Social Tables for Tanganyika, 1925-1957

Gustafscenen Session 7: Global inequality – levels and trends organized by Ellen Hillbom


Sascha Klocke


The study of historical income inequality in sub-Saharan Africa has received considerable attention over recent years, driven by the increasing recognition of the importance of economic inequality and colonial legacies for long-run economic development. Several studies have utilised the social tables approach to estimate inequality levels and trends in several different colonies (Aboagye & Bolt 2021; Bolt & Hillbom 2016; de Haas 2021; Tadei & Alfani 2019). This paper contributes to this literature with a case study on colonial Tanzania (Tanganyika). Tanzania today has one of the lowest levels of income inequality in sub-Saharan Africa, and its post-colonial history shows a level of political stability rarely seen on the continent. How this was achieved remains unclear. Despite being one of the most-studied countries in contemporary African studies, Tanzania’s colonial economic history has received comparatively little attention. To shed light on the levels and trends in income inequality on Tanganyika as well as their drivers, this paper estimates a series of Gini coefficients and inequality extraction ratios by creating social tables for five benchmark years between 1925 and 1948 as well as annual social tables for 1949 to 1957. The results show that overall, inequality as measured by the gini coefficient was relatively low throughout the colonial period and declining towards the end. The gini coefficients, however, do not adequately highlight pronounced racial inequalities that existed in both the wage sector as well as amongst agricultural producers. Racial inequalities were, however, declining throughout the colonial period as well, driven by the Africanisation of both the wage sector and agricultural export production. While this led to declining racial inequality, it also led to greater within-African inequality, driven by an increasing share of skilled labourers in the wage sector and increasing regional differentiation in African agricultural production. Looking at the gini coefficients in relation to the maximum attainable inequality – the inequality extraction ratio – confirms the impression of relatively high inequality throughout the colonial period, with a decline towards the end. The main drivers of inequality in colonial Tanzania, then, are identified as racial wage and employment discrimination and uneven agricultural development. Colonial policies played a significant role in both. In the wage sector, they established formal and informal colour bars and explicit wage discrimination, which suppressed African incomes and limited African income earning opportunities overall. This was exacerbated by a failed educational strategy which did not offer enough education to create a skilled labour force that could meet the demands of the Tanganyikan economy. In the agricultural sector, it was the colonial administration’s focus on promoting African cash crop production in already well-performing areas and the failure to improve market access in remote areas which led to an increasing regional gulf in incomes.


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