Ellen Hillbom

Professor & coordinator, Lund University

[email protected]

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Research interests: economic inequality and development

My research focuses on the developing Global South broadly and Eastern and Southern Africa more specifically. I address both historical and current processes of change and I am primarily interested in understanding the foundations of development challenges. I publish on a broad range of topics such as long-term inequality trends, transformative capacity, natural resource dependency, institutional regimes, and agricultural production and commercialization.

Case Studies


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.

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.