Is Poverty Destiny? A New Empirical Foundation for Long-Term African Welfare Analysis

This ERC Starting Grant project aims to create a new empirical foundation for the study of long-term African welfare development, in order to provide new impetus to the debate on the root causes of African poverty.

What is missing is a systematic account of long-term welfare development that connects the colonial era to the post-colonial era on the basis of temporally consistent and internationally comparable living standard indicators. The lack of such an empirical foundation has left important research questions unresolved. Firstly, did African income levels fall behind those of the rest of the world during the deep economic and political crises of the late 20th century or long before that? Secondly, to what extent did ordinary Africans benefit from the expansion of colonial trade and foreign investment between 1880 and 1960? Thirdly, to what extent has African welfare growth been constrained by structural development impediments, such as adverse geographical conditions?

The research team led by Professor Ewout Frankema consists of two PhD students, Michiel de Haas and Kostadis Papaioannou, one Post-graduate researcher, dr. Pieter Woltjer, and a number of rotating research assistants. This team will take three steps to push current research on African historical living standards beyond the state-of-the-art. Firstly, we will measure the annual development of real wages of various categories of indigenous labourers in selected cities and rural areas in the former British and French African colonies from the 1880s onwards, using the vastly important, but largely unexploited, wage and price statistics from colonial archival sources; then connect these to existing post-colonial wage and price series. Secondly, we will compare long-term trajectories of African welfare development to those of other world regions, using the available datasets on historical living standards for Europe, Asia and Latin America. Thirdly, we will try to explain the observed intra-African variation in these trajectories by integrating the ultimate sources of long-term economic growth (geography, institutions and trade) into a single analytical framework.

This project is part of the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme, ERC Grant Agreement n° 313114