Africa’s economic history went through various stages, beginning with Stone Age hunter-gatherers, through the Iron Age and the development of agriculture, to sedentary communities with growing and varied economies, bigger and more sophisticated political states, and growing trade activities. Between the 7th and 19th centuries, several large states emerged in the Sahel and in eastern and southern Africa. Key to their rise and prosperity was a growing population and agriculture as well as expanding trade, either through the trans-Saharan trade to the Mediterranean or across the Indian Ocean to Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. Africa’s fortunes dipped with the onset of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which ravaged the continent and led to Africa losing millions of people to the New World. Following the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, Europe partitioned and colonized the continent and presided over varied economic regimes. These were settler colonies, peasant-agricultural colonies, and concession company colonies. Of the three, settler colonies developed most, although at the expense of the African majority. Independence came after the Second World War and Africa entered its postcolonial phase. After a promising start in the decade of the 1960s, African economies went into decline in the 1970s, necessitating governments to borrow from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to revamp their economies. The structural adjustment programs they were required to implement as a condition for the loans proved to be deleterious to African economies. African economic history scholars have generally shied away from the continent’s very early periods, preferring to focus on the period after the 15th century which has more documented history. They have used three analytical approaches: classical economics, dependency theory, and Marxist paradigms. Each of the three approaches has some shortcomings. Recently, the New African Economic History approach is using cliometric techniques to study Africa’s economic past. More economics than conventional economic history, it has attracted some from more history-based scholars as ahistorical.
African Economic History and Historiography
African Market Women, Market Queens, and Merchant Queens
In the open marketplaces found in cities and villages throughout Africa, women traders usually predominate. This gives women considerable weight as economic actors, because these marketplace systems are the primary distributive networks in most parts of Africa. A large proportion of Africa’s consumer goods and foodstuffs move through their intricate chains of intermediaries, which can include market retailers, neighborhood shops, street vendors, wholesalers, and travelers who collect goods from farms, factories, and ports. Although the vast majority of women traders live at or below the poverty line, some have risen to powerful positions that earn them the sobriquet of queen. Different regions of Africa show distinctive patterns of trading practices and of men and women’s participation in specific trading roles, reflecting specific gendered histories of precolonial trade, colonial interventions, and waves of national policy. These variations arise not from some primordial isolation, but from traders’ varied positioning within longstanding trade relations that have linked Africans since ancient times between regions, across the Sahara Desert and over adjoining oceans. Women’s trading roles are more highly developed in western Africa than in eastern, northern, and southern Africa, where precolonial trading patterns were more radically disrupted by conquest, land appropriation, and apartheid. Ideologies and arenas of practice such as Islam, Christianity, modernization, socialism, structural adjustment, and globalization likewise shape the constraints and opportunities facing women traders in any given situation. Because these influences operate around the globe, though not uniformly, they to some extent create parallel or convergent trends in widely separated nations. Deepening economic pressures today push even more women and men into trading to support their families and sustain the hope of prosperity. Market women struggle individually and collectively to keep their communities going under difficult circumstances that make formal economic channels function poorly. Their determined efforts give African economies more resilience as they respond to the challenges of war, political instability, and climate change.
Archaeology of Early Pastoralism in East Africa
The first East African pastoralists arrived at the shores of Lake Turkana soon after the end of the African Humid Period, about 5,000 years ago. In the preceding millennia of the Holocene, fishing economies characterized East Africa. The domestic animals of the early pastoralists were not indigenous to East Africa, nor did they spread through the region simultaneously. Early pastoralist archaeological sites around Lake Turkana comprise settlements and remarkable monumental cemeteries. The expansion of pastoralists further south through East Africa was a two-stage process, probably because of the challenges posed by the presence of diseases fatal to livestock. First, caprines spread south and appear to have been integrated into existing forager subsistence systems. Then, starting toward the end of the 2nd millennium bce, specialized pastoralism began to be established across central and southern Kenya and into northern Tanzania. While analysis of lipid residues on potsherds has demonstrated that these Pastoral Neolithic (PN) peoples milked their animals, the question of whether agriculture was also practiced remains unresolved. Analyses of ancient DNA have shown there were at least two episodes of demic diffusion associated with the spread and establishment of the PN in East Africa. Considerable diversity is present in the PN, with three distinct cultures generally recognized across East Africa south of Lake Turkana. Moreover, there is even greater diversity observed in the decoration and shapes of ceramics. However, this cultural diversity is not matched by human genetic diversity, at least among the analyzed skeletons from two of the three cultures—the Elmenteitan and the Savanna Pastoral Neolithic.
The Bretton Woods Institutions and Economic Reform in Africa
Adeoye O. Akinola
The activities of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (together comprising the Bretton Woods Institutions) in Africa have continued to generate questions about the impact of economic reforms on democratization and economic growth. The Bretton Woods Institutions strongly believe that economic growth contributes significantly to poverty alleviation efforts and hence generates improvements in living standards, particularly in developing countries, including those in Africa. In the mid-1980s, as many African countries struggled to service their external debts and qualify for additional credit to provide services to their citizens and promote economic growth and development, the World Bank and the IMF offered to help them. However, the Bretton Woods Institutions conditioned their assistance on the willingness of each African country to undertake necessary structural reforms, which included a reduction in the public sector, devaluation of the national currency, deregulation of the foreign trade sector, and more reliance on markets for the allocation of resources. These aid programs, which came to be known as Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) consisted of conditional lending to African countries in economic crisis. At this time, the World Bank felt that the effectiveness of its development programs in Africa and other regions of the world was being undermined by bloated and dysfunctional bureaucratic structures and governmental systems that were hostile to the market generally and entrepreneurship in particular. The World Bank’s desire to condition the extension of credit to African countries on institutional reforms was supposedly to improve bureaucratic efficiency, as well as economic performance, and enhance the effectiveness of the World Bank’s projects in these countries. Thus, the IMF and the World Bank emerged in the 1990s as major players in efforts to improve economic growth and development in Africa. The SAPs were expected to improve macroeconomic performance, produce rapid economic growth, achieve economic diversification, and provide each African country with the resources that it needed to confront poverty and improve national living standards. In fact, in 1994, the World Bank expressed a lot of optimism about the impact of SAPs on African economies. However, many critics have argued that SAPs had virtually no positive impact on the macroeconomic performance of African economies and, instead, created a series of internal political and economic contradictions that have continued to haunt the continent to this day. As a result, critics say, many countries that implemented SAPs continue to suffer from high levels of poverty and became more dependent on external financial resources (such as loans, development aid, and food aid) than before they got involved with the Bretton Woods Institutions and their adjustment programs.
Business Records as Sources for African History
Dmitri van den Bersselaar
Business records are documents routinely produced by employees and management of commercial businesses. They may be part of internal processes or produced to communicate with stakeholders or to meet legal requirements. They usually include a mix of qualitative (reports and correspondence) and quantitative (detailed accounting data) material. Depending on how complete the material is, documents may relate to: strategic management; accounting and financial data; operational matters; legal issues; trademarks; marketing; personnel files; and labor and welfare issues. Business records add a different dimension compared to information from government and colonial office sources by providing a private sector perspective on key episodes of colonial and postcolonial history, including strikes and protests, the relationship between the (colonial) state and business, and decolonization. Historians have used business records as sources for histories of business and trade in Africa, for studies on industrialization and development, and also to inform studies on colonialism and political history, as well as economic, social, and labor history. Business records may be kept in company archives, where they are not always easy to identify or access, kept in public repositories, or privately held. Many business archives have been weeded, whereby documentation relating to special activities, challenges, and crises has been retained, while routine documentation of interest to economic and social historians has been destroyed. Other collections appear to have disappeared altogether when companies went out of business or were taken over by others.
Cannabis and Tobacco in Precolonial and Colonial Africa
Chris S. Duvall
Cannabis and tobacco have longstanding roles in African societies. Despite botanical and pharmacological dissimilarities, it is worthwhile to consider tobacco and cannabis together because they have been for centuries the most commonly and widely smoked drug plants. Cannabis, the source of marijuana and hashish, was introduced to eastern Africa from southern Asia, and dispersed widely within Africa mostly after 1500. In sub-Saharan Africa, cannabis was taken into ethnobotanies that included pipe smoking, a practice invented in Africa; in Asia, it had been consumed orally. Smoking significantly changes the drug pharmacologically, and the African innovation of smoking cannabis initiated the now-global practice. Africans developed diverse cultures of cannabis use, including Central African practices that circulated widely in the Atlantic world via slave trading. Tobacco was introduced to Africa from the Americas in the late 1500s. It gained rapid, widespread popularity, and Africans developed distinctive modes of tobacco production and use. Primary sources on these plants are predominantly from European observers, which limits historical knowledge because Europeans strongly favored tobacco and were mostly ignorant or disdainful of African cannabis uses. Both plants have for centuries been important subsistence crops. Tobacco was traded across the continent beginning in the 1600s; cannabis was less valuable but widely exchanged by the same century, and probably earlier. Both plants became cash crops under colonial regimes. Tobacco helped sustain mercantilist and slave-trade economies, became a focus of colonial and postcolonial economic development efforts, and remains economically important. Cannabis was outlawed across most of the continent by 1920. Africans resisted its prohibition, and cannabis production remains economically significant despite its continued illegality.
Colonial Agricultural Development Schemes
Monica van Beusekom
The period from the 1920s to the end of colonial rule saw increasing government intervention in agricultural production and the adoption of ambitious agricultural development schemes. These development schemes often aimed to increase and control the production and marketing of cash crops such as cotton and peanuts, essential to European industries. Examples include the Gezira Scheme (Sudan), the Office du Niger (French Soudan), the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme, the Compagnie Générale des Oléagineux Tropicaux (CGOT, Senegal), as well as a host of other schemes. Confident in their agricultural expertise, colonial planners often sought radical transformations in African agricultural systems, away from extensive hoe cultivation toward intensive plow agriculture following a strict crop rotation. Worries about environmental degradation and population growth, as well as the need to manage social dislocation and maintain political stability, framed colonial strategies. Encountering African farmers with priorities and practices that were often at odds with their own, colonial planners failed to transform agriculture in the ways they intended. Nonetheless, development still wrought significant change as farmers considered whether to circumvent, resist, adapt, or adopt new technologies and farming methods. If at first agricultural development schemes were localized and mostly ineffective efforts to make empire profitable, by the 1940s and 1950s, agricultural development interventions became more widespread and intrusive. This helped generate rural support for anticolonial movements. Nonetheless, by the last decades of colonial rule, the idea of planned development as desirable became commonplace, not just within colonial governments, but also in international institutions and among nationalist leaders. Thus, state-led agricultural development would remain a powerful force in independent Africa.
Development of Plant Food Production in the West African Savannas: Archaeobotanical Perspectives
The West African savannas are a major area of independent plant domestication, with pearl millet, African rice, fonio, several legumes, and vegetable crops originating there. For understanding the origins of West African plant-food-producing traditions, it is useful to have a look at their precursors in the Sahara during the “African humid period” between 10,500 and 4,500 years ago. The Early and Middle Holocene Saharan foragers and pastoralists intensively used wild grasses for food but did not intentionally cultivate. Due to increasing aridity in the late 3rd millennium bce, the pastoralists migrated southward into the savanna zone. In this context pearl millet was domesticated and spread rapidly in West Africa during the 2nd millennium bce. It was first cultivated by agro-pastoral communities, predominantly on a small scale. The 1st millennium bce was a transitional phase: most of the early agricultural societies disappeared, but it was also a time of numerous economic and social innovations. Due to increasing aridity, the floodplains around Lake Chad and the valleys of the rivers Senegal and Niger became accessible to farming populations after 1000 bce. In the 1st millennium ce, agriculture intensified, with mixed cultivation of cereals and legumes and the integration of new African domesticates, such as sorghum, fonio, roselle, and okra. Pearl millet remained the major crop in most areas, while sorghum dominated in northern Cameroon. Imported wheat, date palm, and cotton appeared in the first half of the 2nd millennium ce. The combined exploitation of cultivated cereals, legumes, and wild fruit trees (e.g., shea butter tree) in agroforesty systems eventually resulted in a cultural landscape as it is still visible in West Africa today.
Documenting Precolonial Trade in Africa
Promoted by necessity, scarcity, and/or abundance, trade is one of the most essential cultural behaviors that promoted contact and exchange of ideas, commodities, and services between individuals and communities and variously transformed African societies of different regions and time periods. Anthropological, historical (including historical linguistics), and archaeological evidence points to the existence, on the one hand, of intra-African trade and, on the other, of external trade between Africa and those outside the continent. Traditionally, however, trade and exchange involving perishable and organic commodities such as grain and cattle have until now been very difficult to identify due to a lack of well-resolved documentation techniques. By comparison, some objects such as metal artifacts, glass beads, ceramics, and porcelain are pyrotechnological products, with a high survival rate that makes their trade and exchange easily visible archaeologically. Given the well-known regional differences across the continent, it is essential to combine multiple sources and techniques, in a multipronged way, to provide a dynamic picture of the mechanics of precolonial African trade and exchange of various time periods and geographies.
Drug Use, Trade, and Policy in Africa
Neil Carrier and Gernot Klantschnig
Drugs have a long history in Africa, despite the continent not being as associated with such psychoactive substances as other regions. This psychoactive history in Sub-Saharan Africa can be traced from the earliest evidence for the use of indigenous substances (including alcoholic drinks, khat and kola) to the arrival of imported drugs such as cannabis, distilled spirits, and tobacco and to more recent drug use changes. The colonial period and the era of drug prohibition in the 20th century was a time when the very idea of a “drug” with all its modern connotations took root in Africa, as well as the more recent concern with drug trafficking and consumption through the continent. The history of drugs—their production, trade, and consumption—thus resonates strongly with the wider social, political, and economic history of the continent, and such resonances are also important when considering current and future policy toward such substances in an era when such policy is in flux globally.
Euro-African Trade Relations and Socioeconomic Development in West Africa, 1450–1900
Since direct contact between Europeans and West Africans was established in the mid-15th century by the Portuguese, Euro-African trade relations have played a major role in West Africa’s long-run socioeconomic development. This critical role was connected to two totally different kinds of trade conducted by Europeans at different points in time: trade in commodities (the products of West African labor and natural resources) and trade in human captives. The first 200 years (1450–1650) of European commercial enterprise in West Africa were dominated overwhelmingly by trade in commodities; trade in human captives overwhelmingly dominated in the 200 years which followed (1650–1867). Trade in commodities returned with a bang in the last decades of the 19th century (1870–1900). The respective effects of these two trades on the development process in West Africa were as different as the trades themselves. The early trade in commodities contributed positively to the process; the transition from the trade in commodities to the trade in human captives had a disastrous effect; the 19th-century transition to commodity trade made an immense positive contribution. The positive contribution was significantly enhanced by the ending of the socioeconomic crises engendered by the trade in human captives, and by the establishment of general peace (Pax Britannia) by British colonial rule, with its free trade policy. However, the failure of the colonial administration to take advantage of the general increase in real household incomes and purchasing power and encourage domestic manufacturing in the colonies prevented the transformation of short-term growth into structural transformation and long-run development.
Farming and Herding in Eastern Africa: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives
Freda Nkirote M'Mbogori
The inception of agriculture in eastern Africa is a major topic of discussion among Africanist archaeologists, although very sparse evidence exists. Questions range from whether domestication was a local invention or whether it was introduced from the Near East, Asia, or elsewhere outside of Africa. These questions have remained unanswered because wild progenitors and models of the spread of African domesticates are yet to be established using undisputable data. The paucity of direct data has therefore necessitated the use of objects of material culture such as pottery, beads, burial cairns, architectural structures, and so on as indicators of pastoralism and cereal farming. In addition to the origins of African domesticates, research in eastern Africa has concerned itself with questions of farming technologies from later archaeological and historical times to the present. The remains of elaborate farming systems with extensive irrigation networks have drawn considerable attention. Though not unchanged, some of these farming systems remain in contemporary use in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.
Food History and Women in Sub-Saharan Africa
Any account of women and food history in sub-Saharan Africa must be complicated by two main factors: first, the multitude and complexity of African societies and their interactions with the different colonial powers over five centuries, and, second, by an underestimation of the importance of women’s activities by researchers imbued with colonial patriarchal ideologies. In prehistoric and precolonial times, only glimpses of women’s roles in food production and gathering can be seen, drawing on evidence from historical linguistics, ethnography, anthropology, and archaeology. What evidence there is suggests that women’s participation in these tasks was important. The written account of Ibn Battutah and the oral epic of Sundiata provide some information about what was eaten and Sundiata does point to women’s major role in growing food and in cooking. During the colonial period, from about 1500 to the 1960s, many accounts from different parts of sub-Saharan Africa stress how women played a dominant part in the farming, processing, preparation, and cooking of food. There was a varied and often complex division of labor between men and women. Instead of the more rigid gendered private/public divide often seen in the West, women in Africa have engaged in wider roles in the public sphere, for example, in the processing of food for sale. There are some indications that women’s work was changed by the introduction of new crops from Asia and the Americas. Colonial governments favored men working on cash crops so that women focused even more on the provision of food for the family. Women also showed great adaptability in assessing and using new technologies such as peanut processing machines. Cooking has remained predominantly a woman’s occupation in sub-Saharan Africa and a divide between a “high” cuisine, mainly in the hands of men outside Africa, and a “low” or humble cuisine, has not developed. Cookery books are very useful sources for evidence of the history of women’s domestic role. Those published for European settler wives in the colonial period were focused on the housewife rooted in the home and this ideology of domesticity can be found in the cookery books of postcolonial Africa. After independence, the ruling elites of African nations set about constructing discourses of national identity, flags and anthems particular to each nation, and women have contributed to this nation-building by assembling national cuisines. Since the 1980s, an epidemic of obesity has occurred in many African urban areas, with associated chronic disease, which women have suffered more than men. An ideal image of a plumper body, along with the introduction of “fast food,” has contributed to this situation. Women have also been disadvantaged by cultural food taboos in which certain foods are prohibited to them.
Food Production in the Forest Zone of West Africa: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives
Richard T. Chia and A. Catherine D'Andrea
Recent narratives on the origin of food production in the West African forest zone have replaced earlier diffusion-based models with viewpoints that emphasize the diversity of sources for plants and animals exploited and domesticated in the region. Management of indigenous tree species, including oil palm and incense tree, managed first by indigenous foragers, have the longest history in the area, dating back to over 8,400 before present (bp). After the 4th millennium bp, domesticates such as pearl millet, cowpea, and domestic caprines were introduced from adjacent Sahel and the savanna regions, and populations began to favor oil palm over incense tree. The mechanisms of these introductions are less clear but likely involved both diffusion and/or movements of peoples who became sedentary to varying degrees. Palaeoenvironment is an important factor to consider in tracking the development of food production in the forest zone; however, some combination of natural and human-mediated changes took place, the nature of which was not uniformly distributed.
Natural and human histories intersect in Africa’s forested regions. Forests of several types cover the continent’s mountains, savannas, and river basins. Most current classifications divide forest by physical structure. Open canopy forests occur in semi-arid regions of western, eastern, and southern Africa, while closed canopy rain forests with large emergent trees cover much of the Congo River basin, the upland forests of Rift Valley escarpments, and the volcanic mountains in eastern and Central Africa. Along the tropical coasts, mangrove forests hug the river estuaries. For much of human history, Africa’s forests have anchored foraging and agrarian societies. In the process of domesticating the landscape through agriculture, Africans modified forests in ways that ranged from large-scale deforestation to forest creation on savanna environments. A boom in forest commodities preceded European colonialism and then continued when foreign governments took formal possession of African territory in the late 19th century. In this context, states ascribed value to forest trees as commodities and so managed them as profitable agricultural crops. Colonial forestry separated people from forests physically and culturally. This fundamental shift in human–forest relations still resonates in postcolonial African countries under the guise of internationally funded forest conservation.
Histories of Transportation and Mobility in Africa
The history of transportation is part of a much broader history of mobility on the African continent. Transport history highlights the technologies, infrastructures, and networks that facilitated the circulation and exchange of people, goods, and ideas within local communities, across regions, and within systems of long-distance and global trade. While scholars have often associated transportation with the mechanized technologies of the industrial age, the history of mobility and transportation in Africa embraces a much broader definition of technology, encompassing animal, human, and mechanical transportation dating back to at least the 1st century ce. These long technological and transport histories informed the ways in which Africans shaped the industrial transport cultures and practices of the 19th and 20th centuries. Technologies and infrastructures made mobility possible, but the values and practices of African communities made mobility meaningful, connecting individuals and communities in networks of cultural and economic exchange at local, regional, continental, and global scales. For some, mobility and transportation provided crucial economic opportunities as wage laborers and entrepreneurs. For others, mobility was defined by conditions of servitude. For most, however, mobility and transportation was much more personal, connected to daily habits of work, travel, and trade. As they moved, Africans articulated new understandings of work, created economies of value, and defined individual and collective identities—actions that gave technology and infrastructure meaning as part of a broader mobility-system. This mobility-system—or rather the multiple mobility-systems—that developed and transformed throughout the history of the continent connected global trading systems and local agricultural practice, railroads and carrier paths, motor vehicles and markets.
The History of Agriculture in Ethiopia
James C. McCann
Ethiopia’s highlands and their lowland peripheries offer a distinctive and, in many ways, ideal setting for human habitation and the evolution of agricultural ecologies. The ranges in climate variability by season and over time framed a sophisticated set of crops, agricultural practices, and local political ecologies. Chief among these was the development and use of the single-tine ox-plow (i.e., the ard or scratch plow) that integrated endemic annual crops with secondary crop introductions and, in some areas, cultivated or intercropped with perennial crops such as ensete and coffee. Animal husbandry to sustain animal traction and pastoral livelihoods in regional ecologies was essential, over time, to regional economies and their political ecologies. Agricultural patterns existed at the heart of cultural diversities and periods of political conflict and accommodations. In some areas of the south (Sidamo), southeast (Harar highlands), and southwest (Jimma), coffee cultivation complemented annual grain cropping. Yet the plow in its current form as a dominant tool appears in rock painting dating as far back as 500 ad. That technology was both efficient and persistent. While Ethiopia’s plow agriculture dominated the region’s political ecology over more than two millennia, in the late 20th century Ethiopia’s agrarian economy began an inexorable set of changes. New crops (such as maize), urbanization, and global migration of peoples and commodities (oil seeds, fibers, and grains) brought new seeds, inputs, and pressures to adapt to change, particularly for smallholder farmers and new enterprises. Heavy investments in dams and irrigated agriculture also foretell new agricultural landscapes of riverain areas that will need to coexist with the classic highland smallholder farms. The story of maize in Ethiopia’s agricultural history is emblematic of the struggle between pressures for change and the inertia of tradition felt by farmers. Their agrarian adaptation to new methods, new materials, and a new climate will play itself out in existing geographies and natural contours.
HIV and AIDS in Africa
Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV, with an estimated 25.7 million HIV-positive people in Africa by the end of 2018. This figure represents over two-thirds of infected people globally. African women and girls represent a majority of those infected, and Africa is home to three-fourths of all HIV-infected women and girls. Across African countries, there are differences in the sizes and trajectories of HIV epidemics. Southern Africa has the worst epidemic, with the numbers infected still rising in some countries. Prompting a development and governance crisis in many southern African countries, HIV prevalence rates are as high as 20 percent of the adult population in some countries and nearing 50 percent of the adult population in certain communities. East Africa too has been hit hard by HIV, leading to high mortality and morbidity rates in that region as well. In most of West and North Africa, there has been limited spread of HIV, with most countries in these regions having HIV prevalence rates of less than 3 percent. Africa’s encounter with HIV and AIDS began before it was first identified as a medical condition early in the 1980s. However, it was not recognized as an epidemic in most parts of Africa until much later. Framed largely as a public health crisis rather than a developmental one, much of the world’s focus on the AIDS pandemic in Africa has centered on access to treatment, and developing effective prevention strategies that have principally focused on behavior change practices for targeted populations. However, the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Africa did not emerge in a vacuum. It is the consequence of longer historical processes such as massive demographic growth, urbanization, and social change, as well as global inequalities and historical legacies of colonialism and imperialism. In this regard, a historical account of HIV in Africa offers an important corrective to the dominant biomedical response to AIDS in Africa. It is important to take note of longer historical processes that have shaped both the virus and the human response to it.
Indigenization and Black Economic Empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa since the Late 1950s
Economic indigenization and black economic empowerment (BEE) policies in most sub-Saharan African countries were designed to create more economic opportunities for “indigenous,” “black,” or “African” people, mainly through affirmative action. They were attempts to address historical injustices caused by economic marginalization and deprivation of “indigenous” or “black” people during European colonial domination. In addition, they were attempts to address the negative impact of the incorporation of Africa in the world capitalist system, precisely the impact of foreign capital. While the adoption of indigenization and BEE policies was sine qua non in sub-Saharan Africa, there were a number of constraints. Socialist ideologies adopted by some postcolonial governments in Africa discouraged entrepreneurship and private accumulation of wealth. African governments’ alliance with and accommodation of local white and foreign capital, and their reluctance to create a middle class with potential to challenge their dominance retarded indigenization and BEE policies. At different times, and responding to domestic or foreign developments, the attitude of African governments changed and they opened some political and economic space to indigenous entrepreneurs. Indigenous interest groups advocated for legislation to support indigenization and BEE. While indigenization and BEE policies created economic opportunities for indigenous people, they ignited debates on issues such as racial discrimination, citizenship, and increasing inequalities among the targeted beneficiaries. They have also been pilloried for providing a gateway for fraud, corruption, patronage, and cronyism.
The expressions, “informal economy,” “informal sector,” and “informal employment” reflect statistical terms and definitions used to describe various aspects of informality. They are the result of several decades of work to develop a framework that adequately represents the multifaceted nature of informality as it applies not only to developing countries, but also to other transition and developed economies. The informal sector is generally viewed as the set of activities of small unregistered enterprises, while informal employment refers to employment within the formal or informal sector that lacks any form of protection, whether legal or social.1 The informal economy is a broader concept that encompasses all of these elements in their different forms, including their outputs and outcomes. The many different views about the drivers and composition of the informal economy in Africa have influenced various prescriptions and policy responses. On the one hand, some have viewed informality as being inimical to investment and growth, given that the activities undertaken usually fall outside of official regulation and control. The policy response has, therefore, often been to clamp down on or formalize the activities and relationships within the informal economy. On the other hand, informality is sometimes viewed as critical for growth and poverty reduction, given that the informal economy is inextricably linked to the formal economy while also serving as an important source of livelihood for millions of people. As a result of this, some effort has recently gone into providing a more supportive environment to enhance productivity within the informal economy and minimize its inherent vulnerabilities in the last decade. In the face of increasing globalization and access to new technologies that will drive the future of work, there is concern about the future of informal economic activities. Whether new technologies lead to a decline or upscaling of the informal economy in Africa will depend on several elements. Technology will not only shape how informality in Africa is viewed, but will influence the kind of activities undertaken, its links with the formal economy, and ultimately, the public policy response, which will itself be shaped by advances in technology.