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Structural Impediments to African Growth? New Evidence from Real Wages in British Africa, 1880–1965

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 December 2012

Ewout Frankema
Affiliation:
Professor of History, Wageningen University, Hollandseweg 1, 6706 KN Wageningen, The Netherlands. E-mail: ewout.frankema@wur.nl.
Marlous Van Waijenburg
Affiliation:
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, Northwestern University, 1881 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208-2220. E-mail: MarlousVan2015@u.northwestern.edu.

Abstract

Recent literature on the historical determinants of African poverty has emphasized structural impediments to African growth, such as adverse geographical conditions, weak institutions, or ethnic heterogeneity. But has African poverty been a persistent historical phenomenon? This article checks such assumptions against the historical record. We push African income estimates back in time by presenting urban unskilled real wages for nine British African colonies (1880–1965). We find that African real wages were well above subsistence level and that they rose significantly over time. Moreover, in West Africa and Mauritius real wage levels were considerably higher than those in Asia.

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Copyright © The Economic History Association 2012

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