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Sovereignty without Power
Liberia in the Age of Empires, 1822–1980


Part of Cambridge Studies in Economic History - Second Series

  • Date Published: November 2022
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781009181105

£ 75.00

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About the Authors
  • What did independence mean during the age of empires? How did independent governments balance different interests when they made policies about trade, money and access to foreign capital? Sovereignty without Power tells the story of Liberia, one of the few African countries to maintain independence through the colonial period. Established in 1822 as a colony for freed slaves from the United States, Liberia's history illustrates how the government's efforts to exercise its economic sovereignty and engage with the global economy shaped Liberia's economic and political development over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Drawing together a wide range of archival sources, Leigh A. Gardner presents the first quantitative estimates of Liberian's economic performance and uses these to compare it to its colonized neighbors and other independent countries. Liberia's history anticipated challenges still faced by developing countries today, and offers a new perspective on the role of power and power relationships in shaping Africa's economic history.

    • Reconstructs Liberia's economic history since its declaration of independence in 1847
    • Offers a new perspective on questions about trade, debt and money in African economic history, which has historically focused on countries under formal colonial rule
    • Will appeal to an interdisciplinary audience across economic history, African history, African politics and development studies
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Liberia has been independent since 1847, yet, sitting too long in the shadow of colonialism, and then becoming too dependent upon stronger states, did Liberia squander its opportunities? In this lucid history, Leigh Gardner skilfully dissects the complex dynamics of Liberia's development to tell us why sovereignty alone is not enough to secure economic success and political stability.' David M. Anderson, University of Warwick

    'Gardner tells the story of how Liberia, a small West African country, continued to exercise its sovereignty from Europe during the 18th and 19th century. By placing this story in a comparative perspective, it not only informs us about the unique history of Liberia itself, but it also provides a much broader story about the interlinkages between sovereignty, political power, and economic development in global history.' Jutta Bolt, Groningen University

    'Gardner's incisive and original argument uses Liberia to centre the role of power and timing in structuring national economic outcomes. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the foundations of economic inequality, capitalism and modernity, and the limits of sovereignty in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.' Bronwen Everill, University of Cambridge

    'Liberia is an enigma, an African country founded on the promise of economic freedom. Leigh Gardner again shows why she is one of the most intuitive and resourceful economic historians of Africa, tackling the big question of why Liberia has not yet delivered on the promise. In answering this big question, we learn much about migration, infrastructure investment and failed government policies, lessons of relevance to many other developing countries today.' Johan Fourie, Stellenbosch University

    '… this book provides useful detail on Liberian economic history. … Recommended.' J. E. Weaver, Choice

    '… a formidable, in-depth work that makes many contributions to our understanding of Liberia's political and economic history between 1820 and 1980, with implications for other nations' post-colonial trajectories.' Etienne Le Rossignol, LSE Review of Books

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2022
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781009181105
    • length: 320 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 159 x 25 mm
    • weight: 0.67kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of figures
    1. Reconstructing the fragments: Liberia's economic history, 1847-1980
    Part I. Foundations:
    2. Before the dragons came
    3. Black Americans in West Africa
    Part II. The Art of Survival:
    4. Trade, globalization and sovereignty
    5. From paper to gold
    6. The costs of foreign capital
    7. Financial controls and forced labor
    Part III. Sovereignty for Sale?:
    8. An African marshall plan
    9. Concessions and growth
    10. Selling the flag
    11. Sovereignty beyond the age of empires
    Appendix 1: Data on Liberia's economic history
    Appendix 2: Constructing Liberian GDP statistics

  • Author

    Leigh A. Gardner, London School of Economics and Political Science
    Leigh A Gardner is Associate Professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is the author of Taxing Colonial Africa: The Political Economy of British Imperialism (2012) and co-author (with Tirthankar Roy) of Economic History of Colonialism (2020).

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