Africa,” in Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 194–210.

(63.) Frederick Cooper, Citizenship between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945–1960 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014).

(64.) Ralph A. Austen, “Africa and Globalization: Colonialism, Decolonization and the Postcolonial Malaise,” Journal of Global History 1.3 (2006): 406–407.

(65.) Christopher J. Lee, ed., Making a World after Empire: The Bandung Moment and Its Political Afterlives (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010).

(66.) Craig Murphy, The Emergence of the NIEO Ideology (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984).

(67.) Paul Nugent, Africa since Independence: A Comparative History. (Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 204–259, 326ff.

(68.) For the most direct assault of this new system against the Lomé agreements, T. Josling and T. Taylor, et al., Banana Wars: The Anatomy of a Trade Dispute (Stanford, CA: Institute for International Studies Stanford University, 2003).

(69.) Trevor Parfitt, “The Decline of Eurafrica? Lomé’s Mid-Term Review,” Review of African Political Economy 23.67 (March 1996): 53–66.

(70.) Nugent, Africa since Independence, 327.

(71.) Jürgen Osterhammel and Niels P. Peterson, Globalization: A Short History, trans. Dona Geyer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 148; Manuel Castells, End of Millennium (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000), 165; and John Lonsdale, “Globalization, Ethnicity and Democracy: A View from ‘the Hopeless Continent,’” in Hopkins, Globalization in World History, 194–219.

(72.) International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, April 2016.

(73.) Morten Jerven, Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013).

(74.) Alwyn Young, “The African Growth Miracle,” Journal of Political Economy, 120 (August 2012): 696–739; and Margaret McMillan and Kenneth Harttgen, “What Is Driving the ‘African Growth Miracle’?” (Working Paper Series 209, African Development Bank, Tunis, Tunisia, 2014).

(75.) Lauren Coyle, “Tender Is the Mine: Law, Shadow Rule, and the Public Gaze in Ghana,” in Corporate Social Responsibility? Human Rights in the New Global Economy, eds. Charlotte Walker-Said and John Kelly (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 311–313.

(76.) “People Smugglers: The Latter Day Slave Merchants.” Frontex: European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

(77.) Frontex reports tend to stress political grounds for migration, and see Michael Clemens, “Does Development Reduce Migration?” (Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 359, March 18, 2014).

(78.) Janet Eom, Jyhjong Hwang, Ying Xia, and Deborah Brautigam, “Looking Back and Moving Forward: An Analysis of China-Africa Economic Trends and the Outcomes of the 2015 Forum on China Africa Cooperation” (School of Advanced International Studies, China Africa Research Initiative [SAIS-CARI] Policy Brief 09/2016); and Jyhjong Hwang, Deborah Brautigam, and Janet Eom, “How Chinese Money is Transforming Africa: It’s Not What You Think[] ” (SAIS-CARI Policy Brief 11/2016, Updated April 31, 2016).

(79.) Ghislaine Lydon, “Saharan Oceans and Bridges, Barriers and Divides in Africa’s Historiographical Landscape,” Journal of African History 56.1 (2015): 3–22; and Baz Lecocq, “Distant Shores: A Historiographic View on Trans-Saharan Space,” Journal of African History 56.1 (2015): 23–36.

(80.) Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996); for a translation of these issues into a discussion of how African studies should now be taught at the University of Cape Town, see the exchanges between Mamdani and several colleagues there in Social Dynamics—A Journal of the Centre for African Studies University of Cape Town 24.2 (1998): 1–105.

(81.) Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, A Modern Economic History of Africa. (Dakar: Codesria, 1993), 2–3.

(82.) David Eltis and Lawrence C. Jennings, “Trade between Western Africa and the Atlantic World in the Pre-Colonial Era,” American Historical Review 93.4 (1988): 952–959.

(83.) John Iliffe, Africans: The History of a Continent, 2d ed. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

(84.) Gareth Austin, “Resources, Techniques, and Strategies South of the Sahara: Revising the Factor Endowments Perspective on African Economic Development, 1500–2001,” Economic History Review 61.3 (2008): 587–624.

(85.) Jean-Philippe Platteau, “Redistributive Pressures in Sub-Saharan Africa: Causes, Consequences, and Coping Strategies,” Akyeampong et al., Africa’s Development, 196–197.

(86.) Karl Polanyi, Dahomey and the Slave Trade: An Analysis of an Archaic Economy (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966); and Santhi Hejeebu and Deirdre McCloskey, “The Reproving of Karl Polanyi,” Critical Review 13.3–4 (1999): 285–314.

(87.) The classic works in this genre are A. G. Hopkins, An Economic History of West Africa (London: Longman, 1973) and Philip Curtin, Economic Change in Precolonial Africa: Senegambia in the Era of the Slave Trade (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975).

(88.) Alpers, Ivory and Slaves; Sheriff, Slaves, Spices and Ivory; these issues are dealt with more extensively in Ralph A. Austen, “‘Africanist’ Historiography and Its Critics: Can There Be an Autonomous African History?” in African Historiography: Essays in Honour of Ade Ajayi, ed. Toyin Falola (Lagos and London: Longman, 1993), 209–210.

(89.) Frederick Cooper, “What Is the Concept of Globalization Good For? An African Historian’s Perspective,” African Affairs 100.399 (2001): 189–213.

(90.) Frederick Cooper, Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 156–191; see a similar argument in Jean-François Bayart, “Africa in the World: A History of Extraversion,” African Affairs 99 (2000): 222.

(91.) Gareth Austin and Stephen Broadberry, “Introduction: The Renaissance of African Economic History,” Economic History Review 67.4 (2014): 893–906.

(92.) J. I. Inikori, “Africa and the Globalization Process: Western Africa, 1450–1850,” Journal of Global History 2.1 (2007): 63–86; and Inikori, “English versus Indian Cotton Textiles.”

(93.) N. Levtzion and J. F. P. Hopkins, eds., Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History, trans. J. F. P. Hopkins (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2000).

(94.) G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, The East African Coast: Select Documents from the First to the Earlier Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon, 1962).

(95.) Originally titled Sudanic Africa: A Journal of Historical Sources, this journal was published from 1990 to 2005; its successor, the online-only Islamic Africa, is less focused on primary documents.

(96.) Arabic Literature of Africa; see announcement by the publisher; the table of contents of the extant four-plus volumes can be viewed (and the works purchased) online.

(97.) For some of the relevant (for the 19th and 20th centuries) business records, see A. G. Hopkins, “Imperial Business in Africa. Part I: Sources,” Journal of African History 17.1 (1976): 29–48.

(98.) Frankema and van Waijenburg, “Metropolitan Blueprints of Colonial Taxation?” 399–400.

(99.) Ralph A. Austen, “The Moral Economy of Witchcraft: An Essay in Comparative History,” in Modernity and its Malcontents, eds. J. Comaroff and J. L. Comaroff (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 89–110; and Elizabeth Allo Isichei, Voices of the Poor in Africa (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2002).

(100.) For an exceptional West African coastal case see Stephen D. Behrendt, The Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); for North African traders operating in the West and Central Sudan, Ghislaine Lydon, On Trans-Saharan Trails: Islamic Law, Trade Networks, and Cross-cultural Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Western Africa (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), as well as Yacine Daddi Addoun and Paul Lovejoy, “Commerce and Credit in Katsina in the Nineteenth Century,” in Africa, Empire and Globalization Essays in Honor of A. G. Hopkins, eds. Toyin Falola and Emily Brownell (Durham, NC: Carolina University Press, 2011), 111–124.

(101.) Such documents have been used by several generations of West Africanist historians from Raymond Dumett, “African Entrepreneurship” in Imperialism, Economic Development and Social Change in West Africa (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2013), 233–297; through Kristin Mann, Slavery and the Birth of an African City: Lagos, 1760–1900 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007) to Emmanuel Akyeampong, “Commerce, Credit, and Mobility in Late Nineteenth-Century Gold Coast: Changing Dynamics in Euro-African Trade,” in Akyeampong et al., Africa’s Development, 231–263; but they are certainly not yet exhausted.