Inequality regimes in Africa from pre-colonial times to the present

Frankema, E.H.P.; Haas, M.A. de; Waijenburg, M.F.M. van


While current levels of economic inequality in Africa receive ample attention from academics and policymakers, we know little about the long-run evolution of inequality in the region. Even the new and influential ‘global inequality literature’ that is associated with scholars like Thomas Piketty, Branko Milanovic, and Walter Scheidel has had little to say about Africa so far. This paper is a first effort to fill that void. Building on recent research in African economic history and utilizing the new theoretical frameworks of the global inequality literature, we chart the long-run patterns and drivers of inequality in Africa from the slave trades to the present. Our analysis dismantles mainstream narratives about the colonial roots of persistent high inequality in post-colonial Africa and shows that existing inequality concepts and theories need further calibration to account, among others, for the role of African slavery in the long-run emergence and vanishing of inequality regimes.