Elite coalitions and industrialization in Africa

Källarsalen Session 2: Paths towards sustained development in the global south: Historical lessons organized by Erik Green and Ellen Hillbom


Erik Green, Victor Gwande, Rory Pilossof, Ushehwedu Kufakurinani


In recent years we have witnessed a renewed interest in analysing the need and capacity for Africa to industrialise (Aryeetey and Moyo 2012, de Vries 2013, McMillan and Harttgren 2014, Rodrik 2014, Carmignania and Thomas Mandeville 2014, Cadot et al. 2016, Signé 2018). Much of this work points to the modest growth of modern manufacturing in Africa during the twentieth century and offers new formulations for manufacturing to develop on the continent. To explain past failures of industrialization in Africa, economists have mainly focused on inefficient economic policies in the post-colonial period. Recent work in economic history focuses more on structural impediments, most notable low population densities that push wages upwards and at the same time limits domestic demand for locally produced manufacturing goods (Austin, Frankema and Jerven 2015, Austin 2016, Frankema and Waijenburg 2018).

This paper contributes to the debate by shifting focus from outcomes to intentions and attempts to industrialise in 20th century Africa. Without dismissing the role of economic policies or structural impediments what is exceptional with Africa is the few attempts made to promote manufacturing growth. Through a comparative historical analysis we argue that efforts to industrialise was depending on how well it aligned with the economic interests of national and transnational elite. Without support from these two groups the African colonial and post-colonial states lacked the capacity to formulate long-term industrial policies, which in part also explain the meagre performance of manufacturing sector.


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