AEHW2015 - The 10th New Frontiers in African Economic History Workshop

Is Africa Growing out of Poverty? Africa’s Economic Transition in Historical Perspective

30-31 October, 2015 - Wageningen University

It is uncommon for scholars to agree unanimously on any topic, but after the 10th edition of the New Frontiers in African Economic History Workshop, one thing can be established with a significant degree of certainty: the African economic history community is thriving.

In a friendly and constructive atmosphere, the workshop hosted by Ewout Frankema and his team at Wageningen University (the Netherlands), covered 3 keynotes, 49 papers and 80 participants, numbers that beat the record set last year when the workshop was hosted at the London School of Economics. Since 2011 the number of papers presented at the annual African Economic History Workshop, initially founded in 2005 by Gareth Austin, has gradually increased (see graph below). This edition’s  consolidation of the upward trend has prompted the rebranding of this annual event as ‘the Annual Meeting of the African Economic History Network’, a label that will be used as off next year’s edition, hosted at the University of Sussex by Alexander Moradi, Felix Meier zu Selhausen and Gerardo Serra.

No.of papers at the AEHW.jpg

The workshop opened with keynote lectures by professors Gareth Austin (Graduate Institute Geneva) and Ken Giller (Wageningen University) reflecting on the theme “Africa and the Green Revolution.” After this plenary kick-off, two intensive days of parallel sessions followed, during which a wide range of topics was covered. Aspects of state building featured prominently on the program, as did studies in agricultural development and the historical reconstruction of African living standards. The workshop was concluded with an address by Professor Leonard Wantchekon (Princeton University) who presented a thought-provoking paper on “Cultural dividends in economic development,” arguing that, contrary to popular belief, African political culture can be an important force in economic growth. Wantchekon started his address by assuring the audience that students at his recently founded Benin-based African School of Economics do not enter the labour market without a proper mandatory foundation in economic history. A commitment that – for obvious reasons – received warm applause from the audience.

After last year’s African Economic History Workshop, Johan Fourie (Stellenbosch) used his blog to praise the dynamism of the community and the quality of the papers. He also placed a critical note: “much of the new African Economic History is happening in Europe. Of the 56 authors (if we allow for several authors per paper), only three were from Africa. Of those 3, only one was black.” This year, the number of authors working at African universities has risen from 3 to 14 (i.e. from 5% to 16%), with contribution from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Nigeria. After the Netherlands (35, or 11 if we exclude the hosting university) and England (11), South Africa (7) was the third supplier of participants. Moreover, numerous of the presenters and participants who work in European universities have strong roots and maintain ties across the African continent. Hence, this year’s workshop has demonstrated that the African economic history community can rapidly diversify.

The annual African Economic History Workshop is an initiative of the African Economic History Network (AEHN). The network aims to foster communication, collaboration and research as well as teaching amongst scholars studying the economic history of sub-Saharan Africa, from the pre-colonial to the post-colonial era. The network has also developed a textbook and publishes working papers and a newsletter.

This year’s workshop is also the kick-off of a new initiative: the AEHN blog “New Frontiers in African Economic History”. This blog will be a platform to communicate and diffuse current views, relevant research publications, and key events concerning African long-term development. The first edition, which is due early 2016, will feature an interview with Ewout Frankema on his view about the state and future of African economic history.