Ellen Hillbom and Jutta Bolt

Based on its diamond-led growth since the late 1960s onwards, Botswana is hailed as an African growth miracle. It is also known as a country with high levels of economic inequality, the gini peaking at 0.63 in 1993. We scrutinize the relationship between the two – growth and inequality. We show that the rise in inequality is not driven by the extraction of a high value natural resource. Instead, the explanation is found in the polarisation in the cattle sector and increasing wages for government officials during the modest cattle-led growth period starting in the 1940s.

Data is available here.


Prince Young Aboagye

Colonial Ghana has attracted much attention as a successful peasant-led, cocoa-driven economy. Using a social tables approach, we find that income inequality was high prior to the introduction of cocoa; remained stable in the early decades of the twentieth century; declined during the Great Depression in the early 1930s; and, finally, increased in the second half of the colonial era. Cocoa played an important role directly and indirectly, as rapidly rising cocoa prices after the Great Depression benefitted the large-scale cocoa farmers, and cocoa-led growth spread to both the private and public sectors and resulted in increasing incomes for government employees, skilled and commercial workers.

Data is available here.


Valeria Lukkari and Maria Mwaipopo Fibaek

Colonial Kenya is often characterised as a settler economy, where large farms of white settlers were run with African labor force. It quickly became an exporter of primary commodities, with coffee amongst the most lucrative cash crops, but with a relatively diverse economy. In this study, we examine long-run inequality trends starting in the colonial period with a special focus on scrutinising the elite classes that drove economic change. While previous research has concentrated on the European elites, we instead highlight the role of the African and Asian elites and how they were faring within this settler colony setting.

Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

Jutta Bolt, Erik Green, Ellen Hillbom and Mesfin Araya

Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe share strong geographic, historic and economic ties. Their commonalities include being land locked facing high transportation costs and the colonial experience of governance by the British South Africa Company. Further, they have a history of integrated markets including large flows of labour migration and in the period 1953-63 they were joined in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. However, they also represent three distinct types of colonial economies: the peasant based (Malawi), the mineral dependent (Zambia) and the settler society (Zimbabwe). In this comparative study, we investigate the three territories’ economic interaction as well as their varieties in long-term income inequality trends.

Mauritius and Zanzibar

Ellen Hillbom and Karin Pallaver

The island states along the coast of Africa commonly receive limited attention in the African economic history literature. Colonial territories such as Mauritius and Zanzibar have had, from a mainland perspective, “atypical” population compositions and economic characteristics. Nevertheless, their long histories as trading posts and dependency on tropical plantation sectors open up for interesting case studies as well as comparisons with similar economies outside of Africa.


Morten Jerven

Since the discovery of oil in 1956 and independence 1960, Nigeria has been seen as a clear example of a natural resource curse, growth without poverty reduction and increasing inequality. Does current inequality have colonial roots or is it an outcome of the oil-dependent economy? Differently from the era of petroleum, growth in during the colonial period was based on the export of agricultural products. We study the inequality trends over time and the roles played by the primary and the extractive sectors respectively. In this large, populous and heterogeneous territory, data challenges are many. In assessing trends in inequality, the discrepancy between the census taking in the colonial and post-colonial period is particularly problematic.

Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Federico Tadei

Most of our current knowledge about long-term patterns of African inequality comes from information on British colonies, while territories subjected to other colonial powers are much less well known. To address this gap, we analyze trends in income inequality for colonies in French West Africa, building social tables for Senegal and Ivory Coast during the last decades of colonial rule. We find that income inequality was high during the colonial period, because of the huge income differential between Africans and European settlers (especially in Senegal) and of high inequality within the African population (especially in the Ivory Coast).


Sascha Klocke

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 it not so clear, however. Despite being one of the most-studied countries in contemporary African studies, Tanzania’s (economic) history has received comparatively little attention. In this study, we focus on the long-term trend in income inequality from the colonial era to the present. We take advantage of Tanzania’s historical peculiarities such as its regional diversity and the presence of large numbers of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent and we investigate topics such as racial discrimination in the colonial economy, rural living standards, and the development of peasant agriculture.


Michiel de Haas

Following the completion of a railway to the coast, colonial Uganda quickly emerged as a cotton and coffee exporting colony. Agricultural exports were largely grown by smallholders, providing access to cash incomes to the majority of rural households. Nevertheless, Uganda also saw the emergence of substantial inequalities between regions, ethnic groups and races. The northern regions were underserved in terms of jobs, education and medical facilities. Moreover, European and South Asian expatriates dominated colonial trading and the skilled niches of the private and public labour market. This project is the first to estimate inequality prior to 1970 and to use social tables to disentangle regional, racial, and class dimensions.

Data is available here.