While many recent studies of historical migration in Africa highlights political, cultural or social aspects, this study emphasizes its primary economic drivers and consequences. I zoom in on the case of Buganda, which was the key destination for labour migrants in the African Great Lakes region during the colonial period.
Labour markets, income disparities and migration between Ruanda-Urundi and Buganda (1923-58)
Compared to other peasant export economies in colonial Africa, the remuneration of unskilled labour in Buganda was strikingly low. I take on this paradox of low wages in a thriving peasant economy, and argue that it is explained by conditions in one of the most important migrant sending regions, Belgian-controlled Ruanda-Urundi. Using newly constructed time series of unskilled wages and prices of locally produced and imported goods, I show how, in the early 1920s, a large disparity in the remuneration of labour attracted large numbers of circular migrants from Ruanda-Urundi to Buganda. This disparity was driven by uneven factor ratios, currency fluctuations and colonial policies. I demonstrate that the economic connections forged by migration were pivotal to the direction of economic development in the Great Lakes region. Soon, large scale movement pushed down wages in Buganda and contributed to price inflation in Ruanda-Urundi. Such developments, in turn had a major impact on the returns to, and nature of, labour markets and migration.