P 42

At the Crossroads of Business, Finance, and Society: Exploring New Themes in Africa's Economic History

Panel abstract
The recent resurgence of research in African economic history has coincided with the relative growth in African economies. Although economic historians of Africa study the continent’s past, many current debates strive to explain Africa’s apparent failure to sustain economic growth and development. Both economists and historians have profited from the introduction of new quantitate techniques and data sources to revise many debates about the continent’s rich and varied past. While it remains true that economic historians working in Africa experience significant constraints, new partnerships between universities in Europe and those south of the Sahara are creating exciting opportunities for collaboration and dynamic learning. Even if economic history can be defined most generally as the history of economic activity of human societies, the study of business administration and the sources of financial capital provide important insights into how pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial societies in Africa allocated the continent’s resources.
This panel aims to explore new research in Africa’s business, economic, and financial history at German-language universities. What are the new research themes in the study of Africa’s economic past and how can they be analysed in terms of contemporary social developments?

Time: Friday, 29/06/2018, 4.30 - 6.30 pm
Venue: Hörsaalgebäude, HS 16

Mariusz Lukasiewicz (Leipzig University)
Dmitri van den Bersselaar (Leipzig University)

Felix Meier zu Selhausen (University of Sussex, Falmer, UK)
Christian Velasco (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)
Cassandra Mark-Thiesen (University of Basel, Switzerland)


Paper abstracts

Felix Meier zu Selhausen
Gender Inequality and Elite Formation in Colonial British Africa: Missionaries, Markets, and Marriage

Using a unique data set from Anglican marriage registers in five former colonies of British Africa, this article explores African gender inequality and Christian elite-formation in long-run comparative perspective, 1860-1960. Using unique individual-level data of 22,000 Protestant grooms and brides, we reconstruct and trace the social and economic lives of Christian African men and women in the making of a new colonial and post-colonial classstratified society in urban British Africa. We show that the colonial era, with its introduction of new mechanisms for systematically extracting African wealth and the importation and African adoption of many aspects of Western culture, such as Christianity, formal education, and living standards for the new upper class, and new forms of patriarchal ideology and practice, had dramatic effects on African social and economic development. In urban centres, social class and gender inequalities intensified – processes that significantly affected the social status of African women. Missionaries took an ambiguous role: creating exclusive wage labour niches, outside the domestic sphere, for a limited number of women while at the same institutionalizing women as ‘homemaker’ through a Victorian educational agenda, which restricted their opportunities in the colonial economy. Female entrepreneurship was significantly more pronounced among West African brides, than East African women, while formal labour market participation among Anglican brides and grooms followed a remarkably similar trend across urban British Africa. Nevertheless, Christian elite women, stood in the ‘pole position’ when formal labour markets were increasingly opening for women during the Africanization period.

Christian Velasco
Stability Perspectives: Kenyan Banking System after the Mau Mau War

The banking history in colonial Kenya has been poorly studied and these financial institutions have been easily qualified as small, conservative, and unimportant for the economic development of the colony. Nevertheless, during the last years new researches started to challenge this early vison, showing a more complex reality. To contribute to this historiographic growth, this paper studies the development of the banking sector since the end of the Operation Anvil up to the Lancaster House Conference. My attempt is to prove that the belief of the authorities, e.g. government and banks, that Kenya as colony will remain for almost 20 years more, encouraged an expansion and an attempt of Africanization in Kenya banking system during the last years of the 1950s. Using bank reports, letters, and meting outlines, I analyse the development of the sector during this and the main difficulties that the institutions had to afford: unfair competition between branches, monopoly of the business government, incapacity to spread their loans by the lack of securities, and the alleged absence of qualified personal to rule the branches and enlarge the localization of the sector. The conclusion is that the efforts of commercial banks, spreading their services and involving Africans as clients and clerks, were dissimilar but significant. Despite its modest achievements, the final years of colonial rule will decisively influence the later development of the banking system in Kenya as an independent country.

Cassandra Mark-Thiesen
Liberia Since 1940: Glocal Struggles for a Better Life

My research is interested in the transnational history of Liberian economic development and education starting in the 1940s. The country’s historiography has been dominated by narratives of exceptionalism and assumptions of social isolation between groups in the country as well as of economic, political, and intellectual isolation between the country and other parts of Africa. Instead, I aim to situate Liberia’s socioeconomic history in the context of colonial and post-war developmentalism and the civil rights movement in the US, to examine issues of epistemology, modernization, and the politics of race and class. One consequence of Liberia’s non-colonial history was that after 1940 new (non-colonial) actors managed to make claims to expertise in the country. Among others, a window opened up to African-American agricultural experts to pursue work and develop careers in ways that were not possible back home. So, how do we conceive of Liberia as a land of opportunity? And in the case of black knowledge production about Africa in particular, how did it differ from what existed before? Do the facts that American experts collaborated with colonial agricultural research institutions or that some were supported by pro-colonial financial networks matter? How did populations who supposedly needed the ‘gifts of development’ react? How did the migratory group of development workers apply knowledge acquired in Liberia to other parts of Africa and Asia? What preconceptions did they bring with them? Similar global aspects can be highlighted when investigating the spread of health and vocational education in Liberia for the period concerned.