An Economic Rationale for the African Scramble: The Commercial Transition and the Commodity Price Boom of 1845-1885

41 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2015

See all articles by Ewout Frankema

Ewout Frankema

Wageningen UR

Jeffrey G. Williamson

Harvard University - Department of Economics, Laird Bell Professor of Economics, Emeritus; Honorary Fellow, University of Wisconsin - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Pieter Woltjer

Wageningen UR

Date Written: May 2015

Abstract

This is the first study to present a unified quantitative account of African commodity trade in the long 19th century from the zenith of the Atlantic slave trade (1790s) to the eve of World War II (1939). Drawing evidence from a new dataset on export and import prices, volumes, composition and net barter terms of trade for five African regions, we show that Sub-Saharan Africa experienced a terms of trade boom that was comparable to other parts of the ‘global periphery’ from the late 18th century up to the mid-1880s, with an exceptionally sharp price boom in the four decades before the Berlin conference (1845-1885). We argue that this commodity price boom changed the economic context in favor of a European scramble for Africa. We also show that the accelerated export growth after the establishment of colonial rule deepened Africa’s specialization in primary commodities, even though the terms of trade turned into a prolonged decline after 1885.

Suggested Citation

Frankema, Ewout and Williamson, Jeffrey G. and Woltjer, Pieter, An Economic Rationale for the African Scramble: The Commercial Transition and the Commodity Price Boom of 1845-1885 (May 2015). NBER Working Paper No. w21213. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2612748

Ewout Frankema (Contact Author)

Wageningen UR ( email )

Hollandseweg 1
Wageningen, 6706KN
Netherlands

Jeffrey G. Williamson

Harvard University - Department of Economics, Laird Bell Professor of Economics, Emeritus ( email )

Littauer Center
Room 216
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-2438 (Phone)
617-496-7352 (Fax)

Honorary Fellow, University of Wisconsin - Department of Economics

716 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706-1481
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Pieter Woltjer

Wageningen UR ( email )

Hollandseweg 1
Wageningen, 6706KN
Netherlands

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